House of Commons Library

Religious Slaughter of Animals

Published Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Religious slaughter of animals for food without pre-stunning is currently permitted in the UK for Muslim (Halal) and Jewish (Shechita) methods in line with permitted exemptions to EU slaughter regulations which require pre-stunning. In practice, around 80% of halal meat in the UK is from animals that have been pre-stunned. The UK Government has said that it would prefer all animals to be pre-stunned before slaughter on welfare grounds but it observes the rights of religious communities. However, animal welfare groups, including the British Veterinary Association and RSPCA are calling for an end to non-stun slaughter. All parties in the debate would like to see labelling of meat which provides more consumer information on the slaughter methods used.

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There has been growing public and parliamentary focus in the last year on methods used for religious slaughter, welfare concerns about whether animals are stunned before slaughter, which food outlets are serving halal meat as a matter of course to all customers, and whether all meat prepared by halal and kosha methods is being labelled as such.

UK and EU slaughter regulations set minim welfare standards at slaughter and require all animals to be pre-stunned before slaughter to minimise their suffering. Member States may exempt slaughter in accordance with religious beliefs from the pre-stunning requirement and the UK implements this derogation.

The Government has said that it would prefer all animals to be pre-stunned before slaughter on welfare grounds but it observes the rights of religious communities and the Prime Minister has said he will never ban religious slaughter practices. For animal slaughter to be lawful under Jewish law and Shariah (Islamic) law, Jewish (Shechita) and Muslim (Halal) conditions have to be met before an animal is cut and bled. These conditions also dictate how, and whether, pre-stunning of animals is acceptable. Around 80% of meat in the UK prepared by the Halal method is pre-stunned, including supermarket own-brand meat.

The British Veterinary Association (BVA), RSPCA, and Compassion in World Farming have had long running campaigns against slaughter without stunning arguing that the scientific evidence, shows that non-stun slaughter allows animals to perceive pain and compromises welfare. However, faith communities counter that, when carried out properly, their slaughter methods are more humane. The BVA instigated an e-petition in May 2014 on this matter and it has already had over 114,000 signatures triggering a Commons Debate. A counter petition, calling for the protection of the right to non-stun religious slaughter, has 38,000 signatures.

The All Party Parliamentary Group for Beef and Lamb's August 2014 report Meat Slaughtered in Accordance with Religious Rites highlighted areas of research that would better support the evidence-base for policy-making in this area as well as future slaughter practices. All sides agree that method-of-slaughter labelling would help the consumer to decide whether they want to buy non-stun meat. The UK Government is now awaiting a delayed EU Commission report on animal welfare labelling.

Commons Briefing papers SN07108

Author: Emma Downing

Topics: Agriculture, Animal welfare, Food, Human rights, Religion and faith communities

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