By Alistair Driver
The recent debate over halal meat labelling was a distraction from the core issue of animals being slaughtered without pre-stunning, according to the head of the British Veterinary Association (BVA).
BVA president Robin Hargreaves said he is ‘frustrated’ by the debate, sparked by stories that a number of supermarkets were selling unlabelled halal meat from animals slaughtered in New Zealand.
“We got a tremendous amount of publicity, including the front page of the Times, which doesn’t happen very often,” he said.
“But it was presented as a new policy, which it isn’t. The BVA has been calling for an end to non-stun slaughter for years but nobody seemed to notice.”
Food Standards Agency (FSA) figures show in excess of 80 per cent of halal meat was pre-stunned.
Mr Hargreaves said the debate about the labelling of halal meat from New Zealand was irrelevant as it is all pre-stunned before slaughter but was blessed at the point of slaughter.
“I spent a lot of time explaining what the real question should be. The question of whether it is halal or not does not bother me as long as it slaughtered in a humane way,” he said.
“Halal labelling doesn’t get anybody anywhere. It stigmatises people and stokes up more ill-feeling and racial tension.
“I heard a very reasonable interview with a moderate halal certifying authority which said we need a clear label which says ‘stunned’ or ‘not-stunned’. I agree with that.”
A Defra spokesman said the Government had no intention of banning religious slaughter.
“There are strict laws in place to ensure welfare standards are met during slaughter,” she said.
“Although we would prefer animals to be stunned before slaughter, we respect the rights of Jewish and Muslim communities to eat meat in accordance with their beliefs.”
An expert from the meat industry commentd on the issue above as: “If non-stun slaughter is banned in the UK it will lead to increased live exports for slaughter in Eire and France. Both of these countries allow inversion of cattle and neither country has legislation preventing suspension prior to unconsciousness. We will see poorer welfare and lose the work: the meat will be re-imported. If the practice is to be allowed anywhere in the EC then it is best done here in the UK. Unfortunately, the BVA have not forseen the consequences of their aim.”
Halal slaughter is when an animal is slaughtered in the presence of a licensed Muslim slaughterman. More than 84 per cent of all UK-reared meat classed as halal came from animals stunned before slaughter