The RSPCA renewed its call for clear labelling of non-stunned meat ahead of the House of Lords debate on religious slaughter on Thursday (16 January).
The House of Lords will today debate the ethical, legal and religious factors that influence the way animals are slaughtered in the UK. Ahead of the debate, the RSPCA, British Veterinary Association (BVA) and the Humane Slaughter Association (HSA) have issued a joint statement calling for all animals to be effectively stunned before being slaughtered. Current animal welfare legislation requires the stunning of animals prior to slaughter, with exemptions for ritual slaughter in order to meet Muslim halal and Jewish kosher requirements.
Animal welfare organisations are also calling for food derived from animals slaughtered under the legal exemption to be restricted to the specific religious communities according to whose beliefs the animals have been slaughtered.
The welfare group is campaigning for an end to non-stun meat, claiming that scientific research shows slaughtering animals without stunning can cause unnecessary suffering. Until then, it wants to see meat labelled clearly with production methods.
“We are calling for clear labelling, so shoppers are armed with information that can enable them to make an informed choice about whether they buy meat from animals that have not been stunned before slaughter,” said Dr Julia Wrathall, head of the RSPCA’s farm animal science department.
Some meat that has been slaughtered without first being stunned may be rejected by the Jewish community, as some parts of the hindquarters and damaged carcasses are not considered Kosher.
Instead the meat is sold unlabelled on the open market.
“Farm animals deserve to be treated with care and respect,” said Julia Wrathall.
Dr Wrathall added: “Until there is better, universal labelling, shoppers should look for the blue and white Freedom Food label. Meat produced under this RSPCA assurance scheme comes from animals inspected to the RSPCA’s farm animal welfare standards which do not permit slaughter without pre-stunning.”
In 2011, the RSPCA supported amendments to the EU Food Information to Consumers Regulation which proposed to label meat products from ‘special slaughter’, for which the labelling would include: ‘Meat from slaughter without stunning’ but the legislation was rejected.
In April 2012, the society also backed a Ten Minute Rule Bill on Food Labelling which was taken through Parliament by MP Philip Davies.
The Ten Minute Rule Bill was pushed to a vote but wasn’t carried.
A spokesman for campaign group Shechita UK, which represents the Jewish community on issues relating to religious slaughter, said: “The RSPCA would have us believe that the shooting, electrocuting, gassing, drowning, clubbing or other legal methods of mechanical stunning are somehow more humane than religious slaughter but the fact is that there is no conclusive scientific basis for that claim.”
“The RSPCA position on labelling is entirely disingenuous.
“Consumers have no less of a right to know if an animal was shot between the eyes with a captive bolt gun or electrocuted in a water bath but once again the RSPCA is determined to campaign for selective, pejorative labelling which singles out faith communities.
“The Jewish community is fully supportive of comprehensive and transparent labelling of all methods of slaughter and we call upon the RSPCA, once again, to join with us instead of attacking us.”
According to the latest results of the Food Standards Agency (FSA)’s Animal Welfare Survey, around 3% of cattle, 10% of sheep and goats and 4% of poultry in Great Britain are not stunned before slaughter. Although most animals slaughtered for the halal market are pre-stunned, none slaughtered for the kosher market were stunned before slaughter.
“The RSPCA believes mandatory labelling should be introduced so that all meat that has not been stunned is labelled and we will press for European rules on this in 2014,” said the group.
The RSPCA submitted a report on the issue to the House of Lords ahead of the debate. David Bowles, head of public affairs for the RSPCA, who wrote the report, said: “We know this is a subject our supporters feel passionately about. We share their welfare concerns and that is why we have continued to campaign for religious slaughter to be discussed at the highest possible levels.”