Ritual slaughter has had a reasonably low profile in the UK, despite vigorous debate abroad, in the European parliament, and now in the Commons. David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Sarah Ludford MEP (FT) have expressed some level of support for the practice, but I must disagree.
The law requires that animals be stunned before slaughter, for their welfare, but there is an exemption for Muslim and Jewish food production.
Halal animals often are stunned – due to differences in religious opinion – but millions are not, and shechita (kosher slaughter) is always without stunning. Their use has expanded to general consumption, usually without the customer’s knowledge.
This is a seemingly difficult issue, with science that can only be left to experts, and non-human animal rights apparently pitted against religious liberty. But only two, mutually-exclusive approaches are possibly justifiable.
The first possibility is that ritual slaughter causes no more pain or distress, or is in fact better, than the standard method with stunning. This is an argument put forward by those opposing reform. I’m open to this idea. But if it is indeed more humane, why restrict its use? Even if it were only equally humane, the law should not intervene, especially if ritual slaughter were cheaper or more convenient.
The other option is that slaughter without stunning does cause more pain and distress than the alternative. In this case it is utterly indefensible that the amount of suffering you can inflict should depend on your beliefs or the beliefs of your customers! Your treatment under the law shouldn’t depend on who you are, or your religious beliefs, but on your actions.
As for whether it does mean more suffering, the independent advisory body the Farm Animal Welfare Council came to the conclusion (p32-36) “that slaughter without pre-stunning is unacceptable and that the Government should repeal the current exemption”. It is the British Veterinary Association’s “strong view that ritual slaughter is cruel to animals and […] should be banned in the UK”.
Opponents of reform often point out that there are other welfare issues surrounding slaughter and living standards that we should be concerned with, and this is true (please do share your suggestions). But too often this is used as cover to tackle none of them, rather than all, and reducing the number of animals killed without stunning is comparatively easy to achieve.
The charge that dealing first with this issue equates to religious discrimination is especially levelled at compromise proposals to label when meat is from animals not stunned before slaughter. However, it’s difficult to see as discriminatory or illiberal a policy that would allow religious adherents to retain this welfare exemption while empowering any consumers who wish to avoid non-stunned meat to do so. If we keep the exemption we should even consider adding a tax on unnecessary cruelty.
But ideally the law should specify the least harmful practical method(s) of slaughter and this should apply equally to all. Multiculturalism shouldn’t mean different sets of laws for different people, and the Government should act on its stated desire “to see all animals stunned before slaughter”. Religious freedom is very important, but just as this shouldn’t go so far as to trample on the “rights and freedoms of others”, it’s essential that unnecessary suffering in non-human animals is also given some weight.
Originally published at http://www.libdemvoice.org/opinion-ritual-slaughter-one-law-for-all-29183.html