Stop ritual slaughter of animals, says top vet
Muslims and Jews urged to use humane methods
The religious slaughter of animals should be banned if Muslims and Jews refuse to adopt more humane methods of killing, the new leader of Britain’s vets has said.
John Blackwell, president-elect of the British Veterinary Association, said that the traditional practice of slitting animals’ throats and allowing them to bleed to death for halal and kosher meat caused unnecessary suffering.
He urged Jews and Muslims to allow poultry, sheep and cattle to be stunned unconscious before they are killed. If the two faiths refuse, Mr Blackwell wants ministers to consider following the example of Denmark by banning the slaughter of animals that are not stunned first.
More than 600,000 animals bleed to death in religious abattoirs in Britain every week, but this is the first time that the head of the country’s vets has demanded an end to the practice.
An investigation by The Times can also reveal:
• A large proportion of meat from animals killed by kosher and halal slaughterers goes unlabelled into the general food market;
• The European Commission is considering a “modified health mark scheme” to identify meat from animals slaughtered without stunning;
• Jewish campaigners, who fear any new labelling system could be seen as targeting the customs of religious minorities, are working with their Muslim counterparts to lobby in defence of their beliefs.
Mr Blackwell, a farm vet, said: “As veterinary surgeons, it is one of the most important issues on our radar. This is something that can be changed in an instant.”
The halal market is estimated to be worth up to 2 billion in Britain. Mr Blackwell said that he respected religious beliefs but “the Danish unilateral banning [was done] purely for animal welfare reasons, which is right”.
He added: “We may well have to go down that route. One of the Jewish politicians said it demonstrates [that] a continuing undercurrent of anti-Semitism still pervades Europe. That’s very emotive, isn’t it? That’s the difficulty with engagement.”
Mr Blackwell said that animals suffered as a result of religious slaughter. “They will feel the cut. They will feel the massive injury of the tissues of the neck. They will perceive the aspiration of blood they will breathe in before they lose consciousness.”
The sensation of blood in the trachea is like the pain when food goes down the wrong way into your windpipe, he said. “When you check the lungs of these animals there is clearly blood that has been aspirated. People say we are trying to focus on the last five or six seconds of an animal’s life when it could be 18 months old. It’s five or six seconds too long.” Mr Blackwell’s stance goes beyond the association’s previously-stated position, which opposed slaughter without stunning but emphasised practical compromises like improved labelling.
The intervention by Mr Blackwell will increase pressure on ministers to act against religious slaughter. However, the move could be exploited by far-right groups, which have campaigned on the issue.
The British National Party organises rallies outside Muslim slaughterhouses. Andrew Brons MEP, elected for the BNP but now heading a hardline breakaway party, has condemned halal slaughter as barbaric in the European Parliament.
Pressure for a ban on slaughter without stunning is led by charities such as Compassion in World Farming and the RSPCA.
Most animals killed for halal in Britain are stunned before slaughter but no creatures used for kosher meat are stunned. Mr Blackwell urged both faiths voluntarily to accept that it should be done, typically with a gun to the brain for mammals, and by electric shock for poultry.
“It would be more productive if we can have a meeting of minds rather than to say, You can’t do it’. [Otherwise] a ban may be the only way to move the issue forward,” he said. Lewis Grant, of the Veterinary Public Health Association, said surplus cuts from religiously slaughtered animals were sold to the general meat trade for production into food such as burgers without consumers realising.
The European Commission will next month complete a study into whether shoppers should be told whether meat comes from animals which were stunned.
Jewish slaughter, known as shechita, has been practised so long in Britain that the first regulatory body in London can trace its origins to 1804.
Shimon Cohen of Shechita UK asked why the Government was only proposing to label religious methods of killing, rather than telling shoppers their meat comes from an animal which was “shot, gassed, electrocuted or drowned”, as happens with non-religious slaughter. Continental bans on kosher and halal slaughter since the 19th century had been designed to drive out Jewish and Muslim populations, he claimed. “I will be seeing the Muslim Council of Britain shortly,” he said. “We are at one on this.”