Halal and Kosher slaughter in the UK

British Muslims have recently been alarmed at the sudden and rather aggressive publicity surrounding the issue of religious methods of slaughter of animals for food. Our Chairman Lord Sheikh, has been particularly concerned and hence decided to take up the cause and take appropriate action.

On 16th January 2014, a debate was held in the House of Lords, during which several Peers provided insights from both religious and scientific points of views. The debate was of a high quality and was well-received.

Lord Sheikh spoke in the debate and was clear; “Islam forbids the mistreatment of animals; the welfare of animals is enshrined in Muslim beliefs”.

His speech can be read in full on the linked website page which also has a link to the Hansard debate.

In February, Denmark passed a law banning the religious slaughter of animals for the production of Halal and Kosher meat. This followed bans in Poland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland.

The Danish Minister for Agriculture and Food stated that “animal rights come before religion”. The campaign group Danish Halal collected more than 13,000 signatures opposing the law change. They stated that the new law was a “clear interference in religious freedom and limits the Muslims and the Jews’ right to practice their religion in Denmark”.

Earlier this month, the new President-elect of the British Veterinary Association, John Blackwell, said that he felt the UK should follow in the footsteps of Denmark and outlaw the religious slaughter of animals that have not been stunned first.

Mr Blackwell suggested that British Muslims should allow animals to be stunned before slaughter in the interests of their welfare.

Following these comments, Lord Sheikh wrote a letter to the Daily Telegraph which was published on 15 March 2014. He outlined his concern at the misunderstanding that could result from Mr Blackwell’s comments and provided clarity about the Halal method of slaughter. The full text of the letter is reproduced below:

“ SIR – As a Muslim peer who contributed to a recent debate in the House of Lords on the subject of religious slaughter, I have been alarmed at the sudden and rather aggressive publicity surrounding the issue.

The recent comments from John Blackwell, president-elect of the British Veterinary Association, have led to misunderstandings.

Islam strictly forbids the mistreating of animals; there are numerous references throughout the Koran to substantiate this.

The Muslim method of slaughter, known as zabiha, ensures an extremely quick and near-painless death. A properly trained practitioner will cleanly sever the structures at the front of the neck with such speed and precision that blood empties rapidly, from both the body and the brain, and consciousness is lost immediately. Claims that animals are cut and left to bleed slowly to death are untrue.

In other methods, when stunning is used, the animal is paralysed and unable to display signs of pain. Animals can even regain consciousness before the point of slaughter.

We must pay greater attention to the wider welfare of animals throughout their lives, including the conditions in which they are bred, housed and transported.

Lord Sheikh
London SW1

In order to take the matter further, Lord Sheikh also wrote to the Prime Minister, David Cameron.

Mr Cameron, during his first visit to Israel as Prime Minister, made a pledge to the Jewish community to defend Kosher shechita in the United Kingdom. Lord Sheikh congratulated the Prime Minister on this announcement and was keen to obtain a similar assurance from the Government to defend Halal zabiha.

Lord Sheikh, along with the Jewish Peer Lord Palmer, also met with Lord de Mauley on 19 March 2014 as the Minister with responsibility at the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). Lord de Mauley gave assurance that the existing methods of religious slaughter will be retained. DEFRA have approved a press release which is reproduced below.

Press release approved by DEFRA

There has been some concern amongst the Muslim and Jewish communities of possible discontinuance of the current practice of religious slaughter in the country.

Lord de Mauley, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, received representations from Lord Sheikh and Lord Palmer of Childs Hill. Lord de Mauley met the two Peers to discuss the matter on 19 March.

Lord de Mauley said that: “The government has no intention of banning religious slaughter. We would prefer animals to be stunned before slaughter but respect the rights of religious communities and will retain the existing longstanding national rules on religious slaughter in our new domestic regulations protecting the welfare of animal at slaughter”.

Lord Sheikh and Lord Palmer of Childs Hill welcomed the official reassurance from the Minister which will be welcomed by the Muslim & Jewish Communities

Lord Sheikh, along with members of the Conservative Muslim Forum and the wider Muslim community believes that we must pay much greater attention to the wider welfare of animals throughout their lives, including the conditions in which they are bred, housed and transported.

Lord Sheikh feels that we should introduce an efficient system of self-regulation for upholding welfare standards. Such a system would have a rigorous code of conduct at its heart and would reassure non-Muslims that such animals are being respected and standards are being adhered to.

Furthermore, he believes that everybody, regardless of race or religion, is entitled to transparency over how their food is produced. Consumers must be able to make an informed choice about the meat they buy.

In that respect, he is calling for a non-discriminatory system of universal meat labelling, to indicate the manner of stunning for stunned meat as well as highlighting non-stunned meat.

Update 20 May 2014

On 12 March 2014 Prime Minister David Cameron addressed the Knesset during his visit to Israel. His speech mentioned religious slaughter:

I have stood up to protect Jewish practices too. The Jewish community has been an absolute exemplar in integrating into British life in every way. But integration doesn’t mean that you have to give up things that you hold very dear in your religion. When people challenged Kosher Shechita I have defended it. I fought as a backbench Member of Parliament against the last attempt to do something to change this, and there is no way I’m allowing that to change now I’m Prime Minister – on my watch Shechita is safe in the United Kingdom.

While it is clear that protection of kosher slaughter goes hand in hand with protection halal slaughter, David Cameron put the matter beyond doubt in his speeech on 31 March 2014 at the Muslim News Awards, which were attended by CMF Chairman Lord Sheikh and CMF Deputy Chairman Mohammed Amin:

And let me make absolutely clear that, while I’m Prime Minister of this country, Halal is safe in Britain.

Lord Sheikh subsequently wrote to thank Mr Cameron for his remarks. The Prime Minister replied on 28 April 2014 and we have his permission to publish his reply here.

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