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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Religious Slaughter FAQ

The religious slaughter of animals without pre-stunning is clearly a contentious and controversial issue, but one that we think needs to be addressed. These frequently asked questions provide more information about our campaign to end religious slaughter in the UK.

What is religious slaughter?

Both the Jewish and Muslim religions demand that slaughter is carried out with a single cut to the throat, rather than the more widespread method of stunning with a bolt into the head before slaughter. The Jewish method of slaughter, shechita, does not permit stunning as Jewish religious tradition dictates animals intended for food must be healthy and uninjured at the time of slaughter. Islamic food rules, for halal meat, can be satisfied with animals stunned before slaughter if animals do not die as a result of the stun. However, there is no definitive consensus and slaughter without pre-stunning does also take place.

Is slaughter without pre-stunning cruel?

There is wide scientific consensus that it is more humane to stun an animal prior to slaughter than not to do so. Many killing methods are painful for animals. Stunning is therefore necessary to induce a lack of consciousness and sensibility before, or at the same time as, the animals are killed. Animal welfare legislation in the UK therefore requires animals to be stunned before slaughter in order to minimise suffering, but an exemption is made for religious slaughter.

How common is slaughter without pre-stunning?

The Government no longer keeps statistics on religious slaughter. However, in May 2012 The Food Standards Authority (FSA) published findings from a survey investigating animal welfare in slaughterhouses. Their results indicated that the number of animals not stunned prior to slaughter was 3% of cattle, 10% of sheep and goats, and 4% of poultry.

Does the NSS support a ban on slaughter without pre-stunning?

Yes. Whilst we support the right to religious freedom, we do not think that exemptions should be made on religious grounds to animal welfare regulations which apply without exception to everyone else.

Don't religious groups have the right to freedom of religion and the right to manifest religion or belief?

Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights does provide for a right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion which includes the freedom to manifest a religion or belief in practice and observance. However, this aspect of Article 9 is a qualified right, which means that an interference with the right can be justified in certain circumstances. We maintain that the welfare of animals provides such a justification.

Do any other countries prohibit slaughter without pre-stunning?

Yes. Slaughter without pre-stunning is banned in Norway, Sweden, Finland, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, while Switzerland permits the slaughter only of chickens without prior stunning.

What is the position of the UK Government?

The Government has said it would prefer all animals to be stunned before slaughter, but supports the exemption as it recognises the preferences of the Jewish and Muslim communities and accepts the importance which they attach to the right to slaughter animals for food in accordance with their beliefs.

Is opposition to religious slaughter motivated by ill-will toward Jews and Muslims?

Advocates of religious slaughter often accuse its detractors of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in an attempt to shut down all argument. Our opposition to slaughter without pre-stunning has nothing to do with racial or religious prejudice. It's about upholding the important principle of 'one law for all' and ensuring that animals do not suffer unnecessarily and become the victims of religious privilege.

Can't those who oppose slaughter without pre-stunning simply avoid eating such meat?

Unfortunately not. There is no requirement under UK or EU law for the meat from animals slaughtered without stunning to be labelled as such. As a result, non-stun slaughtered meat is routinely being sold on the general market to unwitting members of the public.

As long as religious groups retain the privilege of an exemption from legislation that permits slaughter without pre-stunning, we maintain it is only fair that consumers have the right to information that enables them to avoid such products if they so wish.

Where can I find out more?

Our briefing paper on religious slaughter can be found here.

What can I do?

The UK government has launched a consultation which provides an opportunity to oppose the exemptions that permit religious slaughter. Take part!

Using our briefing paper to inform your letter, please contact your MP/MSP to let them know that you oppose exemptions from animal welfare legislation that permits slaughter without pre-stunning.

Please ask them to support any proposals that ensure that meat from animals slaughtered without pre-stunning, is clearly labelled.