NSS: Government putting up “barriers” to non-stun slaughter labels

Posted: Mon, 29th Apr 2024

"Fairer food labelling" consultation criticised for not considering slaughter and only covering limited species.

Nicky from Pixabay

The National Secular Society has criticised the Government for putting up "significant barriers" to implementing a mandatory labelling scheme for meat from animals that are religiously slaughtered without stunning.

The NSS expressed "tremendous disappointment" in response to a Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) consultation on "fairer food labelling" which excludes slaughter methods.

This is despite Defra's own research revealing overwhelming support for such labels.

The consultation's stated purpose is to seek views on options "to improve transparency" around food labelling.

Animal welfare legislation requires all animals to be stunned before slaughter to minimise pain and suffering. But exemptions for religious communities allow slaughter without stunning to meet Jewish and Muslim religious dietary preferences for kosher and halal meat.

Although scientists and veterinarians widely agree slaughtering animals without stunning causes unnecessary suffering, there is no legal requirement for non-stun meat to be labelled as such.

Consultation "completely ignores" non-stun slaughter

The NSS criticised Defra's assertion that labelling for slaughter method is not necessary, because legislation "already sets out strict requirements to protect the welfare of animals when slaughtered".

The NSS said this "completely ignores" that these requirements "do not apply to the millions of animals slaughtered every year without stunning for halal and kosher meat".

It also pointed out that repeated surveys, including Defra's own previous consultation, reveal overwhelming support for products from non-stun slaughter to be labelled.

The current consultation only covers chickens and pigs. While pigs cannot be slaughtered without stunning under any circumstances, chickens can be subjected to non-stun slaughter for halal and kosher meat. Defra figures suggest over 16 million are slaughtered annually without stunning.

The consultation says labelling for meat from cattle and sheep, which can both be slaughtered without stunning for halal and kosher meat, would only be considered if the proposals for chickens and pigs "are implemented and prove successful". Labelling for beef and lamb would then be subject to "further consultation".

The NSS said this puts up "significant barriers" to implementing non-stun slaughter labelling for cattle and sheep, because the process "would likely take years – if it were to happen at all".

It said the need for labelling is "clear", because Defra's own figures suggest a considerable percentage of meat from animals religiously slaughtered without stunning ends up on the general market unlabelled. Over half of all cattle slaughtered for kosher is rejected for failing to meet religious requirements but considered "fit for wider consumption". This is on top of the parts of animals which are not themselves regarded as kosher and are therefore sold on the general market unlabelled.

The NSS said this is "potentially unlawful" because government guidance says meat slaughtered without stunning must be "intended for consumption by Jewish or Muslim people".

NSS: Defra "failing to respond to the needs of consumers"

NSS head of campaigns Megan Manson said: "In putting up multiple barriers to labelling for non-stun slaughter, Defra is failing to respond to the needs of consumers, most of whom want to know whether the meat they're eating was ethically slaughtered.

"No animal should suffer unnecessary cruelty to serve religious demands. As long as non-stun slaughter for halal and kosher is permitted, meat from such slaughter must be clearly labelled.

"We therefore urge Defra to launch a separate consultation on labelling for animal welfare which explicitly requires meat from animals slaughtered without stunning to be clearly labelled as such, and which includes all species subjected to non-stun slaughter."

The consultation closes on May 7th. Responses can be submitted here.

End non-stun religious slaughter

We campaign to end religious exemptions to animal welfare laws.

Tags: Slaughter