Repeated calls for a ban on the religious slaughter of animals have become an “obsession” of the animal rights lobby and are in danger of damaging wider community relations, religious groups have warned.
Jewish and Muslim leaders have accused animal welfare lobbyists of campaigning against the non-stun religious slaughter of animals to the exclusion of almost all other welfare issues.
They say the repeated calls for ban are not only unnecessary – with such practices accounting for a tiny percentage of animals killed – but also serve to increase hostility to Muslims and Jews among other sections of the population.
The warning comes ahead of a House of Commons debate on Monday in response to an Internet petition calling for a ban on non-stun slaughter of animals. The petition, set up by the British Veterinary Association’s director of policy, Sally Burnell, has attracted more than 115,000 signatures since its launch. An opposing petition drew more than 72,000 names in just a few days.
He added: “This continued focus on religious slaughter is dog whistle politics of the worst sort and its effect is to undermine community relations. For animal welfare groups to keep pushing for a ban is wild-eyed and obsessive.”
Mr Cohen pointed out that Shechita, in which the animal’s throat, windpipe and blood vessels are cut, killing it instantly, amounts to less than 1 per cent of all slaughter in the UK, yet animal welfare groups appeared to focus on it to the detriment of other issues.
He said: “Two weeks ago a horrific film of extraordinary disregard for animal welfare at a non-mechanically stunned abattoir in Yorkshire came to light. Animal welfare campaigners called for an end of religious slaughter. Four days later a similar video was released at a conventional slaughter house and I didn’t hear one call to end conventional slaughter.
“If there is a genuine interest in improving animal welfare standards at time of slaughter, we need to look at many areas like abattoir practices, CCTV and mis-stunning. This fixation with religious slaughter beggars belief. At the moment the Muslim community is being tarred by the horrors of terrorism and these calls for a ban on religious slaughter feed into that mood music.”
Matthew Offord, the Conservative MP for Hendon, who is speaking at Monday’s debate and whose constituency includes many Jewish families, said the effect of call for a ban was to wrongly imply that Jews and Muslims are somehow un-British and indulging in alien practices.
He said: “People are very upset that their religious beliefs are being attacked by the animal welfare lobby. Shechita is a fundamental part of the Jewish religion. They can’t just abandon it. furthermore nobody is being forced to eat this meat unknowingly as it is always clearly marked as kosher.”
Dr Shuja Shafi, gecretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said: “Muslim and Jewish slaughter practice is being singled out when animal welfare abuses in non-religious slaughter houses are being ignored. Proper ritual slaughter is not incompatibel with animal welfare.”
Under Islamic rules animals can be stunned before the slaughter, known by Muslims as Zabiha, and the vast majority of halal meat comes from animals that were pre-stunned.
But Shechita prohibits pre -stunning, with Jewish leaders saying that the act of cutting the animal’s neck renders it “insensible to pain” and has the same effect as mechanical stunning.
Although legislation in Britain requires the pre-stunning of animals before slaughter in normal circumstances, there has been an exemption for the Jewish and Muslim methods of slaughter dating back to the Slaughter of Animals (Scotland) Act 1928 and the Slaughter of Animals Act 1933.
Jewish groups defend their method of killing animals without first stunning them, saying using a sharp knife to cut through the neck is a “humane act designed to bring about the animals’ end very quickly”.
However, the BVA insists animals should be stunned, saying that otherwise sheep could remain conscious for up to seven seconds after having their throat cut, and cattle for two minutes.
John Blackwell, president of the BVA, said: “Our position is based on scientific evidence. Such scientific evidence tells us that non-stun slaughter allows the animal to perceive pain and compromises animal welfare. This is an issue that affects the welfare of millions of individual animals every year.”
He added: “BVA finds abuses of animals in all slaughterhouses truly shocking. It is not hypocrisy that the BVA is putting pressure on the Government to end non stun slaughter. In fact it is quite the reverse. We want the Government to have a consistent approach to animal welfare legislation.”
Shimon Cohen of Shechita UK, which campaigns on behalf of the Jewish community for the right to carry out religious slaughter for food said: “Since January 2013 there has been a House of Lords Debate and a Westminster Hall Debate on the subject, with a third debate scheduled for Monday. Many other animal welfare concerns, such as game hunting and mechanical mis-stunning, have not been debated once in that time.”