UK: No move to ban shechita, MP promises

Jewish Chronicle – Marcus Dysch


5984_080_R101_QAnimal welfare campaigners in the House of Commons will not seek a vote to ban shechita in Britain, a leading MP has promised.

There is no intention of following the example of anti-Israel backbenchers who forced through a ballot on Palestinian statehood, Neil Parish, chair of a group investigating kosher and halal slaughter, confirmed.

He said colleagues would instead focus on cross-party discussions with religious groups in the hope of improving animal welfare. They will lobby for labelling to show consumers whether meat has been stunned or not.

Under the shechita process, animals are not stunned before slaughter, a practice animal rights campaigners oppose.

Speaking to the JC after a Westminster Hall debate on religious slaughter on Tuesday, Mr Parish ruled out an outright attempt to ban the practice.

“It is much better debated without a vote. We want to put pressure on relevant groups in order to make improvements,” said the former farmer who now chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Beef and Lamb.

“I’m not in this for gesture politics. I have a genuine belief in animal welfare. We need to have a reasonable approach so religious communities have the rights they require. It is better to sit down and talk about it.”

Mr Parish, Conservative MP for Tiverton and Honiton, said he would seek discussions with religious authorities over the possibility of introducing post-cut stunning to the shechita process. Such a request is likely to be opposed by kosher authorities.

The debate at Westminster Hall was dominated by MPs defending shechita. A number of speakers called for wider use of labels to ensure consumers also knew if animals had been gassed or electrocuted before death.

Liverpool Riverside MP Louise Ellman said any interference with kosher practice would be a “gross infringement of the Jewish community’s civil rights.

“Many more animals suffer as a result of failed stunning than are killed in the entire shechita process. It is important the debate is conducted in a calm way.”

A ban on non-stunned meat would leave British Jews forced to either import kosher meat at great cost, or leave the country, Huntingdon MP Jonathan Djanogly claimed.

Lee Scott, Ilford North MP, said: “Anyone who thinks there’s a pleasant way to kill an animal is kidding themselves.

“The Jewish community is not against food labelling; we invented it with the hechsher. What would be inappropriate would be if meat was labelled only in a religious way. If we are going to start labelling it has to be across the board.”

Labelling meat as kosher or halal could be seen as pejorative and render it as “second class” in the eyes of consumers, Hendon MP Matthew Offord warned.

Huw Irranca-Davies, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Food and Farming, said “tabloid hyperbole” over halal and shechita meat had “overtaken the reality”.

Around 140 million animals are killed for halal meat every year in Britain, with around 2.1m shechita killings. Around 88 per cent of animals slaughtered for halal meat are pre-stunned. No kosher animals undergo pre-stunning.

George Eustice, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for farming and food, said the government preferred all animals to be pre-stunned, but added: “We recognise and respect the needs of religious communities. The Prime Minister has made clear that the government has no intention of abolishing religious slaughter in this country.”

Following the session, Shimon Cohen, director of the Shechita UK campaign group, said: “In the many years of campaigning I do not remember a debate where the Jewish community’s perspective was so well represented.”