Question for Short Debate
My Lords, in my 45 years as a veterinary surgeon I have witnessed the abattoir slaughter of many animals with and without stunning, but when I first witnessed slaughter without stunning it was profoundly disturbing. The animal staggered from its killing crate, blood gushing from the neck wound, and it did not collapse into unconsciousness for some considerable time. It is that experience and others since that have caused me to bring this debate.
It might be useful initially to cover the legal framework surrounding the slaughter of animals—and I am going to concentrate on cattle and sheep. The legal framework is straightforward. In abattoirs, the death of animals is due to exsanguination following severance of the major blood vessels in the neck. It is illegal in the UK and throughout the EU to do that without first rendering animals insensible by stunning—except that that requirement for pre-stunning is exempted for those of Muslim and Jewish faiths to produce either respectively halal meat or kosher meat by shechita. I intend to talk about stunning and non-stunning in the rest of my speech.
Noble Lords have heard my reactions. Let me quote the reactions of a female, Jewish vet, who recently sent me an e-mail. She said:
“Without a doubt, during my almost twenty years as a vet, I have never witnessed anything as horrific as Shechita slaughter. That horror lives fresh in my mind today and having been raised and now living in a Kosher home I do not and never have eaten a piece of Kosher meat since the day I witnessed this barbaric practice. Indeed I have seen much suffering and many severe injuries in the animals I have treated over the years, but nothing comes close to the unnecessary and brutal suffering that these animals experience at the very end of their lives”.
Note that that is from a qualified, official veterinary surgeon who has done a lot of meat hygiene work and has witnessed the slaughter of many animals involving both stunning and non-stunning.
Let me emphasise that I recognise that both the great faiths in question have serious concerns for animal welfare. I also make it quite clear that I defend and respect the freedom of expression of all groups, religious or non-religious, within reasonable limits acceptable to our society. Nevertheless, it is my contention that unnecessary suffering is being caused to a very substantial number of animals by slaughter without stunning. I want to address this under three headings: inconsistency, injury and insult.
In terms of inconsistency, we rightly pride ourselves here in Britain on our animal welfare regulations and our humaneness. Recently, it has been made an offence to dock a puppy dog’s tail. That is something that involved a snip with a pair of scissors which, on a week-old pup, evoked at most a slight yelp. We have made that illegal—and I am happy with that law—yet we allow adult animals to have their throats cut without rendering them unconscious first. Is that a consistent approach to humaneness?
I turn to biological tissue injury. The Farm Animal Welfare Council, in its report of 2003, considered the whole issue of slaughter without stunning in great detail. Considering the injury to the neck involved in throat-cutting, the council noted that this involved the incision of skin, muscle, trachea, oesophagus, both jugular veins, both carotid arteries, major nerve trunks and several other nerves. It concluded that,
“such a massive injury would result in very significant pain and distress in the period before insensibility supervenes”.
The FAWC report went on to refer to evidence of the time taken to lose brain responsiveness in different species following the neck cut. It noted that in sheep it was five to 10 seconds; in adult cattle, with excellent technique, it was a minimum of 22 to 40 seconds; and in calves it was 10 to 120 seconds. Twenty seconds is a long time if you are suffering pain. The FAWC report—and remember that this is the Government’s independent advisory committee—recommended in its 2003 report that,
“the Government should repeal the current exemption”
I turn to insult. By this I mean tissue damage and particularly the induction of pain—I mean a biological insult. Determining the perception of pain can be very difficult, I acknowledge, but some recent research has been done on calves in New Zealand which I would argue provides strong evidence that pain is perceived by a neck cut and that stunning abrogates that. In this work, electrophysiological measurements were taken of brain signals, for which there was supportive evidence of their being associated with pain. A neck cut without pre-stunning caused pain signals lasting for up to two minutes. Such signals did not occur when stunning was used before the neck cut. Finally, if the neck cut was made and then animals were stunned, the pain signals occurring after the cut were immediately abolished. Every attempt was made in this work to mimic slaughter without stunning but true shechita could not be performed because, ironically, the animals had to be gently anaesthetised to conform to experimental animal laws and thus could not pass for human consumption, as shechita demands. So I would argue that it is likely that severe pain is caused by slaughter without stunning, albeit for a relatively short period, but perhaps for as much as two minutes in cattle.
How many animals are involved in slaughter without stunning? The latest available survey by the Food Standards Agency, in 2011, indicates that approximately 70,000 cattle are slaughtered in the UK each year without stunning, mainly by shechita, and that about 1.5 million sheep are despatched without stunning, mainly for halal consumption. I should point out that the majority of sheep that are killed for halal purposes in the UK are pre-stunned, but that still leaves the significant minority of 1.5 million that I have referred to. Thus I contend that, given the nature of the biological insult and the numbers involved, slaughter without stunning is a major, if not the major animal welfare issue in the United Kingdom today. A further important fact is that much of the meat from non-stunned slaughter goes into the food chain for mainstream consumers. I suggest that consumers can justifiably expect to be informed if the normal legally required form of humane slaughter has not been used.
All the independent welfare bodies advocate stunning before slaughter—FAWC, the British Veterinary Association, the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe, the RSPCA and the Humane Slaughter Association—and furthermore, the food-quality assurance schemes such as red tractor and the Soil Association do not permit non-stun slaughter. In Europe, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland and Iceland have disallowed non-stun slaughter, and New Zealand does not permit the non-stun abattoir slaughter of mammals. Significantly, New Zealand exports large amounts of sheep meat that has been reversibly stunned and certified as halal to Muslim communities in Asia and the Middle East.
The EU is currently conducting a study on providing consumers with the relevant information on the stunning of animals by labelling of meat products. In the UK, the beef and lamb trade organisation EBLEX is working on the issue of clear labelling with halal producers. Will the Government support measures to label meat appropriately to enable consumers to make informed choices?
I make it clear that I am not asking in this debate for non-stun slaughter to be banned. I am not a believer in bans; I would rather that society collectively arrived at decisions about what is acceptable and what is not. However, I sincerely ask the Muslim and Jewish communities and their leaders to reflect and consider whether ancient practices, for which there were good reasons many hundreds of years ago, are necessary today. There are non-lethal, non-invasive methods of stunning, and even if there is disagreement on the extent or duration of pain perception, is it not time to adopt stunning to preclude the possibility of unnecessary suffering—as some Muslim food authorities have allowed?
My Lords, I declare my animal welfare interest as set out in the register, and I thank the noble Lord for introducing this very important subject, which worried me considerably when I was a young MP in the other place. Certainly, given the opportunity at that time, I would have said, “Ban the slaughter of all animals that are not pre-stunned—no exceptions”. One gets a little more tolerant as years go by, but I still think that a great many measures could be taken that could help in the situation as so vividly described by the noble Lord.
I will put several propositions to the Minister. First, I hope that he—if his department does not do so already—will enter into constructive, friendly dialogues with the Muslim and Jewish communities to see if there is not some consensus or way of going forward as outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Trees. I realise that this may be a particular problem for the Jewish authorities. I must say at this point how much I commend the Muslim community for having so many of its animals slaughtered with pre-stunning. That is a great development and I am happy to pay public tribute to that community.
However, given that we may not get complete consensus, will my noble friend look at the possibility of stunning immediately after the cut is made, which would obviate some of the suffering? Finally, I take particular exception that a lot of meat that is not used for the religious communities comes on to the market without being labelled. If we are to have some rights, that is a right I should like for myself. I do not wish to eat meat that has not been pre-stunned, and I have the right to have the meat very clearly labelled.
My Lords, I declare an interest. I am a meat-eater, and I am personally offended if expected to eat meat from non-stunned food production animals. As such, I have no problem whatever with religious slaughter, but I do not wish to eat non-stunned meat, and therefore it should be labelled. It should be labelled where born, raised, slaughtered and the method of slaughter. That is perfectly acceptable information to be put on a label for consumers.
One of the problems with this issue is that there is no central authority for halal meat. The rules vary around the world, so it cannot be policed. All New Zealand lamb entering the UK is classified as halal. It is all pre-stunned before slaughter. There is not a problem. Over my years as a Minister in MAFF and Defra, and as the FSA chair, I visited dozens of abattoirs. The FSA is only responsible for the enforcement of animal welfare regulations as a contractor to Defra, as the Minister will make clear. It is not a food safety issue.
I want to elaborate a bit on the figures given by the noble Lord, Lord Trees, with a one-week survey from September 2011 which was in an open board paper of May 2012. Some 43,000 cattle were slaughtered, 1,700 halal, 84% of which were pre-stunned; 307,000 sheep and goats were slaughtered, 154,000 halal, 81% pre-stunned; and 16 million chickens were slaughtered, 4.7 million halal, 88% pre-stunned. I have not got time to give the Jewish figures. So the non-stunned totals for halal and Jewish that one week were 3% of the cattle, 10% of the sheep and 4% of the poultry. They are very small numbers of non-stunned animals. The trouble is that too much of the extra goes into the general food chain and customers are not aware. The simple answer to this is labelling. Consumers have the right to know the method of slaughter, and that should be a given, in my view.
My Lords, I wholeheartedly support the case made by the noble Lord, Lord Trees, and the evidence that he outlined that slaughter by throat-cutting without pre-stunning is absolutely unacceptable in animal welfare terms. However, like other speakers, time is short, and therefore the important issue for me today is to put on record that, yes, we must respect the rights of religious communities, but equally we must respect the rights of consumers for them to be able to make informed choices about the food they eat.
At present, a concerned consumer can go and buy red tractor meat or freedom food meat, or go into Waitrose, where all meat is pre-stunned, or if they are in Southall they can go into the McDonald’s and buy a halal burger which is pre-stunned. However, there are millions of animals slaughtered in the UK without pre-stunning, as the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, has outlined. With the Muslim and the Jewish community only comprising about 4% to 5% of the population, that means a vast percentage of people in this country are unwittingly buying food which has been slaughtered without pre-stunning.
It is an incredibly timely debate today. It is surprising that we have not debated it more frequently in this House, but it is timely because at this very moment the regulations are being discussed in the European Parliament. Those certainly should help consumers make informed choices about the food they buy, and they could do even more, if they included mandatory labelling of the slaughter methods, by exception—that is, only the meat that is slaughtered without pre-stunning requires labelling.
I therefore add my voice to that of the noble Lord, Lord Trees, in asking the Minister what discussions the Government have had with the European Commission on the study it is commissioning at the present time, due out in April, into the effectiveness and applicability of labelling meat products on the methods of slaughter. If those draft proposals were to emerge as a result of that study, would my Government support, as I do, the EU-wide mandatory labelling of non-pre-stunned meat?
My Lords, I declare an interest as I breed sheep. I have to admit that I try to shut out the fact that some of them have to go to market for slaughter. I feel this is something that the general public do not think much about, as long as they have their burgers, steaks and chicken tikka masala. I take part in this short debate on behalf of the animals. I ask that religious leaders—who have traditions—look at the welfare of the animals that give them food. I ask them whether the practice of killing the animals is the best that can be done to relieve the suffering. Animals must sense a horror of going to a slaughterhouse, as has been shown when some animals make violent attempts to escape.
I have been involved with the legislation concerning female mutilation—circumcision. This is a barbaric practice of mutilation of young girls without anaesthetic, all because of some people’s traditions and customs. Animals which are hung upside down and have their throats cut without stunning or anaesthetic must also be terrified. Do the proprietors of these customs realise the cruelty they are inflicting?
The Jewish method of slaughter, shechita, requires animals not to be stunned before slaughter. Recent data collected by the EU Dialrel project show that 100% of the animals and birds slaughtered by the UK abattoirs service for the production of kosher meat were slaughtered without prior stunning. At four establishments, 1,314, or 3%, of cattle and calves were slaughtered by the Jewish shechita method, with 10% of these stunned immediately after bleeding. Does that mean they are still alive after bleeding? These figures were published by the Food Standards Agency in 2012. The National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee of New Zealand recommended a dispensation for kosher slaughter in 2001, but the new code does not allow any exemptions. Among the countries which have banned shechita are Iceland, Norway and Sweden. I hope the Jewish community will see the light—that the animals which give us so much need respect when they have to die.
My Lords, I speak as a Muslim who consumes halal meat regularly.
Islam forbids the mistreatment of animals; the welfare of animals is enshrined in Muslim beliefs. The Prophet Mohammed—peace be upon him—has said:
“A good deed done to an animal is like a good deed done to a human being, while an act of cruelty to an animal is as bad as cruelty to a human being”.
Islam permits the slaughter of animals for food, but dictates that such slaughter must be exercised humanely. There has never been any conclusive scientific evidence to suggest that religious slaughter is less humane than conventional mechanical methods. The controversy revolves primarily around the issue of stunning. Exemption from stunning is allowed for halal and kosher slaughter. In halal slaughter the animal ceases to feel pain due to the immediate brain starvation of blood and oxygen. For the first few seconds after the incision is made, the animal does not feel any pain. This is followed by a few seconds of deep unconsciousness as large quantities of blood are drained from the body. Thereafter, readings indicate no pain at all.
It is important to consider that prohibiting halal meat would have profound social and economic implications. There are now 2.7 million Muslims in the United Kingdom, 4.8% of the population. Halal meat accounts for between 10% and 15% of UK meat sales; some of this meat is, however, pre-stunned. People from all religions and backgrounds now choose halal as an alternatively produced meat.
I want to see a rigorous code of conduct and an efficient system of self-regulation. This would reassure non-Muslims that such animals are being respected and standards are being adhered to. I would also like a full and transparent system of labelling for all meats, so that the consumer can make an informed decision about the meat they buy. Labelling should not be confined to religiously slaughtered meat. Finally, Islamic leaders have asked the Jewish community for guidance on this, and I hope they can work together.
My Lords, what other religion argues that its animals should not work on the Sabbath? And we do not “seethe the kid in his mother’s milk” because that seems cruel somehow. I would argue that the notion of animal protection is stronger in Judaism than in any other world religion.
I want to speak purely as a scientist. We have heard a number of assertions here which are not scientific. With all due respect to the noble Lord, Lord Trees, death is not caused by exsanguination; it is due to interruption of the blood supply to the brain, which is immediate and has been measured. The problem with EEG measurements—electrode recording—is that they have been shown to be unsound. Indeed, the only way that you could detect pain would be by positron emission scanning of the brain, which clearly does not show any activity at all within two seconds once the blood supply has been cut. I would also argue that shechita is a much more humane method than stunning. Contrary to what some have said, it is a better method of killing animals because there is less suffering. Animals have to be calm and they are not manhandled roughly.
The noble Lord, Lord Trees, is not the only one who has been to an abattoir. They are not pleasant places. It is never pleasant to see any kind of animal killed under any circumstances, but the truth is that under the Home Office Act we would not be allowed to slaughter laboratory animals with stunning because it would not be regarded as a proper way of culling an animal in a laboratory. It would have to be done by a method which is much closer to cutting the blood supply to the brain.
I emphasise that what has been said about pain is another assumption. Of course animals may move after the brain is severed but the brain itself does not perceive pain if it is damaged and, in fact, none of the organs below the skin has pain fibres. You have some pain fibres in your trachea but they are very small. The evidence that animals suffer severe pain after one cut with an extremely sharp knife is extremely arguable. The truth is that, once you are unconscious, nobody knows what the perception of death or pain is.
My Lords, I do not disagree with the labelling of meat. Jews do it already for the kosher food trade. There are a number of legal but unpleasant methods of mechanical stunning and, if meat is to be labelled, it should all be labelled alongside that produced from humane religious slaughter. These methods include shooting, mostly of hunting and game birds; a captive bolt gun to the skull for cows and sheep; chickens shackled by their ankles and dipped in a water bath that has an electric current running through it; herding pigs into a room and gassing them; and trapping and clubbing, which are mostly used in hunting.
It is important to be honest about the incidents of mis-stunning that are recorded. The European Food Safety Authority’s report, Welfare Aspects of Animal Stunning and Killing Methods, found that the failure rate for penetrating captive bolt stunning in the non-kosher slaughter of cattle may be as high as 6.6%—the noble Lord, Lord Winston, says it is 8%—and that, for non-penetrating captive bolt stunning and electric stunning, it can rise to as high as 31%. The percentages of mis-stuns far exceed the total quantity of animals slaughtered for the Jewish community. Every year, millions of animals across Europe are mis-stunned and left in great distress. I say: label all this meat, and that would deal with the problem raised by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker.
Two million cattle, 8 million pigs and 9 million sheep and lambs are slaughtered every year. Of those, the Jewish community slaughters only 90,000 red-meat animals. If you round that to the nearest percentage point, it is 0%. Similarly, every year 750 million birds are slaughtered, of which the Jewish community slaughters maybe half a million—a fraction of a fraction of 1%.
A new European Commission report published on 19 December 2013 on the various stunning methods for poultry concludes that, although there are serious animal welfare concerns about the water-bath stunning of poultry, more humane methods are not “economically viable”.
My Lords, first I must confess that I am no expert, but I wanted to come to this debate partly to say what I feel but also to hear what all the experts were going to say. This has been a very distressing and confusing debate. On the one hand the noble Lord, Lord Trees, has told us that stunning is essential, and on the other we have had the noble Lord, Lord Winston, tell us that it really is not. I do not know what to believe.
I have been here in my adopted country off and on for most of my life, since 1947, and all the time we have been gradually moving towards looking after everyone, whether they are animals, women or people needing equality. All those issues have been moving forward, and it has been a fight to get to various points that are important. That underpins the values of this society.
I do not think that the British people are much worried by other people’s faith. They do not seem to be much worried by their own; why would they take much notice of other people’s? I am not in the least concerned about other people’s faiths, but practice is another issue. I hope that any practice that is not in keeping with the ethical values of British society is carefully considered.
We have heard some differing views today. I hope that this will all be put together and looked at carefully. The labelling issue is extremely important because at least we will know what we are buying. I have been buying halal meat because I have found it to be very good; I say that openly. Now I will be worried because I do not know whether it has been done with pain to the animal or with no pain.
I am concerned about many things, and I think that all of us in this country need to watch for changes that take us in directions that we never wanted to go in, especially—the minutes do not seem to be passing.
The Clock is not working.
So how long have I been speaking? Too long! How wonderful. I want to say one last thing, which is not on the animal issue: when I read about the Islamic Society at Leicester University being allowed to separate girls and boys at a meeting, it breaks my heart. We have worked terribly hard for equality and for animal welfare. Please let us keep those things in mind and not allow this country to go in that direction.
I declare an interest in that I was a member of the Farm Animal Welfare Council, although not at the time of the report that the noble Lord, Lord Trees, referred to. I thank the noble Lord for raising this important subject, which we all recognise arouses the strongest feelings. Mahatma Gandhi is reported to have said, “The measure of a civilisation is how it treats its weakest members”. Without wishing to be accused of sounding too anthropomorphic, it is in that context that I view this discussion.
The demise of local slaughterhouses in the UK means that animals now often have to travel a long way for slaughter. By the time that an animal in the UK reaches its final destination, it is often tired, stressed, confused by the unfamiliarity and frightened by the smell, so the loss of consciousness should be instantaneous. Bill Riley, a past president of the British Veterinary Association, has expressed the view that slaughter without stunning causes suffering, a view echoed by the Farm Animal Welfare Council. I am told that Islamic rules for halal meat can be satisfied with pre-stunned animals, with 80% of UK halal meat now produced this way, so perhaps we could persuade them to make this mandatory, as has been done in Denmark and New Zealand. I understand that kosher meat does not permit pre-stunning, so the question is how to stop the animal suffering. If an animal is not cut correctly, it can take several minutes to die.
While some people choose to eat kosher or halal meat, as Masood Khawaja, the president of the Halal Food Authority, has recognised, others have a right to choose not to eat it, and I therefore echo the comments of others about having it labelled.
I have the greatest respect for those of different faiths and beliefs but I feel that I must speak up for the voiceless. Please let us prioritise kindness towards animals, consider how this affects them and do everything possible to minimise their fear and suffering.
I wish to dwell on the selectivity in the Question as regards “some” animals. Ethical, religious and legal factors should be universally applied and not selective. This is a country in which fishing is a national pastime. Fish die from being left to suffocate and being gutted, which takes quite a while. We shoot foxes and trap them. We cull badgers by shooting and perhaps gassing them. We shoot stags and pheasants. We decapitate rabbits. Millions of lobsters have their claws bound and are thrown into boiling water where they thrash for a long time. Chickens and turkeys are swept through an electrically charged water bath and then are immersed in scalding water but it frequently goes wrong. It has been found that 26% of turkeys and one-third of chickens probably enter the scalding water while still alive and sensible.
Stunning cattle is vaunted as superior to Jewish slaughter, but it frequently goes wrong. The Jewish method ensures immediate cerebral perfusion and is irreversible. No electric prods are used and one animal is not killed in the presence of another. I am not religious in my attitude to food but I greatly respect the attitude of those who are orthodox and their religious slaughtermen, who regard the killing of animals as an act that should be not only humane but infused with respect and reverence, remembering at all times the gravity of what they do and never becoming slapdash or hardened. This attitude should be more widespread, so that we do not see newspaper reports of deliberate mistreatment of animals in abattoirs for fun.
The European Food Safety Authority found that about 12 million cows suffer from failed stunning. That greatly exceeds the entire annual quantity of cattle slaughtered for the Jewish religious community, which is a few thousand. There should be more focus on what goes wrong in stunning and the cruelty inflicted on other animals, and less pointing the finger at the Jewish few thousand if we are to be fair and ethical in our worries.
Let me first declare an interest. I am an observant Jew who eats only kosher meat, meat that has been killed by religious slaughter. I am not as observant as the next speaker, but I have an interest in allowing me and my co-religionists to practise our religion. I am sure that Rabbi Sacks—the noble Lord, Lord Sacks—will say a little about kosher meat in that respect. As other speakers have said, and as the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, has just made clear, the number of animals slaughtered for kosher meat without stunning is very small indeed.
The focus of this debate has not been on the effects of stunning and how it goes wrong. In researching for today’s debate, I have been horrified at some of the things that go wrong. The Vegetarians International Voice for Animals, which is opposed to religious slaughter, states:
“Tens of millions of animals are being ineffectively stunned and are regaining consciousness while they bleed to death”.
That is a horrific number.
On looking at the legal position, European Council regulations recognise that the stunning methods listed in their own literature are not the only methods. Those intimately involved in this work believe and argue that Jewish religious slaughter, properly undertaken and as described by the noble Lord, Lord Winston, also constitutes acceptable stunning because it instantly cuts off the blood supply to the brain. That comes within the definition of stunning provided in the regulations. The definition is,
“any intentionally induced process which causes loss of consciousness and sensibility without pain, including any process resulting in instantaneous death”.
I understand that, properly undertaken, that is exactly what Jewish religious slaughter seeks to achieve.
The welfare of the animal pre-slaughter is paramount in the Jewish religion. Any animal or bird which is even slightly harmed before slaughter is not considered suitable for kosher consumption. Special care is taken to ensure that the animal is calm before slaughter. The use of electric prods and the like is absolutely prohibited. It is also the case that the European regulations expressly respect the freedom of religion and the right to manifest religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance, as enshrined in Article 10 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union which states:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right includes freedom to change religion or belief and freedom”—
My Lords, I welcome this short debate and thank the noble Lord, Lord Trees, for initiating it, because it provides an opportunity to clarify certain matters about the killing of animals which I believe are still not understood.
I declare an interest, having been for 22 years until recently the chair of the Rabbinical Commission for the Licensing of Shochetim, the body responsible for the supervision of every act of animal killing done in this country under Jewish law. This body exists because for us animal welfare is a matter of high religious principle, which we take with the utmost seriousness. This is why we insist on long years of training, spiritual as well as practical, before anyone can be qualified to kill animals. In Britain, every shochet is licensed, every licence needs annual renewal, and their work is regularly supervised and reviewed.
Shechita itself, the act of animal killing, is designed to minimise animal pain. The animal must be killed by a single cut with an instrument of surgical sharpness, and in the absence of anything that might impede its smooth and swift motion. The cut achieves three things: it stuns, kills and exsanguinates in a single act. We believe that this is the most humane, or a most humane method of animal slaughter. Quite apart from the fact that other methods are not permitted by Jewish law, we have doubts about their effectiveness. Pre-stunning by captive bolt, as your Lordships have heard, often fails at the first attempt. According to the European Food Safety Authority’s report in 2004, the failure of penetrating and non-penetrating captive bolts affects around 10 million animals, causing the animal grave distress.
In Britain, some 3 million cows annually are affected by these failures, compared to the 20,000 cows killed annually by shechita. The pain caused to animals by the use of pre-stunning methods vastly outweighs that caused by shechita, even were it the case that shechita did cause extra moments of pain. However, we are not convinced that such is the case. The failure rates of pre-stunning, and the inconclusive and highly challenged nature of some of the experimental studies done in this field, should give us pause. Therefore, if a case is made for labelling meat to indicate how the animal was killed, this must apply to all methods of slaughter, not just to some. I hope therefore that the Jewish community will continue to work with the Government to ensure that shechita continues to the highest standards of concern for the welfare of animals, which should rightly be the concern of us all.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Trees, for introducing this debate today and declare my interest as a dairy farmer. Science does not find it easy to adjudicate on welfare claims, especially as the need for individual handling on a flock or herd animal seems to contravene a general legal and cultural requirement to reduce avoidable stress and pain at slaughter.
The EU regulation came into force in January 2013, allowing slaughter without stunning in accordance with religious practices to continue. However, individual member states may impose stricter rules. A consultation on new domestic regulations to implement this regulation ended in October 2012. Can the Minister tell us what point his Department’s dialogue with stakeholders has reached? What discussions are currently ongoing with the Commission? Are the Government waiting for a resolution to be achieved in Europe first, before coming forward with proposals here in the UK? The industry is pushing forward with proposals while Defra appears reticent. Could the Minister undertake at least to publish the results of the department’s consultation, now closed over 12 months ago?
Compromises have been reached in other jurisdictions which are being echoed here by industry, such as additional veterinary presence at non-stun slaughter and post-cut stunning. Has the department had discussions on these matters with interested parties and religious and cultural leaders, and what stage have any discussions reached? New Zealand has managed to achieve agreement among the communities through their leaders. Is this the favoured way forward for the Government?
EBLEX and the Food Standards Agency have come forward with some very interesting statistics indicating that non-stun slaughter of sheep and goats has increased by some 70% over the past 10 years, even though the number of animals not stunned prior to slaughter is low: 3% of cattle, 10% of sheep and goats, and 4% of poultry. Yet the communities consuming the excepted meat are much smaller than these figures would suggest.
Much of the meat from animals slaughtered by religious methods is not sold as such because it comes from the wrong cut of meat. This raises serious questions for labelling, and labelling must inform the consumer in a non-pejorative way. I recognise the complexities surrounding labelling but what is the Government’s approach to this? Other countries seem to have been able to settle this issue. Can the Minister say when his Government will come forward with their proposals?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Trees, for securing a debate on this very important issue, and I thank all noble Lords for concisely making some really important and informative points on all sides of the argument.
This is a subject in which I am intensely interested. Indeed, I should start by saying that we are completely committed to improving standards of animal welfare, including welfare at slaughter. I should highlight that my response on behalf of the Government applies only to England. The devolved authorities are responsible for their own animal welfare policy.
In 2012, in England, 764 million poultry, 8.4 million sheep, 8.1 million pigs and 1.4 million cattle were slaughtered. Given the sheer numbers involved, it is right that we take the welfare of animals at slaughter very seriously. The public rightly expect the Government to ensure that appropriate welfare measures are in place. In late 2012, we consulted on the best way to implement the new EU Regulation 1099/2009 on the protection of animals at the time of killing.
After careful consideration of responses, we decided to retain all existing national rules protecting the welfare of animals at killing, including those on religious slaughter, where they provided greater protection than the EU regulation. We will bring forward new secondary legislation soon to consolidate these national rules with the new requirements under the EU regulation. In coming to that decision, the Government assessed the key factors—legal, ethical and religious—raised in this debate. In answer to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, I anticipate laying the regulations in April.
As regards the legal factors, Council Regulation 1099/2009 provides for the protection of animals at the time of slaughter and came into effect on 1 January last year. It aims to ensure that animals are spared any avoidable pain, distress or suffering at the time of slaughter and it therefore requires that animals are stunned before they are killed. The only exception, as this debate has widely covered, is where animals are slaughtered according to religious rites.
The EU regulation also requires religious slaughter to take place only in an approved slaughterhouse and it allows member states to introduce additional national rules for religious slaughter. It is on this basis that we will retain our existing national rules on religious slaughter in the new domestic regulations and provide more extensive welfare protection to animals slaughtered in accordance with religious rites than that provided by the EU regulation.
Our existing national rules provide greater protection than those contained in the EU regulation in relation to, for example, cattle restraints, the method of killing and the handling of animals. We will keep our rule on “standstill time”, which means that animals must not be moved after the neck is cut until they are unconscious, and in any event not before a minimum period depending on the species.
It is worth saying that our stricter national rules take into account human rights legislation, including Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to freedom of religion and the freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs, and Article 14, prohibiting discrimination on grounds of race or religion.
The consumption of meat is a matter of personal choice. Those who choose to eat meat expect animals to be treated humanely when they are slaughtered. This is reflected in both EU and domestic legislation, which require that animals are spared any avoidable pain, distress or suffering both when they are handled and at the time of slaughter. As the noble Lord, Lord Trees, said, the Farm Animal Welfare Council’s 2003 report on the welfare of farmed animals at slaughter proposed that non-stun slaughter should be banned on the basis that it caused unnecessary suffering. That view needs to be balanced against the rights of the Jewish and Muslim communities to eat meat prepared in accordance with their religious beliefs. To insist on pre-stun slaughter would also effectively deny Jews and Muslims access to meat slaughtered in this country.
While the Government would prefer to see all animals stunned before slaughter, we respect the rights of Jewish and Muslim communities to eat meat prepared in accordance with their religious beliefs. It is worth noting that the term “religious slaughter” does not automatically mean that the animals are slaughtered without being stunned. As noble Lords have mentioned, some halal meat comes from animals that are stunned before slaughter. My noble friend Lady Fookes asked: why not require post-cut stunning? As we have seen, this is a very complex subject, but I understand that animals subject to post-cut stunning would no longer be acceptable to some religious communities.
The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, and my noble friend Lord Gold referred to mis-stuns of cattle in conventional slaughtering. All animals that are mis-stunned must be immediately re-stunned, and operators are required by law to check that stuns are effective. That process is checked by independent vets.
The noble Lords, Lord Trees, Lord Rooker and Lord Grantchester, and my noble friends Lady Fookes, Lady Parminter, Lord Sheikh and Lord Palmer all spoke about labelling. The Government are aware of concern about non-stunned meat being sold on to the general meat market. We agree with noble Lords who have made the point that consumers should have the information to make an informed choice. It has to be said that there are some practical difficulties in identifying the method of slaughter for all meat from the point of source to the point of consumption, so the European Commission, which is well aware of our view, has commissioned a study on the labelling of meat from non-stunned animals. We await the results of that study, which are due shortly. We will look carefully at what options are available for providing information to consumers in the light of the study, and I am sure that noble Lords will want to revert to this subject when we have those results.
We remain committed to improving the welfare of animals at slaughter and, as my noble friend Lady Fookes proposed, to a continuing dialogue with all those concerned, particularly on the issues raised in this debate.