A petition calling on the government to ban halal and kosher slaughter of animals is well on the way to receiving the 100,000 signatures required to prompt a debate in Parliament on the issue.
Halal and kosher slaughter of animals for meat (the latter also known as “shechita”) has become a contentious subject as the animals are slaughtered without first being stunned.
Many have argued, as this petition does, that the practice is “cruel” and “barbaric”, while supporters argue that the method is humane, and that banning it would contravene freedom of religion.
The petition, addressed to Prime Minister David Cameron, reads: “We are angry at the food industry for pandering to the minority group that want [sic] halal and kosher foods, and we want you to stand up and set an example that halal is wrong.”
It goes on to cite the Danish minister for agriculture and food Dan Jørgensen, who, in response to his government extending a ban on religious slaughter to cover previously exempted groups, insisted that “animal rights come before religion”.
But that extension was not without its detractors: in response, Israel’s Deputy Minister of Religious Services Rabbi Eli Ben Dahan said: “European anti-Semitism is showing its true colours across Europe, and is even intensifying in the government institutions.”
Sweden, Germany, Norway and the Netherlands also have similar bans in place. But so far the British government has shown no appetite for the outlawing of religious slaughter in the UK.
Members of Parliament held a debate on the practice in February 2015 in response to another petition which had gained over 100,000 signatures in the course of nine months, although supporters of shechita pointed out that a counter-petition raised 120,000 signatures in nine days. That petition emphasised the need to carry out religious slaughter correctly to minimise the animal’s suffering.
Six MPs spoke in the debate in favour of shechita and one in favour of halal slaughter, while four spoke in favour of banning religious slaughter.
In December 2015, the government issued an updated statement on its position on ritual slaughter, in which it affirmed its commitment to the highest standards of animal welfare.
“[We] would prefer to see all animals stunned before they are slaughtered for food. However, we also respect the rights of the Jewish and Muslim communities to eat meat prepared in accordance with their religious beliefs,” it said, continuing: “Recently, the Prime Minister has confirmed that there would be no ban on religious slaughter in the UK.”
It recognised that there is “public concern about meat from animals slaughtered in accordance with religious beliefs being sold to consumers who do not require their meat to be prepared in this way,” but confirmed that “currently, there are no specific EU or national legal requirements governing the sale and labelling of halal or kosher meat.”
It added: “The Government believes that consumers should have the necessary information available to them to make an informed choice about their food. We are awaiting the results of a European Commission study on method-of-slaughter labeling which is due this summer. We will look at possible options in light of that report.”