NSS slams government for backtracking on non-stun slaughter labels

The government has “prioritised religion over animal welfare” by backtracking on labels for meat from animals slaughtered without stunning, the National Secular Society has warned.

Last week the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) launched a consultation on “fairer food labelling”, which aims to improve transparency and animal welfare labelling.

But the consultation will not consider compulsory labelling for animals slaughtered by controversial non-stun religious methods – despite Defra’s own research revealing overwhelming support for such labels.

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

Nearly 97% want labelling for slaughter method on meat, Defra research finds

Defra concluded “there is public appetite for improved welfare labelling” after its call for evidence in 2021 revealed nearly 97% of respondents wanted mandatory labelling of meat to indicate the method of slaughter. There were over 1,400 responses to this question.

Defra said many respondents argued there was a need for mandatory labelling on meat to indicate whether the animal had been stunned prior to slaughter so consumers can “make informed purchases in line with their values”. Some respondents asserted consumers’ right to avoid purchasing non-stun meat “out of concern for animal welfare”.

Defra said the government will “co-develop proposals for labelling welfare standards with stakeholders” prior to a further consultation.

But the latest consultation says the proposals “do not cover welfare” at slaughter. It says the legislation covering welfare at slaughter “already sets out strict requirements to protect the welfare of animals when slaughtered”.

Animal welfare legislation requires all animals to be stunned before slaughter to minimise pain, and suffering. But there is an exemption is for religious communities to meet Jewish and Muslim religious dietary preferences for kosher and halal meat.

This consultation only applies to pigs and chickens. It is never legal to slaughter pigs without stunning first, but chickens are one of the species that can be religiously slaughtered without slaughtered. It says that rolling out mandatory labelling for beef and sheep meat would be dependent on the success of labelling for pork and chicken, and would be subject to further consultation.

The religious exemption has been widely criticised by animal welfare organisations and secularists, including the NSS.

Sale of non-stun meat widespread on general market

Polling in 2021 found over 70% Brits think food produced from religious non-stun slaughter methods should be clearly labelled. Only 4% did not support labelling. A 2015 YouGov poll found 77% of the population also support an outright ban on non-stun slaughter.

But non-stun meat is routinely sold or served on the general market unlabelled.

Opposition to accurate labelling comes primarily from religious lobby groups connected to the non-stun slaughter industry. Some respondents to the 2021 consultation who opposed labelling to indicate the method of slaughter “voiced concerns that labelling might present problems for Kosher and Halal supply chains”.

Some parts of animals killed by Jewish ritual slaughter methods (shechita) are not themselves regarded as kosher and are sold on the general market unlabelled. It has been estimated that less than half of the meat from animals slaughtered by shechita is sold in kosher shops, according to the RSPCA.

Additionally, figures published by Defra in 2022 found over half of all cows slaughtered by shechita during a survey were rejected as not meeting religious requirements but “fit for wider consumption”.

NSS: Government’s backtracking “bitterly disappointing”

The NSS, which campaigns to end religious exemptions to animal welfare laws, called the government’s decision not to consult on labelling for slaughter methods “bitterly disappointing”.

NSS chief executive Stephen Evans said: “Most Brits are deeply opposed to slaughter methods which inflict unnecessary cruelty.

“So if the state grants exemptions for religious communities to slaughter animals without stunning them, it must ensure meat from those animals is labelled so consumers can choose to avoid it.

“Given such strong public support for labelling, it’s bitterly disappointing that the government appears to be reneging on its previous commitment on this issue.

“The government has prioritised religious demands over animal welfare – and the interests of consumers at large.”

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