There are two religious groups that insist that animals are slaughtered without pre-stunning. Both have different reasons for doing so.
The Jews believe that God is content for the killing of one of his creatures if it is for the benefit of feeding mankind, but that pain and suffering must be minimised. Extreme care is therefore taken with the handling of the animal pre-slaughter. This is important not only for animal welfare reasons but a relaxed and un-stressed animal will not release certain hormones into its bloodstream that subsequently spoil the quality of the meat. The throat of the animal is cut in such a way as to deprive the brain of blood (and hence the ability to feel pain); one instantaneous stroke of a surgically sharp knife whose weight and length must be in direct proportion to the size of the animal being killed.
The skill involved in this is considerable and requires a seven-year apprenticeship. It is taken very seriously indeed. The process is known as Shechita and meat killed in this way is classified as kosher.
Nerve endings (that send messages of pain to the brain) are not evenly distributed through flesh. They are disproportionally in their greatest numbers close to the surface of the skin. This is the reason why the slow grazing of a knee following a slip on sharp gravel is so painful, yet the long-term damage is minimal, whilst the quick sharp slitting of an artery in the wrist is far less painful but can be terminal.
The Muslims are primarily concerned that the last sound the animal hears before it dies is the prayers intoned over it, as the throat is cut. This can then be called Halal meat. Their religion does not ban pre-stunning, however, many are suspicious that stunning actually kills the animal because of the way it dramatically collapses, before the prayers have been intoned.
This perception is slowly changing in the face of (illegal) demonstrations in front of Muslim clerics, where an animal is stunned, and then allowed to recover.
In order to satisfy these requirements, the British Government allowed an exception to the Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulations 1995 that states that animals must be pre-stunned. The exception (Schedule 12, Point 2) is only allowable if the slaughterer is of the appropriate religion and the meat is consumed by Jews or Muslims.
This exception to the law, which is a considerable privilege, is being abused by both groups.
The Jews insist that carcasses are ‘porged’ (the removal of all blood vessels). This procedure is not, in practice, possible with the hindquarters because the resultant flesh completely loses its structure.
In theory, this meat should not go into the general food chain, but as it includes all the best ‘cuts’ and is in perfect condition (due to the care taken, mentioned earlier), it is therefore very well received by the wider population.
The Muslims (whose population is far greater) insist that Halal slaughter is used, and in the absence of a counter-insistence not to use Halal, many large abattoirs simply default to the Halal method to keep things simple. In doing so, the law is, of course, broken as the majority of the meat will be consumed by non-Muslims.
There is quite a significant proportion of our population who are thoroughly dissatisfied with this state of affairs, including many in UKIP who feel that our British values are being undermined. This sentiment has not been able to get traction in mainstream politics because of political correctness. Government Ministers are reluctant to offend Muslims, despite the fact that our law is being broken on a very large scale.
I have been under pressure, as UKIP Agriculture Spokesman, to bring forward a Party policy that bans all non-stun slaughter in the UK.
There is obviously an attraction in doing this, but it will have undesirable, unintended consequences as follows:
1) The demand for Halal meat will not diminish and will be met from imported carcasses that may have been killed in thoroughly unpleasant circumstances, in countries where animal welfare is not a readily understood concept, and where any old penknife will do the trick. Under WTO rules, we cannot ban imports purely on the strength of disagreeing with the method of production.
2) 20% of British sheepmeat is consumed by British Muslims. This dramatic drop in demand will have a devastating effect on the small family farming businesses that produce these sheep. UKIP members are frequently urging me to produce policies that favour this type of farmer, as opposed to ‘Barley Barons’ and ‘Factory Farms’. Sheep are associated with poor quality land, and there are few, if any, viable alternatives.
3) We can expect to witness the acquisition of large tracts of remote hill land by Muslims to rear sheep and kill them clandestinely in shacks, bothies and transit vans. ‘Blunt Penknife Syndrome’ will be the order of the day, there will be no meat inspection, let alone welfare codes. If the land isn’t registered for subsidy, there will be no inspections. The police will have no more success in tackling this than they do in trying to enforce the law on foxhunting.
4) We can expect a dramatic increase in the rustling of adult sheep from farms to end up under the blunt penknife in back yards and semi-abandoned buildings. This problem is bad enough now, as we approach important Muslim festivals, as I know to my own personal cost.
5) The Jews, who take animal welfare very seriously, will see this as little more than anti-Semitism in poor disguise. Their way of life will be hit harshly and unfairly. This is a sector of our community that are less likely to be in prison than the average British citizen and less likely to be drawing benefits than the average British citizen. In short, these are the sort of people that UKIP should be appealing to, not discriminating against. Let’s leave that to the Labour Party. The Religious Discrimination laws in this country would not allow us to exempt Jews from a ban on non-stun meat, whilst expecting Muslims to adhere to it.
If UKIP does not impose an outright ban on non-stun slaughter, then what can we do to improve animal welfare at slaughter?
The answer is: a very great deal.
1) For a start, we will enforce (and improve) the law and ensure that only Jews and Muslims consume religiously slaughtered animals. This can be achieved by proper labelling and transparency through the chain. At present, the law is satisfied if the first buyer from an abattoir is a Muslim. Where he trades the meat after that is not followed up, and it must be followed up.
2) At present, retailers have an obligation to ensure that alcohol and tobacco are not sold to youngsters. In the same way, meat retailers will need to be satisfied that an individual wishing to purchase Halal meat, is indeed a practicing Muslim. His/her local mosque will issue them with a certificate (in exactly the same way that I can only purchase shotgun cartridges by showing my shotgun certificate).
We must not lose sight of the fact that consuming Halal meat is a privilege, and that there is invariably a price to pay for a privilege.
1) No Halal meat to be permitted in prisons. A prison sentence is a punishment, the loss of liberty and privilege is part of this process. The withdrawal of this particular privilege may in itself act as a useful crime deterrent in the first place.
2) Increase ratio of pre-stunned Halal. At present, about 25% of Halal meat is stunned in the same way as non-Halal. So, apart from the prayers, there is no difference, and the animal welfare concern falls away. There is scope to increase this percentage, through education. If ever there was an example of tackling the cause of a problem, rather than the symptom, then this has to be it.
3) Improve competence of Halal slaughterers. They must be brought up to the standard of the Jewish slaughterers. Training and certification will be required. This is common practice in other occupations.
4) CCTV in abattoirs. The Conservatives have recently poached this UKIP policy.
Taken together, the above points will drastically reduce the number of animals killed without pre-stunning, and significantly reduce any welfare issues that can arise from those that are killed in this way.
It has to be pointed out that the stunning process is, in itself, vulnerable to mechanical failure and human error, resulting in approx. 1% mis-stuns and the welfare consequences that flow from that.
Abattoirs are not pleasant places. However, I contend that it is far better for us to retain control of the religious slaughter process than it is to merely displace a welfare problem to other countries and seriously damage our rural economy in the process. This is not a topic suitable for headline-grabbing virtue signalling.