Vegetarians International Voice for Animals

Religious Slaughter in the UK

In God’s Name - Religious Slaughter in the UK

In Britain today, millions of farmed animals face having their throats cut while fully conscious – and it’s perfectly legal. The law states that animals must be stunned before they are killed in the abattoir but animals which are killed by Jewish and Moslem religious slaughter are exempt from that rule. Scientific evidence shows that these animals face severe pain and distress. The Government’s own advisory body, the Farm Animal Welfare Council, called for the banning of religious slaughter. Viva! has opposed religious slaughter for many years.

Slaughter Without Prestunning

Although stunning before slaughter is often ineffective, slaughter without it is an excruciating and terrifying experience faced by millions of animals every year. At present the law exempts animals killed to provide Jewish shechita and Moslem halal meat from the requirement to be stunned: Viva! believes that law must be repealed as a matter of urgency.

In 2003, the Farm Animal Welfare Council published its report on the welfare of animals at slaughter. In 2004, the Government announced that it would not adopt the report’s recommendation that the practice of slaughter without prior stunning be banned completely. At present the practice is still permitted if animals are slaughtered to provide meat for the Jewish kosher and Muslim halal markets. Viva! condemns the failure of the Government to ban religious slaughter without prestunning.

All food animals in Britain are killed by having their throats cut but the law requires that they are first rendered unconscious. However, animals killed for Muslim halal and Jewish kosher meats, can be slaughtered by throat cutting without prestunning. Research shows that it can take a cow 60 seconds to lose consciousness – a calf twice this time. The Government, in fact, accepted FAWC’s conclusion that animals slaughtered without prestunning are likely to experience “very significant pain and distress …” before they become unconscious. Approximately 10 million animals per year are killed in this way – around eight million for the halal market and over two million for the kosher market.

It is important to note that the exemption from stunning for religious slaughter is based upon the principle that “unnecessary suffering” should not be caused, however animals are slaughtered. The recognition that “very significant pain and distress” is “likely” to be caused by slaughter without prestunning thus calls into question the entire legal basis of the existing exemption and the Government has so far failed to address it.

The Government's detailed position was established in their response to the FAWC report. Considering their welcome – if long overdue - acceptance of FAWC’s conclusion that this is a serious welfare problem, their unwillingness to take any positive action seems particularly unjustifiable. The Government has refused to take action on the grounds that to ban slaughter without prestunning would impose on religious freedom and would also lead to importation of meat from animals slaughtered in this way, thus “exporting” the problem.

Viva! of course, supports the principle of multiculturalism and deplores racism absolutely but we also believe that this kind of suffering should not be tolerated for any reason. Since publication of the FAWC report, Viva! has led the campaign against slaughter without prestunning, a campaign which has included publishing an opinion poll revealing that over 70 per cent of the British population want to see an end to it; tabling a Parliamentary Early Day Motion (No 104) which was signed by 80 MPs; and producing a detailed report on the subject. Viva! rejects the Government’s arguments for the following reasons:

  1. Other practices which may be undertaken for religious reasons – such as polygamy or the stoning of adulterers – are not permitted in the UK. Religious freedom does not override other moral considerations and the suffering caused by this form of slaughter is so severe that it cannot be allowed to prevent action being taken.
  2. Over 90 per cent of animals slaughtered for halal meat in the UK are already stunned before slaughter, demonstrating widespread acceptance of the practice within the Muslim community. Similarly, many people within the Jewish community do not support slaughter without prestunning. Many Muslims and Jews are also vegetarian, indicating that the consumption of meat slaughtered in any particular fashion is not central to their religious beliefs. Banning slaughter without prestunning would not stop people from following the religious faiths of their choosing.
  3. Bearing in mind the widespread acceptance of prestunning among Muslims and Jews, the banning of slaughter without prestunning in this country will not automatically lead to an equivalent amount of traditionally-slaughtered meat being imported: instead it is likely to encourage many people who currently eat meat from animals slaughtered in this way to change their dietary habits.

Viva! opposes all slaughter and we promote vegetarianism as the only truly effective way to prevent animal suffering. Viva!’s investigations show that millions of animals slaughtered by conventional means are ineffectively, painfully or incompletely stunned – and the overwhelming majority of the 850 million killed each year lead lives of deprivation and suffering. To find out more about slaughter, click here.