JEWISH and Muslim communities would lose the legal right to
slaughter animals without stunning under proposals to be put forward
next month by a government committee.
The proposals disclosed to The Times are
set to anger religious groups, who claim it will end thousands of
years of religious rites.
Under European animal welfare regulations, all
farm animals must be stunned before slaughter, unless they are
killed by religious methods known as halal for Muslims and shechita
for Jews. Both methods involve religously trained slaughtermen using
sharp knives to cut the throats of cows, sheep and chickens and
letting them bleed to death.
The Farm Animal Welfare Council, which is
appointed and funded by the Government, has concluded after a
four-year study that Jewish and Muslim methods of slaughter are
inhumane. It insists they be brought into line with mainstream
regulations. However, consultations between the council and
religious groups have broken down, and the council has been accused
of “institutionalised religious prejudice”.
Members of the council, including academics, vets
and farmers, have visited halal and shechita abattoirs, and examined
the available scientific evidence, which suggests that cows and
poultry take up to two minutes to lose consciousness after their
throats are cut, while for sheep it is between 14 and 70 seconds.
Under Jewish and Muslim law, an animal must be
healthy and uninjured when it is slaughtered, but authorities from
both religions say that stunning an animal amounts to injuring it.
They also insist that their method of slaughter is humane.
In Britain, it is thought that about 90 per cent
of halal meat is electrically pre-stunned, although many Islamic
consumers insist this is not acceptable. However, Jewish law is far
less flexible, and all pre-stunning is forbidden.
Dr Masood Khawaja, president of the Halal Food
Authority, said: “There is no evidence that animals feel pain. If
you use a razor-sharp knife in one sweep, it is like cutting your
finger on paper. The animal does not feel anything at all.”
Neville Nagler, director-general of the Board of
Deputies of British Jews, said: “Pre-stunning is against our very
long- standing religious principles. There would be a very serious
outcry at interference in what has been a fundamental religious rite
for thousands of years.”
The Campaign for the Protection of Shechita has
declared that the council is one of the most “stubborn repositries
of institutionalised religious prejudice in this country”. However,
a source at the council said: “If modern slaughter methods can avoid
suffering, it is not unreasonable for religious leaders to
reconsider their position.”
The report, due out next month, is expected to
recommend that Jewish and Muslim authorities find acceptable ways to
stun animals before slaughter and then the Government should remove