Posted 22 February 2015. Updated 25 February 2015 for Parliamentary debate. Updated 12 March 2015 for Government response and latest signatory numbers. Updated 13 August 2019 to link to archived version of petition.
Religious slaughter is an issue which arouses strong passions amongst two groups of people:
I summarised the issues in my 2012 piece “A perspective on shechita and halal slaughter.” Nothing material has changed in the intervening three years, and there is no point in my repeating what is written on that page.
The BVA campaign actively against non-stun slaughter and have a page “Welfare at slaughter” dedicated to this campaign on their website.
I decided to check systematically what weight the BVA gives to religious freedom. Accordingly, at 10:20 on 22 February 2015 I searched for every occurrence of the word “religious” on the BVA website, which would pick up all references to religious slaughter and to religious freedom.
I read all 30 search results searching within each document or web page for the word "religious".
Not a single sentence recognised that religious freedom is a fundamental human right and a fundamental value underlying British society. Nor was there any recognition of the impact a ban on non-stun slaughter would have on British Jews and Muslims.
The nearest I could find to this were occasional references to pragmatism. For example the following quotation is take from the BVA’s formal response “Welfare of Animals at the Time of Killing (Wales) Regulations (WATOK) 2012 – Consultation response form”.
Question 14. Do you agree with the national rules proposed to maintain welfare protection for animals slaughter in accordance with religious rites? If not, can you provide supporting evidence?
'We consider that all animals should be stunned before slaughter, for welfare reasons and as a consequence of our position, we have difficulty answering this question. However, we recognise the need to be pragmatic on this issue and where non-stun slaughter is to be permitted, we consider the proposed national rules relating to welfare should be in place.'
[I have not reproduced the rest of the BVA response to this question as it is not relevant to what I am writing.]
Another short illustration is given by the speech to the BVA annual Scottish Dinner by Robin Hargreaves, President of the British Veterinary Association on 14 May 2014. The only section mentioning the word “religious” is:
“BVA has long argued that all animals should be stunned before slaughter. The welfare compromise associated with the legislative derogation for certain religious communities affects millions of individual animals every year.”
The BVA President refers to a “welfare compromise” in connection with his perception of animal welfare, without giving any recognition that the ban he is advocating would impact upon the freedom of British citizens to practice their religion and live their lives without becoming enforced vegetarians.
On 1 May 2014 the BVA responded to the Beef and Lamb All-Party Parliamentary Group’s “Call for Evidence about Meat Slaughtered in Accordance With Religious Rites.”
Paragraph 3 of their response is reproduced below:
“The BVA's view is that all animals should be stunned before slaughter. Scientific evidence demonstrates that slaughter without pre-stunning compromises animal welfare and causes unnecessary suffering. The BVA's concern is for the welfare of those animals that are not stunned. Our concerns have nothing to do with challenging the expression of religious beliefs but with the practice of killing by throat-cutting without pre-stunning.”
What the BVA are saying is that Jews and Muslims are free to say what they wish about matters of religion, but Jews and Muslims should not be allowed to practice an integral part of their religion within Britain.
On 13 May 2014 the BVA President wrote to the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition. The key extract is below:
“The British Veterinary Association has been campaigning for many years for an end to nonstun slaughter because of the significant animal welfare compromise at the time of death. It is a position supported by the government’s own expert committee, the Farm Animal Welfare Committee (formerly Council), the Humane Slaughter Association, the RSPCA, and the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe.
Unfortunately some of the recent media attention risks this important animal welfare issue being hijacked by people and groups with other agendas. We have always made it very clear that we are not concerned with the practising of religious belief, but with the throat cutting of animals that have not been rendered insensible to pain.”
In my view the final sentence of the above quote is hypocritical cant. The BVA President says that he is "not concerned with the practising of religious belief” but it is precisely the practice of religious belief (in the form of shechita and halal slaughter) that he wishes to have banned.
BVA President John Blackwell spoke at the BVA London Dinner on 3 February 2015. The key part of his speech is reproduced below:
“Last week our e-petition to end non-stun slaughter in the UK surpassed 100,000 signatures two months before it is due to close. This for us is both welcome and extraordinary. 99.9% of petitions fail to reach 100,000. No one should ignore the strength of public feeling about this issue.
It is one of those moments when we really have worked together, the veterinary profession, animal welfare groups – particularly our colleagues and friends at the RSPCA – and the public, to drive a change we want to see. It would be very easy to sit back on our laurels, and say ‘Job done!” And we should be proud of what we have achieved so far.
But as I started this speech by saying, there are no easy wins and we cannot afford to be complacent. This is not the end. It is the start of a new phase of the campaign. We need to push for that debate, ensuring that all arguments are heard and that a vote takes place on this issue.
We also need to acknowledge that winning this fight for animal welfare is not an easy win in another way. For vets who work with animals and who visit abattoirs as part of their training, ending non-stun slaughter is a matter of basic compassion towards the animals bred for slaughter. It seems straightforward for us.
But we also recognise that there are other views, views that touch on religious and cultural beliefs. And for some, the end of non-stun slaughter will be a profoundly felt loss. We know this and we acknowledge this.
But that does not mean ending non-stun slaughter is not the right thing to do. It is the right thing to do.
BVA has consistently focused on animal welfare at slaughter and never against religious slaughter. We have talked with – and will always be open to talk with – representatives of the communities and religions affected by any ban.”
At the risk of repetition, the last paragraph is cant. The BVA will talk with Jews and Muslims, but will not desist from trying to ban one of their most fundamental religious practices, one that affects what they eat. Yet the BVA claims not to be “against religious slaughter.” Making that claim is simple hypocrisy.
Their page “An end to non-stun slaughter” refers to “our e-petition” with a link to the petition “End non-stun slaughter to promote animal welfare” [only the archived version is now available which does not show the petition creator's name] which was created by Sally Burnell on the UK Government’s e-petitions website in April 2014. She is currently Director of Policy, Media & Strategy at the BVA, and at that time was the BVA's Head of Media & PR. Hence the BVA's reference to "our e-petition."
At the time of writing this petition has received over 115,000 signatures and is due for debate by the House of Commons in Westminster Hall on Monday 23 February at 16:30.
The debate is sponsored by Philip Hollobone MP (all e-petition debates require an MP to speak for the motion). He is the same MP who previously sought to outlaw another form of religious expressing by promoting a Private Member’s Bill to ban the wearing of niqab and burqa in February 2014 discussed in my piece “A niqab and burqa ban in Britain?”
I consider that the only possible consequence of the BVA’s campaign to put their perception of animal welfare ahead of the religious beliefs of Jews and Muslims is religious oppression. The Wikipedia page “Legal aspects of ritual slaughter” states that when Hitler came to power in Germany, it took only three months for the Nazis to ban kosher slaughter.
The only conclusion that I can draw from BVA’s campaign is that they want one of the following to occur:
To put not too fine a point upon it, I regard the BVA campaign as a monstrous attack upon religious freedom in Britain. The BVA should concentrate on trying to improve animal welfare standards generally, rather than engaging in something which most Muslims and Jews will regard as a vendetta against their religious practices.
If the BVA put some effort into working with Jews and Muslims regarding how religious slaughter can best be practiced without violating religious requirements, there would be scope for a meaningful dialogue and collaboration. While they pursue their vendetta, talking with the BVA is pointless.
The position of the leaders of all three of the main political parties is unambiguous.
The Conservative led coalition government has been quite clear about protecting the right to religious slaughter. The extract from Prime Minister David Cameron’s speech before the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset, on 12 March 2014 below addresses shechita (kosher slaughter):
“I have stood up to protect Jewish practices too. The Jewish community has been an absolute exemplar in integrating into British life in every way. But integration doesn’t mean that you have to give up things that you hold very dear in your religion. When people challenged Kosher Shechita I have defended it. I fought as a backbench Member of Parliament against the last attempt to do something to change this, and there is no way I’m allowing that to change now I’m Prime Minister – on my watch Shechita is safe in the United Kingdom.”
Halal slaughter was addressed in David Cameron’s speech at the Muslim News Awards on 31 March 2014. The relevant extract is:
“And let me make absolutely clear that, while I’m Prime Minister of this country, Halal is safe in Britain.”
The Jewish Chronicle on 7 March 2013 quoted Labour Party leader Ed Miliband speaking before the Board of Deputies of British Jews:
“Asked whether he would work to ensure religious slaughter and circumcision practices could continue in Britain, Mr Miliband said: ‘Yes, these are important traditions. The kosher issue has recently been brought to my attention. Ways of life must be preserved.’”
The independent website Liberal Democrat Voice on 6 March 2014 quoted verbatim Nick Clegg’s remarks on his weekly LBC phone-in programme:
NF [The programme’s presenter apparently]: We finish with one more email question: ‘Does Nick Clegg agree with what’s happened in Denmark, and that the practice of Halal and Kosher should be banned in the UK?’
Nick Clegg: No I do not, I emphatically do not agree with what they’ve done in Denmark, and no government of which I’m a part will follow suit. Of course I want to see animal suffering minimised, everybody does, where they can be…
NF: The President Elect of the British Veterinary Association…I’m sorry to interrupt Mr Clegg…
Nick Clegg: Well, I disagree with him, I disagree with him, I disagree with his suggestion that we basically remove the right of Jewish communities in this country, Muslim communities in this country, to stick to their religious beliefs about how they prepare food and how animals are slaughtered.
NF: Animals are caused unnecessary suffering, he would argue, Mr Clegg.
Nick Clegg: Well, as I say, we should try and minimise that, where they can be stunned they should be stunned, but I’m not going to ever advocate that we remove the deeply held beliefs amongst members of our Jewish community and Muslim communities about…and these are ancient beliefs handed down over generations, that somehow we should now, as they have done in Denmark, prohibit them from following their practices and beliefs. I just don’t…as a Liberal I believe in trying to protect that kind of diversity, not trying to squash it.
Although the political position in the UK would seem secure at present based upon the above, I consider that Jews and Muslims need to make their views heard more strongly. It is essential that politicians and opinion formers understand how important this issue is to British Jews and Muslims.
I was unaware of the BVA petition until 12 February when I was telephoned by Jonny Wineberg, Vice-President of the Jewish Representative Council of Greater Manchester and Region and a member of the Executive of the Muslim Jewish Forum of Greater Manchester. He was previously the Jewish Co-Chair, and I am the current Muslim Co-Chair. He was with the Jewish Representative Council President Sharon Bannister.
We agreed that there should be an e-petition giving the Jewish and Muslim perspective on the issue. Jonny Wineberg prepared a draft which I uploaded. As e-petitions cannot be in the name of an organisation (the BVA petition is in the name of Sally Burnell) our e-petition is in my name.
The UK government website explains how e-petitions work. The key requirement is that if a petition receives over 100,000 signatures, it can be considered for debate by Parliament.
As the BVA President said in the quote above, "99.9% of petitions fail to reach 100,000." It took the BVA petition from April 2014 when the petition was launched to January 2014 to reach 100,000 signatures. My petition below achieved the same requirement in 9 days, which shows the strength of feeling amongst British Jews and Muslims (and others) about this fundamental religious freedom issue.
This is reproduced below.
It is no longer possible to sign the e-petitition as all e-petitions closed on 30 March 2015.
Protect religious slaughter in the UK and EU
Responsible department: Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
The Government should continue to protect the right to non-stun religious slaughter in the UK.
Judaism and Islam require adherents to treat animals with kindness and to minimise pain when slaughtering. Scientific evidence shows minimisation of suffering when religious slaughter is practiced properly: www.grandin.com/ritual/rec.ritual.slaughter.html
Stunning in abattoirs frequently fails to effectively stun the animal, thereby causing suffering. The British Veterinary Association and others opposing religious slaughter should focus on improving the competence of slaughterers who stun, instead of attacking methods that have been shown to minimise suffering.
The original petition showed my name, but it is not shown on the archived version on the Government website.
The petition went “live” at 08:00 on Friday 13 February, at which point I signed it and shared it. The petition was also shared by the Jewish Representative Council and the Muslim Jewish Forum, and then shared onwards by many other organisations including the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Muslim Council of Britain.
At the time of writing it has over 113,000 signatures. This is dramatic evidence of how important the issue of religious freedom is to Jews, Muslims, and many other Britons. In 10 days we have achieved almost as many signatures as the BVA managed in almost 10 months. By 12 March 2015 there were 134,688 signatures.
Under the e-petition rules, every petition that manages to reach 10,000 signatures is promised a Government response on the petition page.
On 11 March 2015 I received an email from the e-petitions website which is reproduced below:
Dear Mohammed Amin,
The e-petition 'Protect religious slaughter in the UK and EU' signed by you recently reached 134,389 signatures and a response has been made to it.
As this e-petition has received more than 10 000 signatures, the relevant Government department have provided the following response:
The Government encourages the highest standards of welfare at slaughter and 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. The Prime Minister has confirmed that that there would be no ban on religious slaughter in the UK. Council Regulation 1099/2009, on the protection of animals at time of killing, and the Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulations 1995 permit slaughter without stunning to be carried out in accordance with religious rites. Within both regulations there are strict requirements on where, how and who can slaughter animals in accordance with religious rites. These requirements are monitored and enforced by Official Veterinarians (OV) of the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to ensure that animals are spared unnecessary suffering, distress or pain during the slaughter process.
This e-petition remains open to signatures and will be considered for debate by the Backbench Business Committee should it pass the 100 000 signature threshold.
The process of sending this response appears to have limited human involvement and appears to assume that petitions gather their signatures quite slowly. Parts of the message appear unaware of the contents of other parts of the message. At the beginning it tells me of the signature count on the date sent, 134,389, while it ends by telling me what will happen if it passes the 100,000 threshold!
I have exercised my rights as a citizen by writing to my MP to explain why religious slaughter is important to me, and asked him to attend the debate and speak in favour of preserving religious freedom by retaining the right to practice religious slaughter.
While there is no immediate risk of this debate by itself changing the law, it is important for the voices of those who oppose the BVA’s attempt to restrict religious freedom to be heard.
The debate mentioned above duly took place. The motion was "That this House has considered the e-petition relating to ending non-stun slaughter to promote animal welfare."
You can read the debate on the Hansard website.
You can also watch the debate on the Hansard website.
I have listed below the MPs who spoke for or against the religious exemption for non-stun slaughter, based upon my own understanding of what they said in the debate. In many cases I have had to apply my own judgment of the implications of the speaker's remarks to decide which how to classify him or her, so I may not have succeeded in capturing their views properly.
When Members spoke twice, I have tended to list them on both occasions, as that makes it easier to navigate the text of Hansard from my table.
Richard Harrington MP mentioned me and my petition when he was speaking at 5.35pm. (The Hansard text gives timings.)
If you are particularly interested in the views of any particular MP said, I recommend reading his words for yourself rather than relying upon my classification and if still uncertain emailing the MP to ask them. (In general MPs will only respond to their own constituents.)
To make it easier to relate the table to the Hansard text, I have used blank cells, so the order of the names below matches the order in which the MPs appear in Hansard.
At the end of the debate it states "Question put and agreed to." That simply means that "this House" [The House of Commons] "has considered the e-petition relating to ending non-stun slaughter to promote animal welfare." No decision was taken on the substantive question of a ban, and none was expected since such a ban requires legislation and no legislation was before the House.
However as the comments of several of the MPs show, it was important to:
|Against preserving exemption for non-stun religious slaughter. (Effectively supporting BVA and against kosher and halal slaughter.)
|For preserving the exemption. (Effectively supporting kosher and halal slaughter.)
Spoke but took a neutral position on exemption for non-stun religious slaughter.
I am unable to classify the speaker's position.
|Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con)
|Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con)
|Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con)
|Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con)
|Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green)
|Sir James Paice (South East Cambridgeshire) (Con)
|Sir Alan Meale (Mansfield) (Lab)
|Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con)
|Mr Dave Watts (St Helens North) (Lab)
|Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con)
|Bill Wiggin (North Herefordshire) (Con)
|Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con)
|Simon Hart (Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire) (Con):
|Shabana Mahmood (Birmingham, Ladywood) (Lab)
|Sir Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con)
|Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab)
|Mr David Ward (Bradford East) (LD)
|Sir James Paice (South East Cambridgeshire) (Con)
|Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab)
|John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD)
|Richard Harrington (Watford) (Con)
|Mr Lee Scott (Ilford North) (Con)
|Anas Sarwar (Glasgow Central) (Lab)
|Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con)
|Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op)
|Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op)
|Mr David Jones (Clwyd West) (Con)
|Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con)
|The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (George Eustice)
|Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con)
|Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney North and Stoke Newington) (Lab):
|Mike Freer (Finchley and Golders Green) (Con)
|Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con)
|Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab)
|The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (George Eustice)