ONLY one thing unites East Lancashire Muslims, butchers and clerics about the Halal slaughter row – the need to label all meat clearly with how the animal was killed.
Local butchers Geoff Riley from Crawshawbooth and Malcolm Marsden, from Whittakers on Blackburn Market, would go further with full details of the animals’ husbandry history.
That’s not enough for Philip Lymbery, from Compassion in World Farming, who sees labelling as ‘an interim step’ to stopping Muslim and Jewish practices which ban stunning animals before death.
He said: “Slaughtering animals by cutting their throat whilst fully conscious is cruel and causes immense suffering. It should have no part in our society.”
President-elect of the British Veterinary Association John Blackwell agrees, and says Halal and Kosher slaughter methods should be banned if reforms are not put in place.
But the Lancashire Council of Mosques disputes failing to stun animals is crueller.
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The row started with fast food chain Subway removing pork, ham and bacon from outlets in Asian areas, progressed to unlabelled Halal chicken in Pizza Express restaurants to end with a claim that all New Zealand lamb on Britain’s supermarket shelves had been secretly ritually killed by Muslim slaughtermen.
Kosher meat, eaten by Orthodox Jews, has been in Britain for centuries and forbids animals being stunned before their throats are slit and the animal hung upside down to drain the blood.There are parts of North Manchester where customers would struggle to find non-Kosher meat from any outlet.
The question of Halal is complicated by two schools of thought, one says animals can be stunned first and the other not. In all Kosher and Halal slaughter, a prayer is required.
Chickens have become the main issue, because commercial producers discovered Muslims prefer dark meat and restaurant chains the white flesh. Halal slaughter means half the bird can be sent to one market and the rest to another.
Lancashire Council of Mosques chairman Abdul Hamid Qureshi said failing to stun animals was not crueller.
He said: “Halal meat certification involves making sure the animal is looked after and killed quickly and humanely.
“There is less of a problem with stunning larger animals but with chickens, the stunning process kills them instantly by bursting their brains. That is forbidden in Islam. This is a moving debate but I believe all meat should be labelled whether Halal, Kosher or not and whether the animal was stunned before death so people can make a choice.”
Faruk Valli, of Blackburn’s KQF Foods – which uses only unstunned carcasses, said: “Halal is about making sure the animal is properly looked after before death.
“They are expertly killed by trained slaughtermen to make sure there is no pain as they die in seconds.”
Ed Bedington, editor of the Meat Traders Journal, dismisses the tabloid story about New Zealand lamb.
He said: “They kill it the same way they do normally, stunning the sheep first. The only difference is they use Muslim slaughtermen who say a prayer.”
Retired East Lancashire vicar Kevin Logan is less sure: “We should not end years of British animal welfare tradition because of the needs of Muslims for ritual slaughter and big companies to make money. All Halal and meat from animals not pre-stunned should be clearly labelled.”
C of E Dean of Blackburn Christopher Armstrong said: “I have many questions about Halal slaughter. I would not ban the meat but it should be clearly labelled.”
Butchers Mr Riley and Mr Marsden, believe the problem comes from, in their words, ‘supermarkets hoodwinking consumers, as with the horsemeat affair’. The British Retail Consortium’s Andrew Opie said: “All our members have confirmed all their own brand fresh meat is from animals that have been pre-stunned before slaughter.
“As the overwhelming majority of meat sold in UK supermarkets is own brand and from animals stunned prior to slaughter we do not see the requirement to separately label meat based on the method.”
A Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spokesman said it was examining the compulsory labelling of Halal and Kosher meat, adding: “We want people to have the information they need to make informed choices.
“The government has no intention of banning religious slaughter.”