GEOFFREY ALDERMAN

Shechita row will rumble on despite assurances

A DEBATE took place in Westminster Hall on July 2 on the subject of the religious slaughter of farm animals.

The debate was initiated by Tory MP George Eustice, whom Boris Johnson has just reappointed to ministerial office within the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

In Westminster Hall, Eustice unburdened himself on the subject of religious slaughter with special — though not exclusive — reference to the stubbornness of us Jews in not agreeing that, as currently practised in England, shechita (the Jewish humane method of food animal slaughter) was inherently cruel.

The contention of Shechita UK is that shechita stuns and slaughters in one operation.

Ideally, Eustice would like to “simply ban the non-stunned slaughter of bovine animals” (i.e. cattle and sheep). But even he recognises that “there are issues with that”.

Top of the “issues” list is, of course, the no-small matter of religious freedom, to which I shall return in a moment.

Realising that this is the case, Eustice then offered a choice of other measures that the British state might wish to take:

(1) Requiring a “post-cut stun” on all bovines — that is, the use of the captive-bolt pistol following shechita.

(2) Increasing the standstill time on bovines from the current limit of 30 seconds to perhaps two minutes to ensure that there is no movement of a bovine while it is still “conscious” following shechita.

(3) Labelling shechita-slaughtered meat as un-stunned.

On the face of it, there ought to be no halachic problem with a post-cut stun. But its acceptance would amount to an admission that shechita is cruel.

Lengthening the “standstill” time might, I agree, be considered less objectionable. But most objectionable of all would be mandatory labelling of shechita-slaughtered meat as un-stunned.

People — Jews included, of course — have every right to know what they are putting in their mouths.

As a migraine sufferer, I’m an avid reader of food labels, and so I’m anxious — not just on religious grounds — that food labels give us as much information as possible as to the provenance of the food, its nutritional benefits and so on.

At present, bovine hind-quarters are not deemed kosher in this country, even if the animal was shechita-slaughtered. So the rumps of cattle and sheep end up in the general market.

Consumers are fully entitled to know this. What I could not approve is the labelling of shechita-slaughtered meat in a derogatory manner. But what I could live with is the labelling of shechita-slaughtered meat as “kosher slaughtered”.

Not only has the word “kosher” entered the English language as meaning “beyond reproach”. In this country, no case of “new variant” Creutzfeldt-Jakob brain disease — the human form of BSE or “mad cow” disease — has ever been traced to the consumption of shechita-slaughtered produce.

The reasons for this have to do with the pre-slaughter selection and examination of cattle and the method of slaughter itself.

Two decades ago, during the BSE scare, my butcher reported that non-Jews had started patronising his shop because they suspected, rightly, that BSE was virtually unknown in cattle slaughtered for the Jewish market.

So the label “kosher slaughtered” could have a very positive effect in the marketplace. But only on one condition.

Strictly speaking, it is illegal for Jews to shechita-slaughter meat and poultry for the general market. Indeed, I’ve heard it seriously argued that a kosher butcher should not knowingly sell meat and poultry to be consumed by non-Jews.

This prohibition — dating from 1933 — does, of course, restrain the free market. If the government were to recommend the repeal of this restriction, I would support labelling. Let kosher-slaughtered produce be labelled as such. Then let the market decide.

But I can tell you now that this would be fiercely resisted in Whitehall, and by the so-called animal-welfare lobbies, who support derogatory labelling exclusively in the hope that it might price shechita out of existence.

In response to the Westminster Hall debate, government spokesman David Rutley made it clear that the government “respected the right of Jews and Muslims to eat meat prepared in accordance with their beliefs”, declaring that this was “an important religious freedom”.

Very reassuring words! But let me predict that this issue will not go away.

And for that reason, I do hope that our religious authorities will see a way to reintroduce the preparation and sale of kosher hind-quarter meat in the country.

Such meat is widely available in Israel and America. Why not in the UK?

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