Clegg opposes ban on halal and kosher slaughter; now we need to hear his reasons

Nick Clegg has said he is “emphatically” opposed to the UK introducing a ban on the slaughter of animals in compliance with what some see as religious requirements. Slaughter of animals for the production of halal or kosher meat is currently exempt from UK regulations requiring animals to be stunned into unconsciousness before having their throats cut.

Clegg was answering a question on his weekly LBC phone-in, prompted by a recent ban on such slaughter imposed by the Danish government, where agriculture minister Dan Jørgensen supported a ban on the basis that “animal rights come before religion”.

Here’s how the Guardian’s Andrew Sparrow summarised Clegg’s response when asked whether he supports a Denmark-style ban:

Emphatically not, says Clegg.

No government of which he was part would support this, he says.

He says he supports the right of Jewish and Muslim communities to decide how animals are slaughtered. That is an important liberal position, he says.

In fairness to Clegg he did not have a great deal of time to answer the question, but I still found his response rather unsatisfactory.

This issue is a classic liberal dilemma, requiring us to consider competing rights: on the one hand the right of animals not to be caused unnecessary pain and of society to impose regulations to ensure this; on the other the right of religious observants to cause pain to animals that, on their interpretation, religious texts require.

Given that society has taken a clear position that slaughter should be carried out as humanely as possible, and that part of this is that animals should be stunned before being killed, it seems to me that the onus is on those who advocate an exception to this to explain precisely why other rights should override this view.

Is it the case that Clegg thinks the only exception to animal welfare legislation should be to allow halal- and kosher-compliant slaughter? That, it seems to me, would be convenient but inconsistent.

Or does Clegg believe that any religious claim to a requirement for the imposition of routine unnecessary cruelty on animals is legitimate? This would have the benefit of consistency, but even to those who are comfortable with the no-stun exception would surely lead to some disturbing conclusions.

I don’t pretend for a moment that this is a straightforward issue, though it is probably clear what view I take. Particularly given that many British muslims now accept (pdf) the legitimacy of stunning (because it does not kill the animal, but only renders it unconscious and unable to feel pain) it seems to me that the time has come to say that the exemption should be ended.

Even if Clegg disagrees he must at the very least explain why.

UPDATE (6.02): Here is the transcript of the discussion in full:

NF: 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?’

NC: 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…

NC: 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.

NC: 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.

* Nick Thornsby is a day editor at Lib Dem Voice.

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41 Comments

  • Adam Corlett 6th Mar '14 - 1:22pm

    I agree with Nick (Thornsby). And disagree wholeheartedly with the other Nick.

    Here’s my piece from 2 years ago: https://www.libdemvoice.org/opinion-ritual-slaughter-one-law-for-all-29183.html

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 6th Mar '14 - 1:43pm

    We could of course support the Buddhist, Hindu, Jain and other followers of Vegetarianism approach and seek to stop ‘killing’ in its entirety.

    I have witnessed the deaths of animals by stunning, shooting and having their throats cut, and frankly it was all pretty awful and as such I am “emphatically” opposed ‘killing’.

  • Eddie Sammon 6th Mar '14 - 1:43pm

    I think wanting to end halal and kosher killing is fine, but I would come across a bit nicer than that first tweet. At times it seems Lib Dems have disdain for religious people. I know at times it seems I have disdain for other groups, so I am not claiming to be perfect, I just think the same message can be communicated in a more effective way.

    There will be people just as outraged that we kill animals full stop, but the Lib Dems would never advocate the wholesale ban of meat, so we just have to respect different values, within limits.

    Best regards

  • Having worked briefly on the Pig & Sheep Lorries delivering to the slaughter house in my much much younger days and seeing the process through which they go through at the slaughter house. It truly is horrible.

    The worst part for me was waiting in the Abattoir to off load whilst others where going though the process.
    Being Stunned, Hooked up by the back legs, Slit Throats, Gutted, Dipped in hot water.

    Not all are successfully stunned to the point of unconsciousness and indeed in some instances the pig soon comes round after having the throat slit. The Noise is hideous and quite upsetting until you become desensitized to it.
    But for me the worse part was sitting in the Cab of the Lorry with a load full of pigs becoming unsettled because they could hear the noise and what was going on and probably knew what was to come.

    I was hopeless at this job. I was only a loader and unloader. I used to get the driver to stop 10 miles or so before the Abattoir, so I could go into the lorry with the pigs and feed them some chocolate buttons, as I wanted them to have at least 1 act of human kindness before their fate.

    I was deemed rather odd by the people I worked with as I come from a farming community/family.

    Anyway, I couldn’t stick it and I had to quit.

    I know this has to be done. ( I am not a vegetarian)

    But based on my own experiences I am deeply against animals that are slaughtered purely by throat slitting. I think it is unnecessarily cruel and traumatic for the animal.

    Stunning may not be perfect and successful in 100% of cases, but the least amount of animals that have to experience the trauma in my opinion is the right thing to do in a Humane, civilized and responsible society.

  • Taking the religion out of it for a moment, its an animal rights issue. Just as we recently increased the minimum size for chicken cages we should ensure all animals are animals are stunned before slaughter. I have no idea if this interferes with the religious ritual though, if someone with more knowledge could explain I’d appreciate it.

    Banning ritual slaughter isn’t the issue, banning slaughter without animals being stunned is.

  • Stuart Mitchell 6th Mar '14 - 2:25pm

    Caracatus: “the rights of human consistnetly trump the ‘rights’ of animals”

    Nonsense – try to exert your “right” to put on a cock fight and see how far you get.

    I suspect Clegg’s real reasoning is that he doesn’t want to upset religious voters. He is wrong. With 88% of Halal meat (and a similar proportion of Kosher) already being stunned before slaughter, it is clear that the vast majority of Muslims and Jews are already perfectly happy to eat humanely slaughtered meat. There is nothing unreasonable about insisting that the others do the same.

    This issue goes much wider than individual religious choice. I have been shocked to just learn that a large proportion of meat killed without stunning ends up on general sale, with no labelling to inform purchasers how it was slaughtered. So all of us who eat meat are unwittingly eating this stuff.

    http://www.rspca.org.uk/ImageLocator/LocateAsset?asset=document&assetId=1232719611043&mode=prd

  • Explicitly banning religious stun-free slaughter on the grounds of animal welfare will be seen as an attack on religious freedom (particularly as Stuart points out, there is no penalty for selling non-stunned meat) and will lose the votes of most if not all religious Muslims and Jews. (Particularly religious Jews, for whom historically the banning of shechita and circumcision, among other things, is the notorious mark of an authoritarian antisemetic government).

  • A Social Liberal 6th Mar '14 - 2:52pm

    Well said Caractacus!!

    Nick (Thornsby, not Clegg) – can you tell me with absolute certainty that the majority of halal and kosher slaughter is carried out without stunning? You can’t, because it simply isn’t true.

    Here is what the Abraham Natural Produce Company says (they are a company – part of the Soil Association – which produces organic halal meat in Kent)

    Where we are based in the UK there are no Muslim abattoirs. We therefore have no option but to stun our produce as only animals processed through abattoirs can be sold for human consumption. . . . .If any animal is stunned and as a consequence dies, it would be haram to eat. However the chances of this happening are extremely slim if not impossible. As we personally slaughter we are also able to see if signs of life still exist in the animal and that it has been bled properly. . . . . The popular belief that stunning rendered meat as haram did not actually correspond to what scholars have said. We therefore sought guidance from trusted scholars. They, in agreement with many others, concluded that the act of stunning does not make meat haram as long as the animal is alive and the rules of slaughter are adhered to.

    The Halal Meat Authorities

    Many people in the UK are now obsessed with the issue of stunning having been given the impression that it is haram. What has in truth happened is that some within a certain UK halal meat authority have taken a disliking to stunning and as a consequence people have been (mis)informed that it is totally haram. In fact, the meat is still halal – all it means is that businesses can not get that authority’s logo on their produce.

    If one reads their literature or website carefully one will note that they do not term stunned meat as haram anywhere. What one finds is that they have implemented a “blanket policy” against stunning on the basis that there may be some doubt over whether or not an animal is alive at the time of slaughter. This shows that they agree that if a stunned animal is alive at the time of slaughter it is halal.

    We asked the authority, the Halal Monitoring Committee, for their response on this matter and they kindly responded with the following proving that just because an animal is stunned it is not haram:

    “HMC is erring the side of caution by adopting a blanket policy to the issue of stunning and not certifying it. HMC has never claimed that all animals die due to stunning or that stunning the animal renders the animal Haram automatically.” ”

    So, in short, halal meat is stunned except by the very few muslim abbatoirs which follow HMC.

  • Graham Martin-Royle 6th Mar '14 - 3:06pm

    If we have to continue this practise then all meat should be correctly labeled so that those who oppose this method of killing animals can ensure that they do not unwittingly support it by buying unstunned meat that is not labeled. This also allows those who wish to carry on the opportunity to know that the meat they are buying is Kosher/Halal.

    What are Nicks views on correct labeling?

  • Stuart Mitchell 6th Mar '14 - 3:24pm

    @A Social Liberal
    You seem a tad confused. Nowhere in Nick Thornsby’s article does he suggest that the majority of Halal/Kosher meat is killed without stunning. I’m sure he knows that the opposite is the case.

    The fact that the vast majority of Kosher/Halal meat IS stunned before slaughter, with the vast majority of Jews and Muslims presumably seeing no religious reason not to eat it, is all the more reason for us to be sceptical of those who claim it is a requirement.

    @Mohammed Khan
    “I would recommend having a look on YouTube of videos of Muslims who detail and explain in depth the process of halal slaughter”

    Since 88% of “halal” meat is stunned before slaughter, can I assume that the videos you refer to include stunning? Or are you instead espousing your own narrow view of what qualifies as “halal slaughter”? If so, can you direct us to some source (e.g. an authoritative religious text) which states that halal meat cannot be produced from stunned animals?

  • Nick T Nick Thornsby 6th Mar '14 - 3:45pm

    @ A Social Liberal

    As far as I am aware no kosher meat comes from animals that are stunned (for reasons, see Adam’s piece linked to in the first comment). A significant proportion of halal meat comes from animals that are stunned. I do not see how that affects the argument though?

    @ Mohammed Khan

    That may well be the objective, but the science seems clear that it is not achieved. Again, see Adam’s piece linked to in the first comment.

    @ Graham

    I presume you are interested in Nick Clegg’s views, but here are mine: I think you are absolutely right. Labelling on this and many other food products requires significant improvement.

  • Stuart Mitchell 6th Mar '14 - 4:16pm

    A big correction to my earlier posts: I misread the relevant section in the RSPCA document I linked to. Though 88% of halal meat is stunned, Nick Thornsby is correct that no kosher meat is stunned (though some is stunned AFTER the throat-cut is administered).

    Incidentally, the heading of this piece is somewhat misleading. The issue is not whether we ban halal slaughter or not; it’s about whether we ban the very small proportion (12%) of halal slaughter that does not involve stunning.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 6th Mar '14 - 5:05pm

    To be fair to Nick Clegg, he did say that he thought that the animals should be stunned. I was quite surprised that he was quite as robust as he was.

    I agree it’s a complex issue, and I also feel as a meat eater (albeit it one who tries to eat meat that ‘s had a nice life) that there are many animal welfare issues in all sorts of food production. I’m not sure that this is any worse. I think that as ever education and persuasion from within the relevant communities is probably the best way forward rather than an outright ban.

    It was a question at the very end of the show so he didn’t have time to elaborate. However, you could put it in as a question for his q and a session on Saturday. Just realised questions had to be in by 5pm just gone, but you can still submit them at speakers’ table until 12:40 on Saturday.

  • Nick Clegg has views on Kosher and Halal. Are his views based on deeply held Liberal principles ? Possibly.

    But how much more likely is it something to do with the fact that UK politics is subject to the influence of very rich and powerful lobby groups?

    Nick Clegg is no more likely to speak out on animal welfare than he is to criticise Prince Charles for making yet another state visit to the tyrants of Saudi Arabia when those same tyrants are handing over the cash in a new arms deal.

    At least animals that end up being Kosher or Halal are slaughtered to eat. Badgers in Somerset are shot, wounded and left to suffer and die at a cost of more than £4,000 per badger because Coalition ministers of both parties like to appease the farmers’ lobby.

  • David Allen 6th Mar '14 - 7:35pm

    I can’t help feeling that John Tilley has it right. If you want to be President of the US, you don’t have a go at Israel. Here in the UK, similar questions apply. The animal welfare lobby might have quite a lot of votes, but they don’t have a lot of wealth and power. The religious lobbies do have wealth and power. Clegg is a “centrist” who believes in becoming embedded in government. To do that, you need to stick with the wealthy and the powerful.

    Votes come second, indeed you want to turn votes away if they come with awkward centre-left principles attached. You can get by if you can win enough seats to hold the balance, or hold enough sway to make you worth cultivating.

    How do you even do that, if you have abandoned all principles, and the nation hates you? Well, there’s an answer to that. The advantages of incumbency. And, where we work we win! All Clegg needs is a bunch of activists, ready to slog their guts out as they always have, in the belief that they are fighting for a just cause. A cause which the leadership has, however, long abandoned…

  • A Social Liberal 6th Mar '14 - 8:02pm

    With regards to the pain and loss of consciousness , below is a link to a study that proved that pain is less and death occurs earlier in slaughter without stunning than stunned slaughter.

    A few words from the summary

    “These experiments on sheep and calves carried out within a clinic show that during a ritual slaughter, carried out according to the state of the art using hydraulically operated tilting equipment and a ritual cut, pain and suffering to the extent as has since long been generally associated in public with this kind of slaughter cannot be registered; the ritual slaughter carried out under these experimental conditions complies with the requirements of article 4 para. 1 TierSchG. The EEG zero line – as a certain sign of the expiration of cerebral cortex activity and according to today’s state of knowledge also of consciousness – occurred generally within considerably less time than during the slaughter method after captive bolt stunning.”

    Whilst on stunned slaughter

    “During the experiments with captive bolt stunning no indications could be found for proscribing this method for calves. For sheep, however, there were in parts severe reactions both to the bloodletting cut and the pain stimuli. A proof of the reliable effectiveness of captive bolt stunning could not be provided using the methods applied.”

    And this, ladies and gentlemen, was known FORTY YEARS AGO !

    http://www.mustaqim.co.uk/halalstudy.htm

  • Here is a strange thing: 42 of the 57 Lib Dem MPs (including Nick Clegg) are opposed to repealing the fox hunting ban.

    Surely if it is cruel to hunt foxes, why does Nick Clegg not think it is cruel to slaughter cattle and sheep in this way?

    Sorry Mr Clegg, you are out of touch with public opinion. You are inconsistent with our own MPs regarding animal cruelty.

    In the run up to the debates with UKIP and the Euro election we would be wise to avoid antagonising public opinion.

  • I was surprised to find that many chains routinely serve up ritually slaughtered meat products.
    My consumption of such is unwitting, and accurate labelling must be necessary surely?

  • I am deeply disappointed that Nick Clegg has taken this position. Presumably he also supports the rights, as Ed Miliband does, of religious traditionalists to mutilate the genitals of infant boys whilst at the same time he probably supports the legislation enacted to address the practice of docking a dog’s tail? Politics is a funny old game isn’t it?

  • David Allen
    ” with awkward center-left principles attached”-vegetarianism?

  • I am disgusted by Nick Clegg’s support for superstitionists over animal welfare.Just another example of the fall of liberal values.Had this politician really seem how animals suffer using this method he may have a change of mind or is voter support his only concern???

  • Not a fan of religion or meat, but if we accept the right of the individual to practice their religion and part of that religion is the ritual slaughter of animals then we sort of have to accept it. IMO killing animals is innately unpleasant and arguing about how it’s done is not entirely convincing. It’s all basically cruel, but to me singling out religious practices as less humane is at best a moral fudge and could be seen as politically a bit dodgy. So,, I agree Nick Clegg on this one.

  • Helen Dudden 7th Mar '14 - 8:28pm

    Not all Jews will eat meat. I am going to a religious meeting, where only vegetarian food is served.

    I eat basically vegetarian food, I also, feel that eating some shellfish is cruel. they are often alive prior to the cooking.

    But then, that is not within the law of what you are allowed to eat. I remarked to someone on the subject, not Kosher.

  • Many of the early Christians were vegetarians. John the Baptist was, it is written that he ate honey and locusts. There has been a misunderstanding – he ate locust beans not locust insects as commonly thought.

    Saint Paul had to write about allowing new converts to eat meat, you can see that this was controversial. Indeed it is quite probable that Jesus himself was a vegetarian:
    http://www.compassionatespirit.com/

    Jesus went to the temple to try to stop the ritual sacrifice of animals there. His physical intervention got him crucified. Most Christians do not seem to be able to read what is written in the Bible in plain sight.

    Personally I feel more affinity with Buddhists than with modern Christians, although I spent most of my early years attending Church.

  • PS. I do despair about some supposedly Christian organisations that are trying to recreate the Jewish roots of Christianity by ritually slaughtering sheep. They clearly have not understood that Jesus made himself the sacrifice, and so there is no longer a need to make animal sacrifices. Surely these Christians can indeed be friends of Israel without perpetuating this misunderstanding.

    It may be is illegal in the UK for non-Jewish / non-Muslim organisations to slaughter sheep without pre-stunning? Don’t they have to have special permission?

  • Joe King
    In Thailand some Buddhists eat vegetarian food on Buddhist holy days but not on other days.Vegetarianism is not widespread in Buddhist countries.
    Helen Dudden
    A lot of Progressive Jews are vegetarian making Judaism the western religion with the highest percentage of vegetarians.

  • Helen Dudden 8th Mar '14 - 8:58pm

    Yes, also are some Orthodox Jews. I believe that you do not have to eat meat to be healthy. Shell fish was not eaten for a very good reason of course, if not clean they could make you very ill.

    As with the laws on how food is cooked, and not mixed with other foods within the law.

  • Adam Corlett 10th Mar '14 - 5:28pm

    @ ‘A Social Liberal’,

    I think you are cherry-picking evidence (forty year old evidence, as you point out) and I’m more inclined to trust the appraisal of the British Veterinary Association and Farm Animal Welfare Council.

    But if you and others think that “pain is less and death occurs earlier in slaughter without stunning”, and you wish to reduce animal suffering, surely you too think the law is wrong and must be changed? At present, those slaughtering for non-religious food production are not allowed to use the method you think is less cruel (let alone mandated to use it).

    Either slaughter without stunning is better (or no worse), in which case, why should the law restrict its use? Or, it causes unnecessary suffering, in which case it should be banned or at least the argument should focus on whether religious liberty should trump unnecessary suffering.

    (see https://www.libdemvoice.org/opinion-ritual-slaughter-one-law-for-all-29183.html )

  • @A Social Liberal

    “http://www.mustaqim.co.uk/halalstudy.htm” – Do you think that’s likely to be an unbiased source?

    I’ve had a brief gander at the literature on the subject and it certainly seems to support the view that stunning is more humane see, for example, A re-evaluation of the need to stun calves prior to slaughter by ventral-neck incision: An introductory review – http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00480169.2009.36881

  • A Social Liberal 10th Mar '14 - 7:58pm

    Jack – look beyond your bias please. The reports authors were the source, not the people who published it on their website.

    Do I think that animals should not be stunned – not at all. I simply gave the evidence that stunning was not all that it was presented by some to be. What I would like to see is the science revisited in order to find out if modern methods of stunning made the process more humane for sheep.

    As for your link – I’m afraid that i don’t have the wherewithal to afford the £68 necessary to purchase the publication

  • @A Social Liberal

    “Do I think that animals should not be stunned – not at all. I simply gave the evidence that stunning was not all that it was presented by some to be. What I would like to see is the science revisited in order to find out if modern methods of stunning made the process more humane for sheep.”

    That’s exactly what I linked for you unless you consider 2009 insufficiently recent.

    “As for your link – I’m afraid that i don’t have the wherewithal to afford the £68 necessary to purchase the publication”

    It’s unfortunate that the primary literature is typically inaccessible for those outside of academia but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s by far the best place to go for high quality information. There has been research done in this area and it’s pretty clear that animals killed using Kosher or Halal methods without pre-stunning suffer more than those killed using stunning.

  • The Farm Animal Welfare Council is against slaughter without stunning. The president of the BVA is also in favour of stunning. They know more about this than I do, and so I would take their advice.

    Again Nick Clegg loses credibility. Can we do what has to be done for the animals, because it is the right thing to do, and try to bring the religious communities into the 21st century?

    At the very least the non-stunned meat has to be labeled as such.

  • Helen Dudden 12th Mar '14 - 9:11am

    As previously stated, there are many Jews who do not eat meat.

    I don’t think this article has been fair, to exactly the amount who do not.

    Next time, someone eats a lobster, or any other live shellfish I hope they think.

  • Carl Pierce 14th Mar '14 - 7:46pm

    Several of our local members (Hounslow) have asked me to write to Nick to express our deep disappointment with his comments on the issue of exceptions on religious grounds from pre-stunning.
    Animal welfare based on science should trump religious dogma everytime. In exactly the same way that religious views doesn’t give you a pass to ban homosexuals from your B&B.
    If Nick supports pandering to dogma based animal cruelty for reasons of political expedency against the prevailing scientific option he needs to consider that there is a growing secular force in this country that believes everyone should follow the same laws. I shake my head at his inhumane views on this.

  • roger bennett 20th Feb '15 - 6:16pm

    Anyone who has actually witnessed slaughtering would oppose non-stun as extremely cruel , I have worked in slaughter-houses in the past carrying out boiler repairs and no way could I watch animals killed without stunning. More MPs should visit these places themselves to experience it.

  • PAULA DIGBY 1st Mar '15 - 7:58pm

    Shame on Nick Clegg. To advocate and support cruelty for religious reason or for any reason is wrong and barbaric. He and all responsible people should be promoting an end to the exploitation, exportation, rearing and killing of millions of animals for food as this is extremely detrimental for our planet on so many levels, it impacts on the amount of crops we can grow and need to grow to feed the ever growing world population. I think Nick Clegg, like many others ,is afraid to tackle this issue for fear of lost votes , It is shocking, and shortsighted that for his own gain he is promoting something thats so extreamly distasteful to many UK residents and is failing to promote positive issues to benefit mankind.

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