Government to introduce “stun” v “non-stun” labelling? Will it work?

Neil Parish and the APPG on Beef and Lamb debated so-called religious slaughter on Nov 4th 2014 in Westminster Hall. I attended. The debate has been widely reported.

The government is sympathetic to the cause of introducing labelling to indicate whether meat has been derived stunned animals or not. Using the expressions or words “stun” and “unstunned” surely masks a religious undertone.

Today most halal certified meat is derived from animals that have been stunned. The restaurant chains such as Subway, Nandos and Pizza Express buy halal meat but all atest to its being derived from stunned animals. Public bodies serving halal will be buying meat from stunned animals. I guess economics drive this. Non-stun slaughter does not scale up easily so the cost of its production must be significant. It’s a specialist market.

Whenever the media get their teeth into this subject they invariably play down the fact that most halal meat comes from stunned animals. The admission, if made, is almost added as an after thought towards the end of reports. Messages that the media want to convey are contained in the headline and the first two or three paragraphs of reports. That the media mostly have poor empathy with Islam generally but halal meat explicity is patently clear.

The Christian Church does not help. The Christian Church in the UK is not a single entity and even the Church of England describes itself as a “broad church”. Several community leaders working under the CofE banner have explicitly anti-Muslim beliefs. To some Allah is not their God but a Satanic imposter

MPs may believe that by using the wording “stun” and “non-stun” they are taking religion out of the argument. They must know however that the non-stun meat market is a niche one. Very few non-Muslims are likely to come across meat from non-stun sources without looking for it. Many or most, however, have been conditioned to believe that all halal meat is derived from unstunned meat and that animals are mistreated during slaughter. It follows that unless the media in particular are reigned in they will still have a down on halal meat.

So the big question is: “Will legislation to requiring meat from unstunned animals to be labelled accordingly be an improvement?”

My own view is that it will not. It is clear that the MPs promoting this concept have a fixed view. The Muslim practice of dhabiha must be painful (the science does not support the argument) and that stunning is vastly superior. One dismissed the serious welfare issue of mis-stunning or stun failure as a minor issue because animals are re-stunned quickly enough for them not to experience significant discomfort. Really?

The introduction of “stun” v “non-stun” labelling will be a distraction. It will allow policy makers not to confront their religious taboos and discuss the merits of dhabiha and the real possibility that it really is a humane procedure.

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