Shechita UK expresses its sincerest thanks and gratitude to Lord Palmer, Baroness Altmann and Baroness Deech for their continued support of our cause, speaking to Shechita UK’s messages on method of slaughter labelling passionately, clearly and succinctly during yesterday’s debate concerning the Agriculture Bill in the House of Lords.
Shechita UK has been vigilantly following the Agriculture Bill’s progression through the House of Lords’ Committee Stage, alert to two amendments which make reference to method of slaughter labelling specifically. Shechita UK continues to carefully monitor any developments, with the Report Stage and Third Reading of the Bill taking place following the summer recess. Conversations with the Department and Government regarding labelling also continue as the consultation is due for publication before December.
Please find Lord Palmer’s, Baroness Altmann’s and Baroness Deech’s contributions in full below:
My Lords, I am speaking against Amendments 254 and 258.
What concerns me is not the labelling of meat products, as it is right that, as far as possible, purchasers should know how an animal was killed. There is an increasing number of people who are against the slaughter of animals for food. I respect these views; however, what is being addressed in these amendments is an acceptance of people eating meat, but a desire to label as to the method of slaughter. I must say, a visit to an abattoir could easily make one a vegetarian.
What concerns me is that when the supporters of labelling make their case, there is often a concentration on whether the animal was or was not pre-stunned—in other words, a preoccupation with describing meat killed by kosher or halal methods. I have no problem with this labelling as long as it describes all methods of slaughter. I draw your Lordships’ attention to FarmWell’s proposal: a method-of-slaughter label with 12 categories. Three are electrical methods and two are gas methods; then, there is halal, halal pre-stunned, the Jewish shechita method, the non-penetrative captive bolt, the penetrative captive bolt, and, of course, lastly, being shot—the animal, that is, not your Lordships.
Where the bolt method is used, it should say whether it takes more than one attempt to kill or sedate the animal. If meat is to be labelled as humane religious slaughter, why not label when it is shot? Why not label that a captive bolt gun to the skull was used for cows and sheep? Why not label where chickens were shackled by their ankles and dipped in a water bath with an electric current running through it, which your Lordships should know does not always work, depending on the size of the chicken? Should labels also say whether pigs are herded into a room and gassed? A previous speaker has told the Committee about the numbers so killed. Then there is trapping and clubbing, but that is mostly by hunters. here are reputable reports on the failure rate of mis-stunning for the penetrative captive bolt for cattle as being 6.6% to 8%. The failure rates at the first attempt for non-penetrative captive bolt stunning and electric stunning could be as high as a fantastic 31%.
Some 2 million cattle, 8 million pigs and 9 million sheep and lambs are killed each year. The Jewish community slaughters only 90,000 red meat animals. Rounded to the nearest percentage point, I get 0%. Some 750 million birds are killed. The Jewish community kills a mere 500,000—that is a lot of chickens, but still not a lot.
Previous speakers—particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu—spoke very eloquently about labelling. She made an important point about labelling the country of origin. I certainly subscribe to labelling the country of origin for whisky. I like to think I can tell the country of origin, but maybe it should be labelled for others who cannot. When she went on to say that the method of production should be labelled, the only production method she mentioned, as far as I am aware, was whether it was pre-stunned or not. What I am trying to make clear is that I am against Amendments 254 and 258 but I am for labelling as long as it is comprehensive or not labelled at all.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, produced what I suppose could be a red herring, but it was actually horsemeat. Labelling horsemeat as beef or lamb is fraud; it is nothing to do with whether the customer has the choice.
If we are looking at labelling to stop cruelty, I am afraid that most abattoirs are really cruel. They try their best, but the electricity method of killing animals—mainly chickens—very often fails. The bolt system fails and they have to do it again. If we are labelling, can we just bear in mind that it should be labelling not specifically with regard to stunning and pre-stunning but for all forms of slaughter?
My Lords, I support the aims of Amendment 256 in the name of my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, which was spoken to by so many noble Lords. I share the desire to ensure that our current food and animal product standards are not debased by our leaving the EU. I believe the Minister, who is one of our most outstanding and popular Ministers, may also have some sympathy with its intentions. I hope he will express that later.
However, my main remarks relate to Amendments 254 and 258. It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Palmer. I refer in particular to the animal slaughter elements of those amendments and express my view that these elements—although perhaps well intentioned —could be damaging to the agriculture sector and, as my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe said, they are not generally desired by consumers.
I declare an interest as an observant Jew. Great care needs to be taken with labelling about animal slaughter. In my view, further regulation is unnecessary. All kosher meat is labelled as such. The UK religious Jewish authorities have always fully supported the idea that consumers have every right to know what they are eating, but I believe it is also important to make a distinction between even-handed, non-discriminatory labelling and proposals that may mislead consumers with a false impression that animals killed in one way or another will somehow not experience discomfort or that there is a readily agreed hierarchical structure for assessing the feelings of animals about to be killed.
Consumers can already access information, should they really want it, via existing labelling, with kosher or halal meat clearly marked as such, while meat from mechanically stunned animals is covered by labelling schemes such as Red Tractor. If true consumer information and disclosure is the aim—and I understand such aims—there would need to be a comprehensive labelling system to explain how each type of animal had been killed to provide the meat. I do not believe that there would be public support for this, but ensuring transparency would mean giving consumers the kind of proper information that was so vividly described by the noble Lord, Lord Palmer. All the mechanical methods of slaughter cause injuries of some kind to animals and birds before they are killed.
It is also well documented that stunning does not always work. With shechita, the knife cuts through in one go, causing a massive and immediate drop in blood pressure in the brain. That stops the blood flow to the brain and causes the animal to lose all awareness. Therefore, the blade effectively provides an immediate and irreversible stun and can also be described as a humane method of killing.
Most meat-eaters do not want to think of the animal being killed for the meat they are eating. I believe that we are fortunate to have a Government who do not discriminate against religious meat requirements, and I hope that my noble friend will agree that the animal slaughter elements of Amendments 254 and 258 are unnecessary and potentially discriminatory.
My Lords, I, too, address myself to Amendments 254 and 258 and the issue of slaughter. Across the animal world, killing is done in ways that we do not like to think about. These amendments are a deliberate targeting of methods of slaughter of meat in the expectation that the consumer will read the label, understand it and be affected by it. No doubt there would be a campaign to persuade consumers not to buy certain products if regulations were made under these amendments. I want to draw attention to the selectivity in them.
This is a country in which fishing is a national pastime. It has recently been reported that even fish that are approved by eco-labelling schemes and sold in leading supermarkets have lived in grossly overcrowded cages and died slowly and painfully. Wild-caught fish are gutted or have their gills cut while fully conscious. Farmed fish are starved for a fortnight before they are killed. I have never understood how a kind person who enjoys fishing for himself can leave the fish to suffocate on the ground next to him. Trillions of fish not covered by these amendments suffer globally as a result of these methods of slaughter. In the UK, we shoot stags and pheasants for pleasure. Rabbits are killed for food by decapitation, breaking the neck and blows to the head. Millions of lobsters are killed every year by being semi- frozen and then thrown into boiling water, where they are left to thrash around for several minutes. Secret videos of horrors within UK slaughterhouses abound.
No doubt we will be told that stunning is humane and that non-stunning is not, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, has pointed out, it does not always work. Poultry slaughter is highly mechanised for speed rather than for the minimising of suffering, and it frequently goes wrong. According to the European Food Safety Authority, 180 million chickens and other poultry were killed in the most recent count using an insufficient electric charge. According to Compassion in World Farming, 1 billion chickens are ineffectively stunned in the EU each year, and millions of pigs that are stunned before slaughter with CO2 gas suffer.
My point is that our concerns should extend to all; they should not be crudely divided into stunning and non-stunning. The kosher requirement in this country is so tiny it is likely that many times more cattle were inadequately stunned, and therefore suffered, than were non-stunned and killed according to the kosher method. Consumers have every right to know what they are eating, but there should be honest, non-discriminatory labelling which should not deceive the consumer or insult faith communities. If you wanted to be comprehensive, every chicken leg would have to have a little booklet attached to it.
The European Commission’s Study on Information to Consumers on the Stunning of Animals in 2016 concluded that: “for most consumers information on pre-slaughter stunning is not an important issue unless brought to their attention. However, this is an issue for a certain proportion of motivated consumers. It is by no means clear that consumers would actually act on this information if it were to be available.”
Its clear conclusion was that there is little accurate consumer understanding of the slaughter process. kosher and halal meat is already labelled, so it is difficult to see a need for any further labelling. What then is the purpose of these amendments, in so far as they affect slaughter, because they are selective and pejorative in effect? They do not promote honest labelling, and they should be opposed.