Shechita post Brexit

Jun 29, 2016

Following the Brexit vote, Campaign Director, Shimon Cohen, has written the following piece which has been published in the Jewish Chronicle.

“Speculation for a future outside of the European Union has dominated conversation for the last few months and intensified following last week’s shock result. Whilst we will all be affected individually, it is also important that we contemplate the consequences for the community as a whole.

Shechita has taken me to Brussels for many years as the European Union has competency on agriculture and food production. The legislation that ensures we can continue to prepare our meat in our time honoured fashion is based in the EU. It took years to draft and word in order to respect the views of animal welfarists whilst also protecting our religious rights. Every regulation imposed has taken our community’s position into account. Recent UK regulations simply gold plated what Europe put in place. Much will need to be rewritten and relationships we have built in Westminster will now be crucial.

Working together with us across the continent the European Commission has looked for guidance from the Jewish community. The exemptions that protect Shechita have been hard fought and should not be taken for granted. They are in existence thanks to relationships that have been formed with both officials and executives in Europe for many years. We have developed relationships across all blocs and parties within the European Parliament, the Commission and the Council and I am proud that we have real allies.

Of course, we have benefited from the goodwill of every Prime Minister from Margaret Thatcher to David Cameron. The current Conservative government have an iron clad manifesto pledge supporting Shechita and by securing Prime Ministerial commitments we have ensured that the matter of Shechita was always been dealt with at ministerial and government level and not on the floor of Parliament.

There have of course been Parliamentary debates, although recent examples have not been binding, they have always been problematic. The strength of the animal welfare lobby is immense but have failed in attempts to limit or ban Shechita because it has always been an issue ultimately governed at European level. Furthermore, with solid animal welfare arguments on our side, we have often exposed anti Shechita sentiment as racist, mostly directed at the Muslim community.

However, as the whole system of law for slaughtering animals for food is in the competence of the EU, when we leave the EU, the government may have to prepare a new bill, which will, of course, have to be put through Parliament. When this happened in the 1930s the Jewish community secured an exemption from the law requiring mechanical stunning, in the main, because the small quantity of kosher meat being produced was solely for the benefit of Jews and the legislation designed to improve animal welfare was not relevant to us.

Now, irrespective of who becomes Prime Minister saying ‘you have my support’ – that is no longer the assurance it once was, as Parliament will debate and decide.

On related issues such as the labelling of kosher meat for the wider market and industry standards, the EU has taken the lead. A recent study into labelling showed no appetite to take the issue forward in all member states and the EU recommended no action. The UK Government supported the EU position. The very nature of the EU means that extreme voices can appeal to the public but policy can only be changed with unanimity across Europe. This has minimised the risk to Shechita. However, going forward the matter will be solely in the hands of the Westminster Parliament.

The future will be challenging but Shechita UK will continue to fight to make sure that we are able to practice our religious freedoms in a safe, secure and welcome environment. However, my experience over the last 14 years with Shechita UK has shown that we are heavily outnumbered in Parliament and we will have our work cut out.”