Shechita UK prepares for Westminster Hall Debate

Feb 16, 2015

On Monday 23rd February in Westminster Hall, Members of Parliament will debate the “e-petition relating to the ending on non-stun slaughter to promote animal welfare”.

the debate will take a similar format to last November’s Westminster Hall Debate and Shechita UK is briefing MPs over the next few days. As with the last debate The Minister and the Opposition will also be briefed by Shechita UK.

Shechita UK Campaign Director Shimon Cohen has prepared the following article to update our community on Shechita UK’s activities:

Just a few weeks ago, kehillas around the country, might have reasonably found themselves thinking that despite their bad press, UKIP could be emerging as a surprising favourite for them at the polls. Their record on eretz yisroel is on a par with the Conservatives, they are outspoken on the urgent need to tackle Islamic extremism and antisemitism and they have been active supporters of our kehilla both at home and across Europe.

True – they have made some questionable partnerships in Europe but in the grand scheme of things, we could probably live with that – after all, their apparent propensity for marginalising and scapegoating minority groups didn’t seem to have affected us at all so far.

Without question that illusion has now come crashing down. UKIP has announced that it now formally opposes Shechita, apparently on animal welfare grounds, becoming the first mainstream political party in the UK to do so.

At Shechita UK, we take responsibility for ensuring that key Parliamentarians are fully briefed on the virtues of Shechita, the importance of the principle of Tzaar Baalei Chayim and the huge body of Halocho that a Shochet must be trained in before he even picks up a chalaf. Indeed we would not be doing our job if we had not ensured that senior figures at the party were included in this work.

Following a number of meetings with party leader Nigel Farage and their agricultural spokesman Stuart Agnew, it became clear that both men were keen to support us. We invested a great deal of time and effort into providing a tour for Mr Agnew around an abattoir where Shechita was taking place, giving him the opportunity to see the process first hand. As an experienced farmer, well used to seeing animal slaughter, he was clearly impressed and spoke publicly of his views at the autumn UKIP Conference, assuring us of his party’s support. That was followed by clear commitments on this issue from Nigel Farage and Douglas Carswell at various meetings in the Jewish community again reiterated at their recent party conference.

So given UKIP senior leadership’s unambiguous public support for us on this important issue, what could have changed so drastically for them in a matter of days? The answer it seems is very simple – they are entirely out of step with the rest of their party.

Since the shock u-turn was announced by the party’s press, Stuart Agnew has confirmed for us that despite his clear recommendation that the right to carry out Shechita should be protected, his party’s National Executive Committee voted against that view. Could it be that the national leadership of UKIP, the majority of whom are elected by its members, have had a sudden attack of conscience and are to place animal welfare much higher on their agenda than ever before?

I have looked long and hard for UKIP statements calling for a national bans on animal testing, fox hunting, mechanical stunning methods, mis-stunning before slaughter or other key welfare issues but try as I might, I simply could not find anything to suggest that UKIP are genuinely motivated by concern for animals. Their true motivation, as has now been reported across national media, was that the Jews are in fact ‘collateral damage’ in an attack that was ‘aimed elsewhere’.

There can be no other way to understand this. UKIP wants to attack Muslims and their way of life – if that means that Jews get in the way, then we are ‘fair game’ as well. UKIP’s bizarre u-turn is bad enough in and of itself but the real danger is the encouragement that the media coverage provides to the anti-Shechita campaign.           

The storm around UKIP’s move has now been compounded by the news that the British Veterinary Association (BVA) has, after nearly a year of campaigning, has finally secured a parliamentary debate on whether shechita should be banned in the UK. We are confident that our campaigning thus far, will protect us from any meaningful shift in the government’s clear support for our right to do shechita but there is no question that the campaign against us is gaining in momentum and we are deeply concerned.

Looking forward, we have been expecting for some months that the European Commission will finally issue its report on consumer attitudes to the labelling of meat slaughtered according to a religious method. A number of groups, including all those who have any strong feelings about shechita, are awaiting this report with baited breath. The report might take the view of the BVA that all meat should be labelled either ‘stunned’ or ‘unstunned’, in which case government support for such a policy could follow. We have done everything possible to try to ensure that instead the European Commission recommends a far more honest and even handed approach to labelling.

We have argued that it seems bizarre and incongruous to pre-suppose that consumers’ rights do not extend to informing them that an animal has been mechanically stunned prior to slaughter using methods such as asphyxiation by gas, electrocution by tongs or water or shooting with a captive bolt gun. Similarly, consumers must have the right to know if the animal endured repeat stuns if the first attempt was ineffective. Whatever the findings – we expect to have yet another fight on our hands in the coming months.

For now, you can play your part in protecting shechita by calling upon your MP to attend the debate on Monday the 23rd February, familiarise themselves with the Shechita UK briefing pack and speak up on our behalf. As the general election approaches, MPs in Jewish areas are quick to insist that they are passionate supporters of our rights but Monday is the time for them to prove it to us.