The law of unintended consequences: why the SDP needs to revisit non-stun slaughter [FOUR-MINUTE READ]

[BEFORE YOU START: I have written five substantive posts on this topic. This one will take about four minutes to read. If you’re really pushed for time, click here for a two-minute digest. Click here for a longer piece where I develop my argument in detail. I have analysed a newspaper report on the topic here. I have looked at the scientific evidence behind the current policy here.]

The SDP is the first party I ever joined. I really like our policies… with one exception, in the “Animal Welfare” section:

A ban will be applied on the use of non–stun slaughter as requested by the British Veterinary Association and RSPCA. 

Although this policy is doubtless well-intentioned, I believe that it is misguided, and needs to be changed.

What’s this all about?

If you run a slaughterhouse in Britain, you can currently lawfully kill an animal in one of two ways: either by stunning it first (usually electrically, or by the use of gas, or by means of a metal bolt fired at the animal’s head); or without stunning it first. The latter is permitted in order to accommodate the religious requirements of Jews and Muslims: broadly speaking, meat cannot be kosher or halal if the animal is stunned before being killed.

A ban on non-stun methods would effectively make all kosher and some halal slaughter in the UK illegal. The policy is said to be a response to a request by the British Veterinary Association and the RSPCA, who argue that stunning before slaughter is more humane.

What’s the problem with that?

Firstly, the science isn’t as clear-cut as the BVA and RSPCA claim. Some scientists say that pre-stunning reduces pain. However, others challenge the premises of such research, and/or cogently argue the precise opposite. In particular, Professor Joe Regenstein of Cornell University has robustly challenged the scientific papers upon which the position of the BVA and RSPCA is based.

Secondly, pre-stunning methods are themselves contentious. There is disagreement, for example, over the ethics of stunning with gas. Louise Ellman MP argues that vastly more animals suffer as a result of inadequate mechanical stunning than are killed altogether by kosher slaughter methods. The topic is a scientific and ethical minefield!

Thirdly, the policy infringes the religious liberty of Jews and Muslims: a ban would make it much harder for them to eat kosher or halal meat. They would then be forced to: become vegetarian; buy expensive imported kosher/halal meat (which could become significantly dearer in a no-deal Brexit scenario); or emigrate! When New Zealand tried to ban kosher slaughter, Jewish leaders wrote, “It will mean our religious families will be forced to leave New Zealand. Few Jews will want to migrate here. We will be seen as a country where Jews are not welcome, and where our traditions and beliefs are not respected or valued.” Stephen Daisley identifies “simmering hostility to kosher slaughter methods” as one of four contemporary threats to Jewish life in Britain. What appears to be a well-intentioned animal welfare policy, would therefore have serious consequences for religious minorities. This seems out of step with the party’s founding principles.

How do the founding principles come into it?

We are a communitarian party: we believe that “the family, the community and society are as important as the individual”.




We are also a party of religious tolerance. The New Declaration says: “We are concerned that our long-standing culture of tolerance has fallen from favour… Citizens holding a traditional, patriotic or religious outlook are often bullied and marginalised…” Whilst it refers to religious outlook rather than religious actions, in practice the two go hand in hand: the religious outlook of observant Jews and Muslims leads them to eat non-stunned meat.

SDP tolerance

The party should therefore think carefully before restricting the religious liberty of two significant segments of the community. We should also recognise that media reporting on this issue is sometimes unhelpful.

Does this issue really matter?

It matters hugely, because of the impact this policy would have upon Jews and Muslims. I myself am Jewish: I would probably not have joined the SDP, had I known that it would propose to ban non-stun slaughter. Rakib Ehsan is a Muslim academic whose politics seem a close match with the SDP. However, this particular policy puts him off. Is that really the kind of party we want to be?



What do you suggest the party does instead?

The challenge for the party is to both (i) respect the religious liberty of Jews and Muslims and (ii) also respect those who do not wish to eat kosher/halal meat – a significant amount of which finds its way on to the general market. The way to achieve this is through labelling, which enables the consumer to make an informed choice.

The party should therefore consider replacing the current policy with the following alternative:

  1. The rigorous enforcement of existing standards in all abattoirs;
  2. Require all meat products to be clearly labelled as to the means of slaughter; and
  3. Make it a mandatory requirement for public bodies to provide suitable alternatives for those who do, or do not, wish to eat kosher or halal meat.

At the AGM in autumn, I’ll be proposing a motion to change policy along these lines. I hope you’ll vote with me.





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6 Responses to The law of unintended consequences: why the SDP needs to revisit non-stun slaughter [FOUR-MINUTE READ]

  1. Pingback: The SDP and non-stun slaughter: a two-minute digest | Large Blue Footballs

  2. Pingback: Communitarianism, animal welfare and religious liberty: why the SDP needs to rethink non-stun slaughter [LONG VERSION] | Large Blue Footballs

  3. Pingback: Contested science makes bad policy: why the SDP can ignore the BVA and RSPCA on non-stun slaughter | Large Blue Footballs

  4. Pingback: How the SDP can still avoid becoming nUKIP | Large Blue Footballs

  5. Pingback: Why the SDP’s new policy on non-stun slaughter still falls short | Large Blue Footballs

  6. Pingback: How the SDP still discriminates against Jews and Muslims | Large Blue Footballs

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