Clearer labelling of meat should be introduced in Britain to help identify animals killed in accordance with religious slaughter, peers have argued.
During a fierce debate in the House of Lords, shechita was described as “barbaric” and “absolutely unacceptable” before Jewish peers rallied to defend the practice.
The animal welfare and slaughter methods debate, prompted by a question from veterinary professor Lord Trees, concentrated on “ethical, legal and religious factors” relating to pre-slaughter stunning and the labelling of the meat produced.
Animals used for kosher and halal meat are not stunned before slaughter.
Lord De Mauley, the government’s food spokesman in the Lords, said that while the government “would prefer to see all animals stunned before slaughter”, the production of kosher and halal meat would continue to be protected.
Lord Trees quoted a Jewish vet who had written to him claiming she had “never witnessed anything as horrific as shechita slaughter”. The woman said the practice of non-stunning was “barbaric” and had caused her to stop eating kosher meat.
Lord Trees said that while he respected Jewish and Muslim practices, “unnecessary suffering is being caused to a very substantial number of animals by slaughter without stunning”.
Baroness Parminter called for the government to back “EU-wide mandatory labelling of non-pre-stunned meat” and said slaughter by throat-cutting without pre-stunning was “absolutely unacceptable in animal welfare terms”.
But Jewish peers spoke strongly in defence of shechita, with Lord Winston telling colleagues: “The notion of animal protection is stronger in Judaism than in any other world religion. Shechita is a much more humane method than stunning.”
Emeritus Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks said: “If a case is made for labelling meat to indicate how the animal was killed, this must apply to all methods of slaughter, not just to some.”
Baroness Deech and Lord Palmer highlighted other current methods of slaughter. The European Food Safety Authority had found 12 million cows had suffered as a result of failed stunning, said Baroness Deech.
Muslim peer Lord Sheikh defended halal slaughter methods and said he hoped religious communities would continue to work closely on the issue.
Following the debate, Shechita UK director Shimon Cohen said the support from Jewish and non-Jewish peers had been “quite incredible”.