At the end of January, the government’s Transparency of Lobbying bill received the Royal Assent. This legislation, which establishes a statutory register of “consultant lobbyists,” and a registrar to enforce the registration requirements, has been a major concern of a wide range of non-governmental organisations, and it was, therefore, entirely understandable that when a mass meeting of NGOs was held at Westminster to consider what was being proposed, the Board of Deputies should have attended. Also in attendance, equally understandably, was the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
It appears that there was a brief encounter involving the representatives of the two bodies — the Deputies and the RSPCA.
Why representatives of the Deputies should have contrived or agreed to engage the RSPCA in conversation, I know not. Nor am I able to tell you whether the Deputies merely stumbled, so to speak, upon the RSPCA, or whether the intercourse was deliberate (let alone consensual). But contact there certainly was. I can report that the two parties got on famously —so famously, indeed, that they agreed that a further, less public assignation was needed. That meeting took place, at the Board’s offices, last month. Also invited — though it seems to me more in the nature of voyeur than participant — was Shechita UK, the umbrella body charged with the defence of the Jewish religious method of humane food-animal slaughter.
Why did the meeting take place, and what matters were discussed?
The major item on the agenda was the labelling of meat and poultry sold in the UK. Apparently the Board wanted clarification of the RSPCA’s position on labelling, though why a meeting should have been necessary is puzzling to say the least, since this position is very well known. Ideally, the RSPCA would like shechita to be banned altogether. They may put it differently. They may say that all they want banned is slaughter without prior stunning. But of course this amounts to the same thing.
The RSPCA also knows that, in political terms, there is not in the foreseeable future the slightest chance of this happening. Instead, they have adopted an alternative strategy: to price shechita out of existence. One way of doing this, the RSPCA believes, is to harness the power of the consumer by insisting that shechita-slaughtered meat and poultry (including of course that which finds its way to the general market) is labelled.
The big question is: what will be said on the label? A label that said kosher slaughter might actually attract a great many non-Jewish customers, partly because the word kosher has entered English vocabulary as meaning “above suspicion.” Worse still, during the great BSE (mad cow disease) scare of 1996, as the RSPCA well knows, non-Jews took to buying kosher meat because it was known to be disease-free. The RSPCA certainly does not want this buying-spree to be repeated. But neither does it want to be labelled as anti-Jewish. So it was more than ready to give an assurance that whatever form of labelling was adopted by the RSPCA it would not be “pejorative,” and would not single out “religious slaughter.”
As a matter of fact, the RSPCA told me just a few days ago that what it wants is a label that refers to “stun or non-stun slaughter” rather than to any particular method of religious slaughter.
The Deputies and Shechita UK seem to have been impressed by this apparent concession. I am not. It seems self-evident that the labelling of meat and poultry as “non-stun slaughter” is palpably pejorative, because the Jewish contention is and always has been that shechita stuns and slaughters in one action.
In a February 14 internal memo, Shechita UK referred to the apparent willingness of the RSPCA to moderate its language on labelling as “a very positive result”. I cannot share this optimism.
It’s not that I’m against labelling. I’m not. I’d be happy with a label that said kosher slaughter, or even “slaughtered in accordance with Jewish law.”
But what the RSPCA has offered is disingenuous, even mischievous. I’m shocked that the Deputies and Shechita UK appear to have been seduced by it.