Jewish and Muslim leaders accuse council of bias over non-stunned meat ban

Geoff Driver, the Conservative leader of Lancashire County Council, is accused of pursuing a 'personal crusade' on the issue


Jewish and Muslim leaders have accused the Lancashire County Council leader of bias against their communities against after the local authority voted to stop supplying non-stunned meat to schools.

Prior to the vote, the council supplied non-stunned meat to 27 schools to comply with the universally-accepted requirements of halal.

Although it did not provide schools with kosher food due to the small size of the county’s Jewish community, the Manchester Jewish Representative Council told the JC the local authority “has taken a stand on religious slaughter”. 

In 2012, the council briefly stopped supplying halal meat to local schools over a production issue, but after children boycotted their school dinners, the non-stunned meat was reinstated.

Geoff Driver, the Conservative leader of Lancashire County Council, has pursued a refreshed ban on non-stunned meat since 2017. 

The council cabinet had made a decision in July 2018 to provide only stunned meat, but had to re-run a public consultation following opposition from the Lancashire Council of Mosques (LCM).

The ban was upheld at a full council meeting on October 18, passing by a margin of 49 votes to 23, with nine abstentions. 

The ban does not require chickens to be stunned prior to slaughter.

Although Cllr Driver framed it as an “animal welfare issue”, the Manchester Jewish Rep Council and the LCM accused him of pursuing a “personal crusade” based on an “anti-Muslim” stance.

Jonny Wineberg, the former chair and spokesman of the Rep Council, said: “To push something like this through based wholly on an ideological position means it’s designed to attack religious communities. This was a personal crusade by one individual, and it’s an embarrassment for the council to be taking such an inappropriate position.”

Cllr Driver has previously claimed that slaughtering animals without stunning is “abhorrent”, also suggesting that Jewish and Muslim councillors were unable approach the issue “with an open mind”.

Approximately 65 per cent of all respondents to a consultation survey said they “strongly disagree” with the proposal, while a pre-vote council report discussed at length the risk of a boycott of school meals, as well as the threat of legal challenges and “community tensions”.

Abdul Qureshi, the chief executive of the LCM, refused to rule out a call to boycott school meals across the county, saying that the group will “continue to resist” the ban.

He added: “It is clear. For the majority of Muslims who understand the issue, stunned meat is not halal. An animal cannot be damaged before it is sacrificed.

“We are inclined to agree [with the Jewish position]. There seems to be no concern for the ramifications for community relations.”

Fiona Frank, spokesman for the Lancaster and Lakes Jewish community, echoed Mr Wineberg and Mr Qureshi, saying it was “an attack on faith communities”. Shimon Cohen, the campaign director of Shechita UK, described the legislation as “disappointing and mean-spirited”, saying that it was “disingenuous” to frame the issue as one of animal welfare.

Shechita UK also disputed the scientific evidence for pre-stunning, saying it can “cause pain to the animal… and is by no means the woozy, medicinal anaesthetic process that its proponents would have us believe”.

The Lancashire Jewish community, primarily located in Lytham St Anne’s, Blackpool and Lancaster, numbers roughly 850 people in total.
Lancashire County Council insisted the ban was “purely an animal welfare issue”, denying any other motivation.

Cllr Driver said: “The county council will now work with the Lancashire Council of Mosques to mitigate against any unwanted and unwarranted consequences of this decision.”

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