Shechita campaigners have attempted to play down the impact of comments made by the leader of the country’s vets after he suggested religious slaughter should be banned in Britain.
John Blackwell, the president-elect of the British Veterinary Association (BVA), called for an end to kosher and halal meat production if Jews and Muslims refused to adopt what he said were more humane methods of killing.
He urged the communities to introduce pre-stunning of poultry, cattle and sheep and said the government should follow Denmark in banning the slaughter of non-stunned animals.
Speaking to The Times, Mr Blackwell said: “The Danish unilateral banning was done purely for animal welfare reasons, which is right.
“We may well have to go down that route. One of the Jewish politicians said it demonstrates that a continuing undercurrent of antisemitism still pervades Europe. That’s very emotive, isn’t it? That’s the difficulty with engagement.” But Mr Blackwell later admitted that he had never seen the shechita process in action.
His comments sparked a flurry of similar attacks from animal-rights groups and politicians, and a robust defence from the Jewish community.
Shimon Cohen, director of the Shechita UK campaign group, said the remarks were an “extraordinary dereliction of duty”.
He said: “Of the countless pressing animal welfare issues that we are faced with today, he has chosen to focus on an issue which is not supported by scientific consensus and which affects a tiny minority of animals.
“The fact is that religious slaughter is at least as humane as the industrialised methods used in conventional mechanical slaughter which include electrocution, gassing, shooting, trapping, drowning and clubbing.”
Mr Cohen said it was “scandalous” that the BVA “continue to single out faith communities for criticism”.
Board of Deputies vice-president Jonathan Arkush said the attack on shechita was “deeply regrettable and misleading, not least as it fails to mention the high incidence of mis-stunned meat in the general market.”
Shechita was debated at length in the House of Lords in January, but Mr Blackwell’s comments have propelled the issue back on to the political scene.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg responded by saying he would resist attempts to ban religious slaughter, and that he believed in protecting “diversity”.
David Cameron has repeatedly said they would safeguard kosher and halal meat production. Labour leader Ed Miliband made the same pledge last year.
Following Mr Blackwell’s comments, Tory MP Andrew Rosindell said Jewish and Muslim meat production, was a foreign import that was “disrespectful” to British traditions.
He said: “Why should we allow that kind of thing to go on in this country when it goes against everything that we stand for as a people?”