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Jewish groups challenge Lancashire kosher ban

Lancashire County Council became the first council to ban the supply of meat from animals that had not been stunned before slaughter in October

    Geoff Driver, the council’s Conservative leader
    Geoff Driver, the council’s Conservative leader

    Jewish community representatives have criticised the leader of a council over the banning of kosher meat from schools under its authority.

    Lancashire County Council became the first council to ban the supply of meat from animals that had not been stunned before slaughter in October.

    The Board of Deputies and Manchester Jewish Representative Council met the local authority this week but said they had found a “dismissive attitude”.

    British law requires farm animals to be stunned, but provides a religious exemption for the production of kosher and halal meat.

    Geoff Driver, the council’s Conservative leader, proposed the ban, claiming it was “abhorrent” to cut an animal’s throat without stunning it first.

    His motion to ban beef and lamb from animals killed in this way was passed by 41 votes to 24, with 15 abstentions.

    At the time Mr Driver insisted that the decision was made purely to promote animal welfare.

    Mr Driver met the Jewish community representatives this week to discuss the issue, but failed to reach an agreement.

    The communal leaders, who included Marie van der Zyl, Board vice-president, Jonny Wineberg, the Rep Council chief executive, and a representative of Shechita UK, expressed concern at what they claimed was Mr Driver’s suggestion that a Jewish councillor and two Muslim councillors who had examined the issue could not be objective because of their faiths.

    They also criticised language used by Mr Driver to describe religious slaughter.

    Ms van der Zyl said she felt the council leader had displayed a “dismissive attitude”.

    She added: “He refused to see the danger of his assertion that Jewish and Muslim councillors could not be objective because of their faiths. He also stood by polarising and divisive language that can only harm community relations.

    “Our elected representatives should be taking a lead on how to treat others with respect. Councillor Driver has failed to do that on this occasion.”

    Mr Wineberg said Mr Driver had described non-mechanically pre-stunned slaughter  as  “cruel” and “abhorrent”.

    Mr Wineberg added: “We found Councillor Driver unable to recognise the repercussions of comments that councillors of faith were unable to be objective in their roles.

    “Whilst he said that this was about politics not religion and apologised ‘if anyone was offended’, we do not deem that a sufficient apology. Indeed he backtracked on this at the meeting saying that he stood by his comments.

    “We believe that his use of divisive language is not in keeping with his position.

    "In the north-west we have a great recent record of building bridges between faith communities and improving understanding and respect for diverse views and practices.

    “It is concerning to have a situation in Lancashire schools where children will now be told that the practice of their faith is not compatible with the view of local government.

    “We hope that this misjudged decision will be overturned at the earliest possible opportunity." 

    In a statement, Mr Driver said: "It is disappointing that the Board of Deputies do not seem to be working with us on this issue.

    “Lancashire County Council agreed at full council that it will not provide meat, other than poultry, to its establishments unless animals are stunned before they are slaughtered.

    “It is my role now to implement that decision and my focus has been to work with the various community groups on how we can progress this so we can still comply with communities' beliefs.

    “Unfortunately this is becoming very difficult to do when we cannot seem to have a meaningful conversation about the issues.

    “This is about animal cruelty and not religion, and I am still committed to reducing harm to animals whilst at the same time working with the Muslim and Jewish community to come to an agreed position.”

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