LONDON – Conservative backbencher Greg Knight has sparked a controversy in Britain by calling for banning halal slaughter, pitting religious sensitivities against the conviction of animal welfare campaigners.
"If it said that all chickens had to be labeled in a certain way if the birds had been battery hens, or if he had proposed that meat had to be labeled in a certain way if the animals had been kept in dreadful conditions before being killed... I would at least regard him as consistent," Sir Gerald Kaufman told BBC on Monday, May 28.
MP Knight has earlier told MPs that halal and kosher practice of slaughtering cattle, lambs and chickens is "rife".
Under current British laws, animals has to be stunned before they are killed - by electrocution, gassing, or shooting retractable rods into their brains
The law also cites some exemptions for animals to be killed according to Muslim and Jewish traditions, without stunning them first.
But Knight has presented a bill to remove exemptions for halal slaughter.
Speaking at the House of Commons on Thursday, Knight described these exemptions as "unacceptable".
Hitting back, Sir Kaufman, the veteran Labour MP, accused Knight of coming forward with a bill that "picked on two small minorities".
The concept of halal, -- meaning permissible in Arabic -- has traditionally been applied to food.
Muslims should only eat meat from livestock slaughtered by a sharp knife from their necks, and the name of Allah, the Arabic word for God, must be mentioned.
Muslim scholars agree that Shari`ah provides a divine law of mercy that should be applied on all Allah’s creations, including animals.
Islam also provides details about avoiding any unnecessary pain.
Britain is home to a Muslim minority of nearly 2.5 million.
The anti-halal slaughter bill was not the first from conservative backbenchers.
Last week, Conservative MP for Ealing Central and Acton Angie Bray claimed that "more than 25% of meat sold in our shops comes from animals that have not been stunned before slaughter".
Bray suggested that some abattoirs were using the exemptions for kosher and halal meat as an excuse to cut costs.
"New measures" might be needed to enforce the law properly, she said.
Another Tory MP for Shipley Philip Davies launched a bid last month to change the law to ensure that halal and kosher meat on sale in shops and eateries was labeled as such.
"My sole reason for introducing the bill is to give consumers more information, so that they can exercise their freedom of choice," the former Asda employee told MPs.
He said his objective was to ensure that consumers knew "how the meat has been killed".
Davies’ opinion was copying French presidential elections rhetoric about halal meat.
Halal meat has become a central theme in electoral campaigns by Elysee hopefuls a month before the April-May election.
Last February 2012, far-right National Front leader Martine Le Pen said that all meat in Paris was halal, a claim denied by abattoirs.
The issue caught hold with President Nicolas Sarkozy calling for labeling all halal meat in France.
Though the current laws in UK allow slaughtering animals without prior stunning, a new EU directive on the protection of animals at the time of killing will come into force in the UK in 2013.
In the new directive, "member states can impose stricter rules in relation to religious slaughter if they wish," James Paice, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minister, said."I am currently considering what might be done to improve welfare in this context."
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