Since Parliament reconvened, Hannah Jordan, parliamentary intern to Lord Trees, has been researching slaughter methods in the UK for a short debate that took place in the House of Lords last week.
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Not only is the slaughter of animals a worthy subject for discussion, it is a controversial one and, while preparing for this debate, I have been repeatedly warned to change my name, batten down the hatches and prepare for strong opinions.
There are a number of valid animal welfare issues and you might ask why we are pursuing this one. First, non-stun slaughter is important because, in the political playground, the remit of ‘animals committed to my care’ takes on a broader context. Secondly, although the percentage of animals involved is tiny when compared with the total number slaughtered in the UK, non-stun slaughter is still practised on over 1.5 million cattle and sheep, without considering poultry.
There is accumulating evidence, albeit disputed by some, that pain is perceived following non-stun slaughter. Most recently, a study from New Zealand measured electro-encephalographic (EEG) responses associated with pain in minimally anaesthetised calves. Calves that were pre-stunned showed no response; non-stunned calves showed EEG responses for up to two minutes and post-cut stunning abolished those responses. Last, but by no means least, the House of Lords is a convenient forum for controversial subjects. MPs are often reluctant to discuss contentious issues for fear of alienating voters and the Commons also lacks the breadth of expertise that is present in the Lords.
The main objective of the debate was to further improve the standard of animal welfare in the UK by provoking public discussion, persuading religious individuals, groups and leaders to re-examine the necessity for such practices, to raise support for appropriate meat labelling and, crucially, to discover possible ways forward, even if they involve a degree of compromise from all parties.
The debate took place on January 16 and, due to the number of speakers, there was little time to get into the nitty gritty. Some interesting arguments were made: Lord Trees argued the case above; Lord Sacks claimed that the Shechita method ‘stuns, kills and exsanguinates in a single cut’; Lord Sheikh stated that, with Halal slaughter, ‘the animal ceases to feel pain due to the immediate brain starvation of blood and oxygen’. As is often the case (one only has to think of badger culling) scientific evidence can be produced by all sides to support their claims.
There was agreement from several parties on a need for clearer labelling – ideally covering an animal's whole life (source to slaughter). Furthermore, the concept of post-cut stunning was raised and may prove a workable compromise.
Before I sign off, a small update on the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill is due. The Minister was under instruction not to accept further amendments to this Bill, which the Government feels is comprehensive. Consequently, our amendment, which would have made premeditated or truly out-of-control attacks on protected animals an offence, was withdrawn on the basis that it might be better addressed with other legislation.
■ The full transcript of the short debate on slaughter of animals is available online at: www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201314/ldhansrd/text/140116-gc0001.htm#14011665000550
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