Neil Parish MP calls for non-stunned meat to be properly labelled

Neil Parish MP spoke in the Westminster Hall debate on non-stun slaughter. Neil pressed the Government to introduce mandatory CCTV in slaughterhouses to ensure animal welfare rules are being followed and for clearer labelling for stunned and non-stunned meat so that consumers can make informed decisions when shopping.


Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): Thank you, Mr Havard, and it is a great pleasure to take part in the debate, which I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) for securing.


I do not rise to talk about anything that is anti the Jewish or Muslim communities. The debate is very much about animal welfare. My right hon. Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Sir James Paice) made the point very well: in the end, according to scientific and veterinary experience and the New Zealand research into slaughter methods, an animal that is stunned before slaughter without doubt feels less pain than one that is not stunned. That is the issue.


We should be able to work with religious communities to find compromises to ensure that animals are stunned at slaughter. For example, my right hon. Friend made the point that there is very much a case for post-stunning, especially of large animals. Clearly, a cow or beef animal can take up to four or five minutes to die, so post-stunning is relevant.


In addition, the halal system is about ensuring that an animal may recover from being stunned—that is what makes the difference. If electric shock is used, the animal should be rendered senseless so that the cut may be made and the animal bled without it feeling any pain, but it should be able to recover from the shock. That is why the stunning system is acceptable—we should not forget that 80% or 90% of halal meat is from stunned animals—and it is what we want to happen. I want to see more and more animals stunned.


My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Dr Offord) made many points, one of which was that all the meat slaughtered under the shechita system was consumed by the Jewish community. That is far from the point and is not what happens. All the hindquarters go into general meat consumption, so labelling of such products is essential.


Furthermore, I think I am right to say that in Israel, because fewer cattle are slaughtered, much more of the animal is eaten by the Jewish community than in this country. I have done a lot of work on this through various Committees and, no matter how much meat is needed for the Jewish community, they will accept no stunning whatever. They are absolutely convinced that the way in which the knife is wielded does the stunning. I do not believe that to be the case, but that is the argument that is made. If so, clearly the amount of meat needed for the Jewish community should be the amount slaughtered under the shechita system. I therefore press the Minister on the situation in Germany where, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering pointed out, the Jewish community has to be clear about the amount of meat they need, so that that is the amount of meat slaughtered.


In this country, not all shechita systems use slow methods of slaughter. In some slaughterhouses, even shechita is a relatively fast system. When two or three animals are slaughtered without stunning, only one might land up as in the shechita system, because the other two have passed through before the Jewish inspectors have time to ensure that the animals are fit. Shechita is not only about the method of slaughter, but about testing the lungs and other parts of the animal to ensure that it is healthy enough to be accepted. There is a lot of practice out there that we can tighten up on.


There should also be CCTV cameras in all slaughterhouses, whether they are using shechita or halal systems, or the general system of slaughter with stunning. Also, mis-stunning should be put right. I wish to refute entirely an argument that has been made several times, which is that because there are some mis-stuns when we stun animals, we should not stun them at all and do everything under a shechita system. We should ensure that there is absolutely no mis-stunning in this country. That is where I nail my colours to the mast, because we have to stamp out any mis-stunning. Furthermore, where possible animals should be stunned.


We also need to look at having a workable labelling system, which we do not have at the moment. If we talk about a shechita or halal system, we immediately make the issue a religious one. We do not want to make it a religious issue, nor should it be one. My right hon. Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire said that any system would not be easy to police, but if we are to go down the labelling route, we must ensure that the labels say “Stunned” or “Non-stunned”. That should clearly be the issue. We need to get that right.


In this country and throughout Europe and the world, if religious communities believe that there can be no stunning of animals, we should ensure that as few animals as possible are slaughtered under such a system and that that meat should go to the community concerned. I am not against people having their religious rights, but it is wrong that more animals than necessary are being slaughtered without stunning. We need to sort that out.


I repeat that we have to have cameras in slaughterhouses to ensure that the systems are carried out properly. We can then work with religious communities to try to minimise the amount of animals not stunned at slaughter and the amount of meat that goes into the normal meat trade and not into the kosher or halal trade. That way we will be able to get to a position where most animals in this country are stunned before slaughter and fewer and fewer are not. That is where we need to get to. That is not an easy matter, but it is something that I am sure the Minister will reply to. At the end of the day, this is not a party political issue but an issue of what is right for animal welfare.


Hansard source (Citation: HC Deb, 23 February 2015, c28WH)