Thank you to everyone who has emailed me off the back of the Compassion in World Farming campaign for the honest labelling of meat and dairy products. Unfortunately my position as an opposition whip prevents me from signing EDMs, but I am very happy to set out my views on this.
As you know, British and EU law requires animals to be stunned before slaughter but makes an exemption for religious slaughter carried out by members of the Jewish and Muslim communities.
I appreciate that organisations including the RSPCA, Compassion in World Farming and the British Veterinary Association have expressed concerns about the animal welfare implications of non-stun slaughter. However, I am also aware that these are strongly contested by Jewish and Islamic communities.
Although I would prefer all animals to be stunned before slaughter, it is important to recognise the rights of certain communities and to accept the importance they attach to their religious beliefs. There are no plans to ban religious slaughter in the UK and I agree it would not be appropriate to implement a ban. I believe we must strike a balance between animal welfare law and important cultural and religious practices.
Each UK nation has national rules which are stricter than the relevant EU regulation and which are aimed at reducing stress and providing greater protection for animals slaughtered in accordance with religious rites. In addition, it is an offence under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 (in England and Wales) and the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 (in Scotland) to cause unnecessary suffering to any animal.
I am aware that there is concern about meat products from animals that are not stunned before slaughter being sold to consumers who do not require their meat to be prepared in this way. There are currently no requirements to include information on the method of slaughter on meat labelling. However, any information provided voluntarily must be accurate and not be misleading to the consumer.
The UK Government has said that consumers should have the necessary information to enable them to make an informed choice about their food and is considering this issue in the context of the UK leaving the EU.
I believe food labelling must be clear and unambiguous so that consumers know exactly what they are buying, and so that farmers can compete fairly within any new trade deals after Brexit.