No, by 'religious slaughter' I don't mean the Thirty Years War, I mean the kosher/halal slaughter of animals for meat. Sarah Ludford, Liberal Democrat MEP for London and a Vice-President of Lib Dem Friends of Israel, has an excellent letter in today's Financial Times opposing the proposed Dutch ban on the slaughter of animals without pre-stunning, which is effectively a ban on the production of kosher/halal meat in the Netherlands.
Sarah Ludford's letter also re-iterates her strong opposition to the singling out of kosher/halal meat for special labelling. I blogged previously about a European Parliament committee's regrettable vote to impose such labelling; it pleases me that most of the Liberal MEPs on the committee (who hail from liberal parties across the EU) voted against the labelling. The full Parliament (as opposed to this one committee) will vote on this proposal at some point, but more importantly, the final decision will rest not only with the Parliament, but also with the Council of Ministers, meaning agriculture ministers from each of the EU's member states.
One hears on the grapevine that it has now been decided to address this issue in future animal welfare legislation, and not in the EU's new food labelling regulations - it was the labelling regulations on which the committee was voting when MEPs voted to put special labels on 'un-stunned meat'. This means that, for now, the proposal falls, and there will be no special labels on meat slaughtered without mechanical pre-stunning, i.e. kosher/halal meat. This is great news and a victory for common sense.
I am also really pleased to read news of a new trade association for the owners of abattoirs that produce halal meat without mechanical pre-stunning (although, on second thoughts, I don't welcome that association's apparent support for labelling, but there you go). A lot of myths surround kosher and halal, neither of which is an especially inhumane method of slaughtering animals. Incidentally, I have to declare a disinterest, in that, as I am not a religious Jew, I don't 'keep kosher' and I eat non-kosher meat all the time. I often eat kosher (and halal) meat in restaurants and I sometimes buy delicious things like chopped liver and salt beef from the kosher section of my local supermarket, but I don't myself observe Judaism's dietary laws.
What I am defending here is other people's religious freedoms, because I am a liberal. My undoubted concern for animal welfare is balanced by my deep concern for religious freedom, hence my opposition to a ban on kosher/halal slaughter, and my opposition to the proposed labelling. One friend of mine who (as a Parliamentary candidate) visited an abattoir said that anybody who sees such a place will come out thinking that they want to become a vegetarian, so distressing is the slaughter of animals for meat. What he was saying, and I agree with him, is that if you really wanted to avoid the potential for any cruelty to animals, then you'd have to become a vegetarian. I agree with him - and I still eat meat, as does he. There you go.