Government backtracks on non-stun meat labelling

Theresa Villiers, the environment secretary, said the government opposes restrictions on non-stun slaughter, including labelling requirements
Theresa Villiers, the environment secretary, said the government opposes restrictions on non-stun slaughter, including labelling requirements

The Defra Secretary has appeared to backtrack on the government's previous position on requiring meat from unstunned animals to be labelled.

Theresa Villiers said the government will not seek to introduce legislation requiring meat to be labelled either stunned or non-stunned.

In previous comments since 2017, ministers at Defra have suggested the government would review labelling requirements.

Figures from 2017/18 reveal that over 120 million animals were slaughtered without being stunned first - more than three animals slaughtered every second on average.



But in an interview with Jewish News this week, Ms Villiers said the government opposes restrictions on non-stun slaughter, including labelling requirements.

She explained that the government supports 'the right of faith communities to eat according to their own religious beliefs'.



The Defra Secretary added that she 'wouldn't accept labelling changes which could put up the costs of food for the [Jewish] community'.

She goes on to say she 'would not have supported' amendments to an Agriculture Bill, proposed earlier this year in parliament's last session.

One of the amendments would have required the labelling of non-stun meat.

Ms Villiers said the government had 'more to do to provide reassurance' to 'faith communities', adding: “I believe, as the new secretary of state, that it is very important for people to be able to follow their faith.”

A religious exemption to UK animal welfare legislation currently allows meat to be slaughtered without stunning if it is intended for consumption by Jews or Muslims.

But the National Secular Society (NSS) has now written to the Defra Secretary urging the government to end this exemption, saying it is sold 'unwitting members of the public'.

In its letter the society urged the government to end the religious exemption which allows non-stun slaughter, or short of that to introduce labelling requirements and prohibit the export of non-stun meat.



It added that Ms Villiers's statement on labelling 'seems to accept that the economic viability of the kosher industry is dependent on non-stun meat being allowed to slip into the general food chain'.

It noted: “This means non-stun meat is routinely being sold on the general market to unwitting members of the public.”

The NSS asked what progress, if any, had been made on reviewing the government's position on labelling requirements.

Explaining the NSS's letter, chief executive Stephen Evans said: “It's concerning to see a secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs prioritising religious interests over improving animal welfare and providing consumers with accurate information about their products they're buying.

“Villiers's stated position would mean farm animals continue to endure unnecessary suffering and the principle of one law for all is undermined, diluting efforts to uphold citizens' rights consistently.

“We're urging the government to reconsider its stance.”

Countries to have passed legislation enforcing a ban on non-stun meat include Belgium, Iceland, Estonia, Sweden, Switzerland and Denmark.