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A Stunning Misconception

Last updated: 2003-06-12

Rabbi Tony Bayfield

Rabbi Tony Bayfield

The attack on Halal and Shechitah (religious slaughter) is a nasty, ill-timed act of secular fundamentalism by an obtuse government body called the Farm Animal Welfare Council.

If there is a gain to be made in animal welfare from pre-stunning – and it is a big ‘if’ since halal and shechitah have the principle of minimum pain underlying them – it is tiny. In fact it is nothing compared to the gains that could be made throughout whole process of breeding, rearing, marketing and taking farm animals to the abattoir if commercial pressures and the price the public were prepared to pay were not dominant factors.  Which, of course, they are – hence the spiteful and doctrinaire attack on a marginal and vulnerable target. 

The gain, if it exists, is also nothing compared to the deep distress which would be caused to hundreds of thousands of British citizens who would not only be prevented from eating meat but would be confirmed in their view that British society is only prepared to accommodate them on its rigid and intolerant secular terms. 

It is, in fact, a blinkered piece of campaigning, ill-suited to the wider government vision of creating a cohesive society in which minorities feel genuinely accepted and valued and not under fire each time their traditions depart from the current secular norm.

If, and I stress ‘if’, it can be shown that significant gains can come from pre-stunning as part of a concerted effort to put the welfare of farm animals before commercial interests and society at large is prepared to pay the price, then it may be possible for minority religious groups to respond.  But that response will only be possible in a genuinely cohesive, multi-cultural society in which they feel accepted, understood and valued rather than marginalised and under attack by one-eyed campaigners and secular fundamentalists. 

Rabbi Tony Bayfield is the professional head of the Jewish Reform Movement in Britain.