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Animal Welfare Standards - Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:13 pm on 12th December 2018.

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Photo of Lord Trees Lord Trees Crossbench 3:13 pm, 12th December 2018

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether their recent trade deal to supply 50,000 lambs killed without stunning to Saudi Arabia is consistent with their commitment to maintain animal welfare standards after Brexit.

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, the Government encourage the highest standards of welfare at slaughter, and have been clear that they will not water down their high animal welfare standards in the furtherance of trade. The agreement with Saudi Arabia was on the terms of the health certification for animal products and lifts a 20-year ban on lamb exports. It is not a trade deal per se. All slaughter of animals for export—whether stun or non-stun—must strictly comply with EU and UK rules on animal welfare.

Photo of Lord Trees Lord Trees Crossbench

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her Answer. As she knows, for many years New Zealand has exported millions of sheep carcasses to the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, from animals that have all been stunned before slaughter, and that have all been halal certified. Will the Government undertake to halt further halal exports until our welfare and farming organisations, our regulatory authorities and, most importantly, the appropriate UK halal authorities, have reached agreement to follow procedures similar to the New Zealand model? Given that, our farmers could then export with confidence, and the international halal community could be reassured that it is getting meat that meets its requirements.

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, New Zealand has very different procedures from those of the UK. New Zealand allows non-stunned slaughter only for poultry and, in that case, for just 5,000 birds a year. The issues around this are very complex. The Government would prefer all animals to be stunned before slaughter, but derogations have existed for Muslim and Jewish communities since the 1930s. However, the Government are well aware of research into stunning techniques, in particular for cattle and sheep, which may be helpful in reducing the amount of non-stunned slaughter. We will continue to work with all stakeholders to ensure that we have the highest standards of animal welfare, while ensuring freedom of religious expression.

Photo of Baroness Fookes Baroness Fookes Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I have protested about the killing of any animal without pre-stunning for more years now than I care to remember, and I am not going to stop protesting now. May I ask my noble friend not to allow the departure of animals from this country without pre-stunning?

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I hope that my noble friend will continue protesting, and I am sure that many other noble Lords will continue to do so, but we are governed by the regulations of both the EU


Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My noble friends should wait. European Council Regulation 1099/2009 protects the animals at the time of killing. However, the UK has stricter national rules through WATOK, the welfare of animals at time of killing regulations. These provide for the types of stunning that can be carried out, but also set out precisely what must happen if an animal is to be slaughtered without stunning. It is part of the slaughter process, but we slaughter 13.3 million sheep a year, and the vast majority are stunned before slaughter.

Photo of Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My Lords, the UK has moved a long way forward in ensuring that animals are stunned prior to slaughter, as has been indicated. Animal welfare is, rightly, an essential ingredient of our culture, both pre and post Brexit. It is therefore incomprehensible that the contract to supply 50,000 lamb carcasses to Saudi Arabia allows for their slaughter without pre-stunning. Other EU countries that allow non-stunned slaughter have measures in place to ensure that that meat is for the domestic market only. I cannot see what possible justification there can be for allowing non-stunned slaughter for export to Saudi Arabia, and I hope that the Minister will work to reverse that.

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I would like to be clear that there is no contract for 50,000 sheep to go to Saudi Arabia. I am not entirely sure where that comes from. An export health certificate has been issued in the case of Saudi Arabia, but it has not been used, so not a single lamb has left the country, whether stunned or non-stunned. On the point the noble Baroness raised, we have our regulations within our nation, which allow both stunning and non-stunning within very strict parameters. It is for the benefit of our sheep farmers, mostly in the north of England, Wales and Scotland, that they are able to sell their sheep where they like, within the regulations.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Labour

Does the Minister not appreciate that there is no international body for certifying halal? That is why, in New Zealand, the halal authority agrees to pre-stunning. She cannot hide behind the EU, because the EU allows into Europe all the New Zealand lamb—and all of it that comes to the UK is halal, without exception. If the EU allows that in, we cannot then use the EU rules to stop our own people here deciding that we will have a halal authority which still gives the certification but allows for pre-stunning. That is the root cause of the problem: Defra should make sure that there is a halal body prepared to do that in this country, otherwise we simply would not allow the exports.

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

The noble Lord is right. There is no one national authority that certifies halal meat, and to a certain extent that is part of the problem. We have one halal authority which will certify only stunned meat, one that does only non-stunned meat and one that does both. The crux of this issue is that the Government, stakeholders and religious authorities need to start working together more closely to look at the research around stunning, which has come on in leaps and bounds in terms of recoverability from stunning and therefore whether it falls within religious guidelines. We have committed to do that and we will continue to do so.

Photo of Lord Singh of Wimbledon Lord Singh of Wimbledon Crossbench

My Lords, for many years Sikhs and other communities have been concerned about the provision of a halal-only option in many schools. We are advised that it is the prerogative of the local authority. It is impossible for individuals to keep complaining. Does the Minister agree that the default position must be the provision of non-halal food, and that it is up to other religious communities if they want something different?

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

The noble Lord makes a very strong point. It is the case that it is up to schools whether they provide halal meat. Many schools that have a significant proportion of pupils who are Muslims will supply halal meat, but they might be able to accommodate pupils of other faiths within their food provision. I reassure noble Lords that major retailers have supplier requirements that all meat on supermarket shelves is stunned before slaughter.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Conservative

My Lords, I am a fellow of the British Veterinary Association and a regular visitor to auction marts in the north of England. Does the Minister agree that the general problem is that there is meat being sold in this country as normal meat which is actually halal meat being passed off as normal meat? This is an urgent issue that has to be addressed by the Government. Will my noble friend explain to the House how the Government propose to address it?

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I thank my noble friend for that question. I have just mentioned the actions that have already been taken by the major retailers, but the Government are well aware of public concern around meat slaughtered in accordance with religious beliefs and we believe that we need to look at labelling and improve it where we can. We believe that if we can give consumers the information they require, they can make an informed choice. The Government have committed to a review of food labelling once our future partnership with the EU is clear.

Photo of Lord Winston Lord Winston Labour

My Lords, I declare an interest as an Orthodox Jew. I think the Government are to be congratulated on their sensitivity to the various religious minorities that carry out their practices in this country. The Minister mentioned the problem that stunning is not by any means absolute. We see clear evidence that some animals are wounded with current levels of stunning, and more research is needed. At a time when there is very great distrust between different communities, I hope that the Minister will agree that we need to reflect on the need to have harmony in those communities at the present moment.

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I completely appreciate the comments made by the noble Lord. That is why this is such a very complex issue. We must understand that there are religious sensitivities around this, but I am also pleased to know that research is moving on in leaps and bounds and that in certain circumstances it will be the case that some stunned meat will be certified as halal in future.