My Lords, I support the aims of Amendment 256 in the name of my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, which was spoken to by so many noble Lords. I share the desire to ensure that our current food and animal product standards are not debased by our leaving the EU. I believe the Minister, who is one of our most outstanding and popular Ministers, may also have some sympathy with its intentions. I hope he will express that later.
However, my main remarks relate to Amendments 254 and 258. It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Palmer. I refer in particular to the animal slaughter elements of those amendments and express my view that these elements—although perhaps well intentioned —could be damaging to the agriculture sector and, as my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe said, they are not generally desired by consumers.
I declare an interest as an observant Jew. Great care needs to be taken with labelling about animal slaughter. In my view, further regulation is unnecessary. All kosher meat is labelled as such. The UK religious Jewish authorities have always fully supported the idea that consumers have every right to know what they are eating, but I believe it is also important to make a distinction between even-handed, non-discriminatory labelling and proposals that may mislead consumers with a false impression that animals killed in one way or another will somehow not experience discomfort or that there is a readily agreed hierarchical structure for assessing the feelings of animals about to be killed.
Consumers can already access information, should they really want it, via existing labelling, with kosher or halal meat clearly marked as such, while meat from mechanically stunned animals is covered by labelling schemes such as Red Tractor. If true consumer information and disclosure is the aim—and I understand such aims—there would need to be a comprehensive labelling system to explain how each type of animal had been killed to provide the meat. I do not believe that there would be public support for this, but ensuring transparency would mean giving consumers the kind of proper information that was so vividly described by the noble Lord, Lord Palmer. All the mechanical methods of slaughter cause injuries of some kind to animals and birds before they are killed.
It is also well documented that stunning does not always work. With shechita, the knife cuts through in one go, causing a massive and immediate drop in blood pressure in the brain. That stops the blood flow to the brain and causes the animal to lose all awareness. Therefore, the blade effectively provides an immediate and irreversible stun and can also be described as a humane method of killing.
Most meat-eaters do not want to think of the animal being killed for the meat they are eating. I believe that we are fortunate to have a Government who do not discriminate against religious meat requirements, and I hope that my noble friend will agree that the animal slaughter elements of Amendments 254 and 258 are unnecessary and potentially discriminatory.