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Lancashire Council has voted to ban schools from selling halal meat – making it the first council in the country to do so.
The vote, which followed a ‘bitter and impassioned’ four-hour debate, was a free one – 41 voted for the ban, 24 against with 15 abstentions.
The proposal was made by Conservative Council Leader Geoff Driver, who claimed it was an animal welfare issue, ‘nothing more, nothing less’.
He added: “My concern that animals that are slaughtered without being pre-stunned go through a lot of stress and torment when they’re actually dying.”
While slaughterhouses must stun animals before killing them under UK law, an exemption is made on religious grounds for halal and kosher meat.
Many Muslims only eat flesh from animals who were not stunned before being killed. They are worried that the stunning will kill the animals before the ceremonial slaughter process is carried out.
Welfare charity the RSPCA says in order to prevent ‘unnecessary suffering’ animals should be stunned before they are killed.
But according to reports, one representative of the local Muslim community has written off these concerns.
Acting CEO of the Lancashire Council of Mosques, Abdul Qureshi, told The Telegraph: “[The RSPCA’s guidance] is most of the time based on feelings, it’s not scientifically conclusive.”
He later added: “I am not aware of any other council voting for these kinds of things, this council is the only one going against the British law on this matter.”
But the RSPCA has denied its position on stunning animals is ‘based on feelings’.
A spokesman said: “I utterly, completely refuse to cede that’s where our views come from.
“Ourselves, the British Veterinary Association and the Humane Slaughter Association signed a joint statement saying the only humane way to kill an animal is to stun it.
“There is countless scientific evidence showing that when an animal has its neck cut it feels quite considerable pain.
“The farm animal welfare council is of the opinion that the only humane way to kill an animal to stun it. You take New Zealand – everything is pre-stunned there, and it’s all Halal, it’s exported to countries in the Middle East and they all accept that it is Halal.
“We, for animal welfare reasons, would be quite happy if unstunned meat was banned across the UK.”
The National Secular Society, which says it ‘exists to challenge religious privilege and is Britain’s only organization working exclusively towards a secular society’, applauded the council’s decision.
Campaigns Director, Stephen Evans, said: “The practice of imposing un-stunned meat from religious slaughter methods on pupils, public service users and the general populace is completely unacceptable, and needs to end.
“We commend Lancashire on its decision.
“As long as religious groups are granted an exemption from legislation aimed at ensuring animals do not suffer avoidable distress or pain, the number of animals killed under the exemption should be kept to an absolute minimum – and consumers must be able to avoid such products.
“Religious freedom should be supported, but this is not an absolute right.”
The move to ban halal meat has been described as potentially racist by a significant number of commentators, who claim Islamophobia rather than animal rights, is the over-riding concern.
One Facebook user said: “If they [supporters of the ban] are concerned about slaughter being inhumane, they should go vegan as all slaughter is inhumane.”
Another added: “Most [of the ban’s supporters] won’t give animal welfare a second thought as they tuck into their chicken curry on a Saturday night.”
Additionally, a number of people have questioned why schools don’t offer more vegan options – which are suitable for people following halal and kosher diets too.