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Extract from

They HAVE to tell us what we're buying

Analysis by Richard North

Even though I've seen it done thousands of times, you never really get used to watching animals being killed. But as long as we eat meat, it has to be done. And it is our duty as a society to ensure that the procedure is carried out humanely and with as much dignity as possible.

Society also has to respect religious freedom and rituals, and I don't have a problem with that. I am, however, uneasy that the laws that require humane killing of animals for meat - particularly that they must be rendered insensible before being slaughtered - do not apply to Jews for their kosher meat and Muslims for halal foods.

It is a fudge we have all lived with, however uneasily, for years, feeling safe in the knowledge that this is very much a niche market. Only last week the Office for National Statistics reported that just four per cent of the British population was Muslim.

Surely, if you want halal or kosher meat, you go to a specialist butcher and everybody else can be confident their meat is produced to more humane standards?

Well, actually, no. That choice has been scandalously taken away from us. Not only are we deliberately not informed if our meat is produced according to religious ritual, many retailers do not even know.

And there is only one real reason: profit. The reality of modern meat production, both here and abroad, is that most animals are killed in vast, modern slaughterhouses.

Once there were small, specialist kosher and halal producers, but now the trade has been taken over by industrial concerns. To cover the increasing demand for halal meat, these corporate slaughterhouses have either had to introduce halal methods or buy in halal meat from specialist butchers.

The choice is either to introduce a separate production line or to take the cost-cutting option of having just one production line. But in this one-size-fits-all world, it's not the most humane and dignified method of slaughter - the one enshrined in British and EU law - that wins out.

No, the ‘one-size' is the less humane method of killing tailored to the religious demands of just four per cent of the population. Since it is not illegal to palm off halal meat on non-Muslims, that is being done on a massive scale. And there is nothing the Government or the EU can or will do about it.

The UK has draconian regulation, far more rigorous than in the rest of Europe. But this was supported by the large slaughterhouses which thought that closing down smaller competition would increase their market share and profit margins. In this country, the combined pressure of regulation and the greed of commercial producers have ensured local butchers are now rare, and local slaughterhouses even rarer. And it is the massive factory abattoir, hidden from sight, that perpetrate these practices.

Thus, commercial greed has found a way of circumventing a law that we, in our ignorance, expect to be obeyed and that we have a right to see obeyed.

We do not expect commercial interests to prevail, on a technicality, over something that many campaigned for - the humane slaughter of our animals.

This is not only commercially wrong, morally it is a disgrace.

* Author and journalist Dr Richard North is a qualified meat inspector and former technical adviser to the Small Abattoirs Association.