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Council faces Muslim boycott of school meals in halal row

Thousands of Muslims are expected to boycott school meals in a county after its council became Britain’s first to ban halal beef and lamb from unstunned animals.

Some 27 schools across Lancashire serve meat from halal suppliers that do not stun animals before slaughter, including Church of England and Catholic schools.

But the county council’s Conservative leader Geoff Driver proposed a ban, calling the practice an ‘abhorrent’ one that causes animals unnecessary stress and pain.

Some 27 schools across Lancashire serve meat from halal suppliers that do not stun animals before slaughter, including Catholic schools. (Pictured: File image of a school in London)

This week councillors voted 41 for the ban – which excludes poultry – with 24 of them against and 15 abstentions, reported the Lancashire Telegraph.

It raises the prospect of another boycott of halal meat in schools by thousands of Muslim children, following a similar policy being adopted in the area in 2012.

Abdul Qureshi, chairman of Lancashire Council of Mosques, had said last month that Muslims would boycott school meals if the council banned non-stunned meat.

Mr Driver exempted poultry from the ban because stunning chickens may kill them before slaughter and bleeding – therefore clearly breaking Muslim rules.

Sheeps carcases hang on hooks awaiting distribution at a halal slaughterhouse in Birmingham

Sheeps carcases hang on hooks awaiting distribution at a halal slaughterhouse in Birmingham

Mr Driver said: ‘This is an animal welfare issue and an animal welfare issue alone. It is not anti-Semitic or anti-Muslim. I have brought it forward purely because the supply contract is up for renewal.

100m animals a year in UK are killed using halal

More than 100million animals are killed in the UK every year using the halal method. Most are chickens, but the total is thought to include more than six million sheep.

A further 2.1million animals are killed under the Jewish shechita method, which is required for kosher certification. The UK halal trade is worth £2.6billion and there is a growing export market, particularly in the Middle East.

Halal is Arabic for ‘permissible’ and refers to food that meets Islamic law as defined in the Koran.

Dhabiha, the Islamic form of slaughter, involves killing through a cut to the jugular vein, carotid artery and windpipe. Under UK animal welfare laws the knife must be sharp enough to kill immediately.

The slaughterman must be Muslim and, in theory, a religious verse should be recited. In many abattoirs a recording is played over a loudspeaker.

The Halal Food Authority, which polices slaughter methods, says stunning can only be used if the animal survives and is then killed under halal ritual. But some Islamic groups do not allow any stunning before slaughter. 

‘Killing animals without stunning them beforehand causes them unnecessary stress, pain and discomfort.’

Councillors Azhar Ali and Mohammed Iqbal both tried to delay the vote, with the latter saying: ‘This is taking choice away from schools and children.’

National Secular Society campaigns director Stephen Evans told MailOnline: ‘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.

‘A majority of Muslims accept pre-stunning and we would urge all schools and local authorities to resist being bullied into unethical and regressive policy decisions by fundamentalist faith leaders claiming to speak on behalf of all Muslims.’

In 2014, it was revealed hundreds of schools had banned sausages and bacon, and switched to halal-only meat for meals even where Muslims were in the minority.

Many families of other faiths and none were angered and upset by the move which was being done by schools and councils with little or no consultation.

At least two dinner ladies had been sacked in the previous year after serving non-halal food to Muslim students by accident.  

The driving force was cost because it is far easier and cheaper to have a single source of halal meat for everyone, rather than having to provide a segregated menu.