Some of Britain’s most revered institutions are serving up halal meat to diners – without their knowledge.
A Mail on Sunday investigation – which will alarm anyone concerned about animal cruelty – has revealed that schools, hospitals, pubs and famous sporting venues such as Ascot and Twickenham are controversially serving up meat slaughtered in accordance with strict Islamic law to unwitting members of the public.
All the beef, chicken and lamb sold to fans at Wembley has secretly been prepared in accordance with sharia law, while Cheltenham College, which boasts of its ‘strong Christian ethos’, is one of several top public schools which also serves halal chicken to pupils without informing them.
Even Britain’s biggest hotel and restaurant group Whitbread, which owns the Beefeater and Brewers Fayre chains, among many others, has admitted that more than three-quarters of its poultry is halal.
Animal welfare campaigners have long called for a ban on the traditional Islamic way of preparing meat – which involves killing animals by drawing a knife across their throats, without stunning them first – saying it is cruel and causes unnecessary pain.
But a spokesman for Twickenham, which sells only halal chicken despite not advertising the fact, insisted that the lack of transparency ‘had never been an issue’ and said: ‘Our consideration is more for those who want halal, to ensure they get it.’
The extent of halal meat consumption was revealed as the Pope, on his first visit to Britain, emphasised the need to preserve traditional Christian customs.
He indicated that long-held values were being eroded and that ordinary people and institutions should strive to protect them.
Animal rights group Viva!, whose supporters include Heather Mills, and Joanna Lumley, said in a statement: ‘Other practices which may be undertaken for religious reasons, such as polygamy or the stoning of adulterers, are not permitted in the UK.
‘Religious freedom does not override other moral considerations and the suffering caused by this form of slaughter is so severe that it cannot be allowed to prevent action be taken. Consumers can do their bit by boycotting places that persist in selling meat from unstunned animals.’
An RSPCA spokesman added: ‘The public have a right to know how their meat is produced. Many people are extremely concerned about animal welfare. What The Mail on Sunday has discovered shows that people are not being kept informed.
‘The key to a more humane death for these animals is that they are stunned before slaughter.’
However sharia law expressly forbids knocking the animal out with a bolt gun, as is usual in British slaughterhouses.
Instead, it must be sentient when its throat is cut, and the blood allowed to drip from the carcass while the slaughterman recites a religious phrase in praise of Allah.
Halal meat is being served across Britain, even in areas with a very small Muslim population.
Other institutions secretly serving up meat that is halal – or ‘permissible’ – include Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust and one of London’s biggest NHS Trusts, Guy’s and St Thomas’. A spokesman for the London hospitals admitted: ‘The only way people using the canteen would know they were eating halal chicken would be if they asked a member of staff directly.’
Britain’s Muslim community is exempt from regulations which require animals to be stunned before death, as is kosher meat prepared for the Jewish market.
Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell, secretary of the Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare, said: ‘I don’t object to people of different religious groups being catered for but it’s not something that should be imposed on everybody else.
‘The vast majority of people in this country would not want meat of this origin. The outlets have a duty to let their customers know because some will object very strongly, not least because of the animal welfare implications of halal.’
Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, said: ‘We suspected that meat killed by the halal and kosher methods was being used for general consumption but we never imagined it was so widespread.
‘It is disgraceful that people aren’t being told if the food they are being served is from meat that has not been stunned prior to slaughter.’
Brutal reality of the ritual that allows animals to be slaughtered without being stunned first
More than 40 million cattle, calves and sheep and more than 850 million poultry are slaughtered every year in Britain.
The vast majority are stunned before slaughter but UK law allows the Jewish and Muslim communities to kill animals by religious methods without any form of stunning.
A number of requirements have been put in place, however, in an attempt to reduce animal suffering.
The rules state that the throat must be cut with one rapid, uninterrupted movement of the knife. Both carotid arteries and both jugular veins must be severed.
In addition, the knife must be inspected before each animal is slaughtered to ensure that it is of sufficient size and sharpness.
But welfare campaigners say the rules are not enough.
The Government’s independent advisory body, the Farm Animal Welfare Council, says sheep may lose consciousness within five to seven seconds of the cut.
But research has shown that some calves remain brain-responsive for up to two minutes. This is because the carotid arteries can contract after the cut has been made, effectively sealing the severed ends and maintaining blood pressure in the brain.
The RSPCA says all meat produced from animals that have not been stunned before slaughter should be clearly labelled so that it can be easily identified by consumers.
Sharia law states that the abattoir involved in the process must be under the ‘close and constant supervision’ of an Islamic religious organisation.
Under these rules, the cut must be made to the right side of the neck by cutting the two carotids, the two jugulars, the windpipe and the gullet, but without breaking the spinal cord.
The carcass must empty of blood and a specific time should be allowed until the animal ceases to move before the next stage of the production process – de-skinning and removing the internal organs – may begin.