Another week, another controversial Ukip policy. This time, Ukip has rocked the boat by announcing that it would outlaw religious slaughter for halal and kosher meat that requires animals to be killed without being stunned. Conveniently, and perhaps not coincidentally, the policy announcement came on the same day as shocking footage emerged of sheep being horrifically mistreated at an abattoir in Yorkshire, in complete contravention of animal welfare standards and Islamic practice.
Ukip justifies its proposed ban in terms of animal welfare, referring to the need to put the “ethical treatment of animals” above the beliefs of religious groups. This is all well and good, and as it happens it is something I agree with. Yet Ukip deliberately uses divisive language that sets the “silent majority” against minority Jewish and Muslim communities.
It is worth remembering that as well as revealing shocking mistreatment of animals at a Halal abattoir, Animal Aid also uncovered appalling abuse in a number of other abattoirs that did use stunning, including footage of animals being punched in the head, burnt with cigarettes and given electric shocks.
Moreover, when Ukip talks about upholding the “UK’s compassionate traditions of animal welfare”, I assume it isn’t referring to its desire to reintroduce fox-hunting, which, let’s remember, involves a pack of dogs tearing a frightened animal to pieces. One cannot help but suspect that the party’s proposed ban on religious slaughter is more about courting anti-Islamic sentiment and the far right vote than standing up for the ethical and humane treatment of animals.
Ukip’s sudden concern for animal welfare rings particularly false when you consider its dreadful record on animal welfare issues in the European Parliament. Just take the fight against wildlife crime and illegal poaching. Last January, Ukip MEPs voted against measures to protect elephants and crack down on the illegal ivory trade. And when a few months ago I invited MEPs to co-sign my letter to the European Commission demanding an EU action plan against wildlife crime, I received 82 signatures from across the political spectrum yet not a single one of Ukip’s 23 MEPs voiced their support.
Ukip has also voted against an EU ban on importing seal fur, with Ukip MEP Roger Helmer claiming that dumb seal cubs deserve to be killed and that, “it’s mawkish, sentimental and unhelpful to adopt a Bambi attitude to animals”.
So I would argue that Ukip’s latest proposal has more to do with the politics of division and fear than animal welfare. Like most people, I was sickened by the footage of animals being routinely abused in slaughterhouses. I want to see a lot more being done to clamp down on this cruel treatment. That is why I’m calling for stricter enforcement of EU animal welfare laws that specify animals slaughtered without pre-stunning should be spared any avoidable suffering.
Improving the treatment of animals can be done without stirring up tensions or singling out particular communities. This is a problem for all of us, and the best way to address it is by working together, across Britain and across the EU.
Catherine Bearder is the Liberal Democrat MEP for the South East. She tweets at @catherinemep