Lancashire County Council has once again voted to stop supplying unstunned halal meat to its schools.
The decision was made at a meeting of the full council exactly a year after the proposal was first put before members. It was back on the agenda after the authority had to re-run a public consultation following a threatened legal challenge from the Lancashire Council of Mosques (LCM).
But county councillors returned the same result - this time by a more decisive margin. The LCM has branded it a “very poor decision”, but appears unlikely to repeat previous calls for a boycott of all school meals.
Before the vote, council leader Geoff Driver acknowledged that members were dealing with “a very sensitive issue”, but said animal welfare organisations were united in their belief that slaughter prior to stunning was “cruel”.
“There are some strongly held views on this subject, but I must stress this is an animal welfare issue - nothing more, nothing less - despite what some people are trying to make out of it,” he said.
Labour opposition leader, Azhar Ali, said the council should have done more to engage with Muslim and also Jewish groups who would be affected by the decision.
“The [process] could and should have been better - and that work still needs to go on. We need to do that in the interests of community cohesion,” County Cllr Ali added.
Speaking after the result of the vote, Abdul Qureshi, chief executive of the LCM, said he was “not surprised, but disappointed”.
“I had an almost two-hour meeting with County Cllr Driver and put all the scientific arguments to him, including on animal welfare. He had no argument in return, but had already made his mind up,” Mr. Qureshi said.
However, he added that he “doubted” the LCM would once again demand Muslims boycott all school meals in protest, saying he wanted the council to supply “healthy alternatives, like grilled fish”.
Twenty-seven schools across Lancashire currently have unstunned halal meat on their menus. Even after county hall stops supplying it, they will still be free to source it elsewhere, provided the products meet the necessary food standards.
The county council will continue to supply unstunned poultry, as it cannot be guaranteed that stunning birds does not kill them before slaughter.
The issue of animals being dead prior to slaughter lies at the heart of the debate about halal. Some sections of the Muslim community believe that stunning means an animal has not been slaughtered in line with the requirements of the Qur'an.
More than two thirds of respondents to the public consultation said they were against a change to the council's rules, a figure which rose to 90 percent amongst Muslim respondents.
All members were given a free vote by their political parties and that meant councillors sharing the same side of the chamber were not always on the same side of the debate.
Conservative member for Pendle Hill, Christian Wakeford, told the meeting that in some parts of the county, the issue was “much more than an animal rights concern”.
“We should listen to [those communities] and maintain the current arrangements which cater for their personal beliefs and choice,” County Cllr Wakeford said.
Fellow Tory, Andrew Snowden, said he had been branded “Islamophobic” online for his stance supporting the change in policy.
“Perhaps those people should research the true meaning of the insults that they throw about, because it demeans the seriousness of the word - and when it is needed to be used against someone who genuinely does hold those reprehensible views, it has diminished its resonance after being bandied around so indiscriminately.”
The vote stop supplying unstunned meat was carried by 49 votes to 23, with 9 abstentions.