In what will be seen by some as a blow to the dietary laws and rituals of Jews and Muslims alike, 45% of adult Britons say they would support a ban on the religious slaughter of animals, whereby they are not pre-stunned, a practice known as shechita by Jews and dhabihah by Muslims, which both faith communities regard as humane but which many people concerned about animal welfare do not.
Opponents of a ban number 27% (with a high of 31% in London, where many Jews and Muslims are to be found), with 28% uncertain what to think (including one-third of women, the under-40s, and Scots). The most significant demographic variation is the overwhelming majority of prospective UKIP voters (71%) who are in favour of a ban (compared with 48% of Conservatives, 40% of Labourites, and 36% of Liberal Democrats). A majority (52%) of the over-60s also backs a ban.
The findings derive from an online survey conducted by YouGov, on behalf of the Jewish Chronicle, on 21 and 22 March 2013 among a sample of 1,937 adult Britons. Headline results were published on pp. 1-2 of the 29 March print edition of the newspaper, although the online version contains only the text of the article by Simon Rocker and not the associated table; see:
The full tables will be found at:
So far as BRIN can determine, there has been only one previous poll touching on the religious slaughter of animals, undertaken by NOP Market Research in July 1987, and the question was very different. On that occasion, 92% of Britons agreed that ‘all animals to be slaughtered for food should first be humanely stunned to prevent pain, no matter whether their meat is intended for Christians, Muslims or Jews’ (Political, Social, Economic Review, No. 68, January 1988, p. 6).
By contrast, YouGov’s question seems rather less clear: ‘would you support or oppose a ban on religious slaughter of animals, such as that used in the production of kosher meat?’ Apart from containing no definition of what ‘kosher meat’ is, the question also conspicuously fails to mention that religious slaughter requires that animals are not pre-stunned and that they might suffer pain. Had this fact been explained, it seems highly probable that the level of opposition to religious slaughter reported by YouGov would have been significantly greater.
The YouGov/Jewish Chronicle survey also asked the sample whether they would support a ban on male circumcision for religious reasons (known as brit milah to Jews, although the question mentioned no particular faith context). In reply, 38% said they would (with only a minor gender difference – 39% of men, 37% of women), 35% were against (39% in London), and 27% were unsure. Once again, UKIP voters especially stood out as endorsing a ban (51%), followed by the over-60s on 45%.
The fact that UKIP sympathizers are so prominent in wanting to see both these religious rituals banned might suggest that the division of opinion on this issue is more complicated than one between defenders of religious tradition and freedom on the one hand and ‘liberals’ promoting the abolition of perceived inhumane and unnecessary customs on the other. Perhaps those who are drawn to UKIP tend to regard both practices as alien and ‘unBritish’ and/or there is a degree of implicit anti-Semitism at work.