Decision of the Complaints Committee 04419-18 Muslim Council of Britain v The Times
Summary of complaint
1. Muslim Council of Britain complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Times breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Loophole lets lambs die in pain, say vets”, published on 12 June 2018. The article was also published online in substantively the same format.
2. The article discussed governmental exemptions from “humane slaughter rules” which apply to abattoirs which process meat for the British Muslim and Jewish communities. It focused particularly on the slaughter of lambs and reported that “thousands of lambs will be slaughtered without being stunned and have their carcasses exported under a loophole in the law”. The article also reported that “the number of lambs killed in this way has increased sharply in recent years, largely because of the growing influence of halal certification bodies, which say that meat cannot be deemed halal if the animal had been stunned”.
3. The article included comment made by the British Veterinary Association (BVA) that “killing animals in this way for the export market was against the spirit of a derogation from EU laws”, and also comment made by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) that “religious slaughter could be carried out only by Jews or Muslims for the food of Jews or Muslims but there was no requirement for consumption of this meat to be in the UK”.
4. The complainant said that the article provided no evidence for its claim that halal certification bodies were growing in influence. It also said that the article suggested that all halal certification bodies take the position that meat is not halal if animals have been stunned prior to slaughter; a number of bodies allowed stunned meat, including the Halal Food Authority, the largest halal body in the UK.
5. The complainant also expressed concern that the article had characterised religious slaughter as “inhumane”. It said that this was a subjective opinion, and the newspaper had failed to distinguish between comment and fact. He noted an EU regulation which stated that “certain operations relating to the killing may be stressful and any stunning technique presents certain drawbacks”.
6. The newspaper did not accept that there had been a breach of the Code. It explained that the original article contained an editing error; the comma after the word “bodies” had been inserted accidentally, which gave the impression that all halal certification bodies insist that meat cannot be deemed halal if the animal was stunned. The newspaper accepted that this was not the case and that some bodies do accept methods which include stunning techniques. It removed the comma from the online article.
7. The newspaper said that in any event, it was accurate to report that the number of lambs killed without being stunned had increased, and that there is a growing influence of halal certification bodies which do say that meat cannot be deemed halal if the animal had been stunned. It said that the Halal Monitoring Committee (HMC) does not allow the stunning of animals before slaughter and highlighted that the number of British slaughterhouses accredited by the HMC had grown from 19 in 2015 to 28 in 2018. The newspaper said that figures reported by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in 2018 indicated that 22 per cent of sheep and goats (3 million) were not stunned before slaughter, which was an increase from 2013 when the figure was estimated at 15 per cent (2 million). The newspaper also said that the Lancashire Council of Mosques had told its reporter that it does not accept stunned meat as halal meat.
8. The newspaper said that HMC would not confirm how many slaughterhouses were accredited, or how many non-stun slaughters took place each year. However, a journalist had collated the number of HMC slaughter houses over time. It provided spreadsheets that showed that there had been 19 in 2015, to 28 in 2017, and the latest publicly available figures published in September 2018, was over 30. The newspaper also provided excerpts from a transcript of an interview its reporter had conducted with the Operations Director of HMC, who confirmed that the demand for non-stun meat was increasing, prior to publication Following publication of the article, the newspaper said that DEFRA had told its reporter that it was exploring “the reasons behind the rise in non-stun slaughter”, and that there is “an increase in consumption of non-stun lamb in the UK”.
9. In response, the complainant said that it had contacted the HMC, which had said that the number of slaughterhouses conducting non-stun slaughter (in relation to red meat) had reduced from 17 in 2015 to 11 in 2018. He also said that the HMC said that the number of animals slaughtered using non-stun methods decreased from 3,957,797 in 2015 to 2,582,448 in 2018. The complainant also noted that the figures referred to by the newspaper were estimates which related to sheep and goat, not lamb.
10. The newspaper noted that the figures provided by HMC related to slaughters carried out by abattoirs it had accredited. This was not a figure for the number of non-stun slaughters carried out at all abattoirs.
11. The newspaper said that its use of the term “humane“ reflected government policy. It referred to comment made by the UK’s Farming Minister that “The Government would prefer all animals to be stunned before slaughter but respects the right of Jewish and Muslim communities to eat meat prepared in accordance with their beliefs”; that “European and domestic regulations apply to the welfare of animals that are to be slaughtered, requiring that all animals be stunned before slaughter”; and that “the aim of the regulations is to ensure that animals are spared any avoidable pain, distress or suffering at the time of killing”.
Relevant Code Provisions
12. Clause 1 (Accuracy)
i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.
ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator.
iii) A fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies should be given, when reasonably called for.
iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
Findings of the Committee
13. The newspaper had relied on data from government agencies, which had shown that the numbers of non-stun slaughters had increased. It had also noted that the numbers of abattoirs accredited by HMC, which does not allow stunned meat, had increased. It was entitled to characterise this increase as a rise in the influence of bodies which do not allow stunning, particularly in circumstances where other organisations had confirmed that they do not accept stunned meat as halal. There was no failure to take care over the accuracy of this claim in breach of 1(i), and no significant inaccuracy requiring correction under 1(ii).
14. It was accepted by both parties that not all halal certification bodies require abattoirs to practice non-stun methods of slaughter. The article had suggested that all halal bodies required meat was not stunned, which was not accurate. However, the article was not a report or criticism of the general requirements of what constitutes halal meat. Rather, it was raising concerns that legislation intended to allow UK consumers to have access to religiously slaughtered meat was being exploited to sell meat to foreign markets and, as a result, more animals were being killed without being pre-stunned. In this context, the Committee did not consider that the inaccuracy was significant, because it did not affect the thrust of the article. There was no breach of Clause 1. Nonetheless, the Committee welcomed the publication’s decision to remove the comma in the online article, to clarify this point.
15. EU legislation requires that animals are stunned before slaughter, so that they are spared unavoidable pain or distress (except in cases of religious slaughter). It was not misleading to refer to slaughter methods that comply with this legislation as “humane”, and there was no breach of 1(iv) on this point.
16. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 12/07/2018
Dater decision issued: 29/10/2018Back to ruling listing