Halal meat which has not been stunned prior to slaughter will no longer be supplied to Lancashire’s schools by the county council.
The decision was taken by the authority's cabinet – nine months after the proposal faced a legal challenge.
The plan was put on hold after the Lancashire Council of Mosques (LCM) threatened action over the way in which a public consultation was carried out.
The organisation’s chief executive, Abdul Qureshi, described the latest move as “undemocratic and discriminatory”.
Leader of the Conservative-run authority, Coun Geoff Driver, told his cabinet before the unanimous vote: “We are not ordering schools not to provide meat from animals that weren’t stunned before they were slaughtered. We are saying that we are not prepared for the county council to do that – which is perfectly within our rights.”
A fresh consultation earlier this year received more than 8,500 responses, two thirds of which “strongly disagreed” with the policy. 90 percent of respondents identifying themselves as Muslim were against the idea.
The LCM supplied a template suggesting how residents could respond – and around 1,300 people are thought to have used that method.
During a debate on the proposal at Thursday’s cabinet meeting, Labour opposition leader, Azhar Ali, said: “The animal welfare issue, which is important to all of us, is being used as a tool to make a particular decision today.”
Referring to an ill-tempered debate at full council last October, County Coun Ali added: “Certain elements of our society revelled in that debate and the manner in which the discussions took place.”
But several cabinet members spoke in favour of the most recent proposal, which also has implications for Kosher food within the Jewish community.
County Coun Keith Iddon, Member for Highways and Transport, told the meeting: “I’m from a farming community and the welfare [of animals] is of the utmost importance. The last thing I want to see is an animal slaughtered in that way [without being stunned].”
Lancashire County Council had previously considered the issue back in 2013, sparking a boycott of some school meals by the LCM.
A task group subsequently recommended maintaining an option for both stunned and unstunned halal meat.
Responding to the latest decision, Adbul Qureshi accused County Coun Driver’s focus on animal welfare of being too narrow.
“He has a particular issue with the way an animal’s life ends,” Mr Qureshi said. “He is arguing about 15 seconds, but he’s not arguing about the entire life of the animal.”
The LCM said it was considering its next steps, but has not ruled out the possibility of restarting the process of judicial review which it began last year.
Speaking after the meeting, County Coun Driver said he would be talking to the LCM “to try to persuade them that it wouldn’t be in anybody’s interests to start boycotting school meals.”
Individual schools are free to source their own food from any supplier which meets the necessary standards.
County Cllr Ali, also speaking after the vote, said: “That is why I was against the decision last year – the choice was always with the schools.”
Lancashire County Council currently supplies stunned and unstunned Halal meat to 27 schools, serving around 12,000 children.
What is ‘Halal’?
‘Halal’ is an Arabic word meaning “permissible”. In relation to food, it refers to permitted meat which has been slaughtered in accordance with the principles of the Qur’an.
That includes a requirement that animals must be alive at the point of slaughter; that only a Muslim man using an adequate knife can carry out the slaughter; and that no animal must witness or hear another being killed.
But there is no single definition of what constitutes Halal. The Qur’ran does not expressly forbid stunning, but several different Halal accreditation agencies exist – each with differing interpretations.