Lancashire council leader accused of halal meat 'crusade'
Councillors in Lancashire are to vote on whether to stop supplying unstunned halal meat for school dinners.
Council leader Geoff Driver said he believed it was "abhorrent" and "really, really cruel" to slaughter animals without stunning them first.
Lancashire Council of Mosques (LCM) has accused Mr Driver of leading a "crusade" on the issue, a claim which he denies.
A full council vote will take place on 26 October.
Unstunned halal meat is currently supplied to 12,000 pupils at 27 schools in Blackburn, Nelson, Burnley, Rawtenstall, Hyndburn, Clitheroe and Preston.
Mr Driver said he believed the religious practice of slaughtering animals when alive and conscious "causes them too much distress".
However, he said it would be "unreasonable" for cabinet to make the decision without referring the issue to full council, saying: "This is a matter of personal conscience."
Chair of LCM Abdul Qureshi said any decision to ban unstunned halal meat would "create a huge difficulty".
"People will pull out of school meals and people who should eat properly will be deprived of that. For us it's a matter of faith. For Geoff Driver it is his feelings," he added.
What is halal meat?
Halal is Arabic for permissible. Halal food is that which adheres to Islamic law, as defined in the Koran.
The Islamic form of slaughtering animals or poultry, dhabiha, involves killing through a cut to the jugular vein, carotid artery and windpipe.
Animals must be alive and healthy at the time of slaughter and all blood is drained from the carcass. During the process, a dedication is recited, know as tasmiya or shahada.
There is debate about elements of halal, such as whether stunning is allowed.
Stunning cannot be used to kill an animal, according to the Halal Food Authority (HFA), a non-profit organisation that monitors adherence to halal principles.
But it can be used if the animal survives and is then killed by halal methods, the HFA adds.
Mr Driver, who was previously in charge until 2013, became Lancashire County Council leader again in May.
During his previous leadership, concerns were raised about the halal "criteria" of meat provided by school suppliers at the time.
A Halal Meat Supplies Task Group was set up and reported its findings in December 2013, "ultimately resolving that the County Council should be recommended to accept both stunned and non-stunned meat."
Mr Qureshi said "criteria" were agreed upon after "huge intense discussions" with Lancashire's Islamic scholars.
He explained: "There was the option given to the schools; stunned and non-stunned...[Since then] everything is running calm and smoothly and there is no problem, but here Geoff Driver comes back on the seat...and [because of] his intense feeling, has brought it up again."
Mr Driver rejected claims of a "crusade".
"I am not the only one who has such strong views...if it was a crusade I could have made the decision in cabinet yesterday."