April 21, 2011


EU steers clear of halal meat labelling



New EU proposals have steered away from labelling meat from ritually slaughtered animals such as halal or Shechita to avoid causing religious offence.


The EU instead opts for the label "meat from slaughter without stunning".


MEPs on the European Parliament's food safety committee have voted for the clear labels so consumers can see whether meat has been stunned or not before it has been slaughtered. David Bowles, a spokesman for the RSPCA, welcomed the vote. "We hope that all the countries in Europe will accept it," he said.


"We should be told whether our meat has been stunned or not before it has been killed because at the moment we could be eating it without knowing it."


The proposals are expected to be opposed by national governments. "This is too sensitive a social issue to be dealt with as an add–on to food labelling rules," said a European diplomat.


Slaughter without stunning is legal under religious freedom laws in most EU countries despite animal welfare rules that generally ban it as leading to "unacceptable levels of suffering and pain". It has become an issue because a small proportion of Muslim halal and Jewish Shechita butchers cut the animals' throats while they are still conscious.


British officials have indicated that the government will not support the latest call from MEPs.


"The UK considers that consumers should have the information they want about the way animals are slaughtered but believes the food information regulation is not the best vehicle to achieve this," said a government spokesman.

"We believe discussion around the issues raised by non–stunned slaughter, including the need for any labelling, would be best held in a welfare context such as the commission proposals on a Europe–wide method of welfare labelling expected next year."


With halal meat, the animal must be alive and healthy when it is slaughtered and it must be performed by a Muslim. At the moment each animal is cut, the calling out of Allah's name must be performed, while all flowing blood should be drained out of the animal.


With Shechita, the animal again must be alive and healthy, and all blood should be drained out, but the slaughter must be undertaken by a Jewish slaughterman.


Struan Stevenson, a Tory Scottish MEP, tabled the "right to know" amendments on ritually slaughtered meat to an EU food labelling package mainly focused on ingredients and health.


However, he withdrew proposals to label meat as halal or Shechita because most meat slaughtered for Muslim consumption has, in fact, been stunned making religious labelling complicated.


Despite the attempt to take direct religious references out of labelling, Jewish organisations are opposed to proposals that are the "21st century equivalent of the yellow star, but on our food".


"When you are in a supermarket, fine, let's have a label saying the meat has [been] killed without stunning, but let's also have a label saying this animal has been gassed or electrocuted before being killed," said Shimon Cohen of Shechita UK.

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