By Bruno Waterfield, Brussels and Harry Wallop Consumer Affairs Editor, The Telegraph
New EU proposals have steered away from labelling meat from ritually slaughtered animals as Halal or Shechita to avoid causing religious offence, instead opting for the label of “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. “At the moment you can chose whether you want your eggs to be free range or cage-reared, but you don’t know how the chickens were killed. 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 who are concerned that the issue is too controversial to be included in EU food labelling regulations.
“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, but increasing, proportion of Muslim Halal and Jewish Shechita butchers cut the animals’ throats while they are still conscious.
Jim Paice, the food and farming minister, has previously signalled that the Government could consider labelling on un-stunned meat as long it is treated as “a welfare issue not a religious one”.
However, 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.”
The key aspects of a Halal slaughter are that the animal must be aliver and health when it is slaughter 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 slaughter, 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, called a shochet.
Struan Stevenson, a Conservative 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 with the words 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”.
“We are very keen on clear labelling. But let’s label it all. Don’t pick on us,” said Shimon Cohen of Shechita UK.
“When you are in a supermarket, fine, let’s have a label saying the meat has killed without stunning, but let’s also have a label saying this animal has been gassed or electrocuted before being killed.”