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New EU labels for halal and kosher foods spark anger

| 26/12/2010 | 2 Replies

David Sapsted – The National

LONDON // Muslim and Jewish groups are preparing to challenge animal-rights campaigners next year over a European Union measure that would require halal and kosher meat products to carry a label saying the animals were not stunned before slaughter.

Animal-welfare legislation in Europe requires that abattoirs stun all animals prior to slaughter unless they are being ritually killed according to the practices of a non-Christian religion.

The move to require halal and kosher meat producers to provide consumers with more information on the packaging of their products has enraged Jewish and Muslim organisations, with the latter claiming that the move has little to do with animal welfare but, rather, reflects a pan-European bias against Islam.

Earlier this year, members of the European Parliament, by a vote of 559 to 54, passed Amendment 205 to the food-information regulation, which would require all meat from ritually slaughtered animals to be labelled: “Derived from animals that have not been stunned prior to slaughter.”

A committee of the EU Council of Ministers vetoed the measure earlier this month, but members of the European Parliament are now determined to resurrect it in the coming months. “This is an emotive subject but, looked at in the cold light of day, it was clearly a discriminatory proposal,” said Abdalhamid Evans, the director of the World Halal Forum Europe Project. “If consumer interest is the issue, then surely all meat products should disclose the method of slaughter, and even say which stunning methods have been used prior to slaughter.”

He said there was “no clear scientific evidence” that stunning is more humane. On the contrary, “religious slaughter, performed well on a calm animal, is likely to be the least painful for the animals”, said Mr Evans, citing studies by Temple Grandin, a professor of animal science at Colorado State University widely known for her efforts to improve standards in slaughter plants and livestock farms.

Yunus Dudhwala, the chairman of the Halal Monitoring Committee in Britain, said he believed that animal welfare was a “red herring” because there was little interest shown in factory farming methods and the conditions of animal transportation prior to slaughter.

He told The Guardian newspaper this week that he would be happy for un-stunned meat to be labelled if other meat carried the method of stunning used, such as gassing or electrocution. He indicated, however, that this would never happen because it would be unpalatable for consumers.

Officials for Jewish organisations praised the EU committee’s veto earlier this month of the proposed labelling measure but warned that the idea was not dead.

“There is still much work to do to ensure that new laws are not introduced next year which discriminate against shechita,” said Simon Cohen, referring to the Jewish method of ritual slaughter.

“The European Commission is beginning a new consultation next year on animal welfare labelling, and we are continuing to work in Brussels with the European Jewish Congress to explain to the European food authorities the humane nature of shechita slaughter,” said Mr Cohen, the director of Schechita UK.

“Our campaign is far from over, but we are making satisfactory progress, given the assault on shechita that was launched earlier this year by some members of the European Parliament.”

Compassion in World Farming (CWF), which campaigned in favour of the labelling, said a report from the UK government’s Farm Animal Welfare Council found that cutting an animal’s throat without stunning induced “significant pain and distress”.

Phil Brooke, the welfare development manager at CWF, said: “We don’t have a problem with religious slaughter – we have a problem with any kind of slaughter that is inhumane.

“While it’s allowed, we think that any products that come from an un-stunned animal should be labelled as such.”

Britain’s National Secular Society has also been pressing the government to back Amendment 205 – which it did not do at the Council of Ministers’ meeting – on the grounds that religious slaughter exemptions should only be allowed for quantities of animals necessary to meet the demands of that religion.

At present, it is believed that millions of animals, chickens in particular, are slaughtered according to kosher and halal standards and then sold to unwitting, non-Muslim customers, providing a large and profitable market to producers.

“Keeping the public in ignorance so they carry on subsidising a slaughter method which they do not approve of is simply indefensible,” said Stephen Evans, the society’s campaigns officer. “While we’re naturally disappointed that this amendment has fallen, this is far from the end of the campaign to ensure meat from religiously slaughtered animals is labelled.

“We are anticipating European Commission proposals on welfare labelling in 2011 and we will be ensuring that the government is well aware of our views – which we believe are supported by the overwhelming majority of the British public.”


Category: EU, Europe, Halal Integrity, Meat & Poultry, Science & Research

Comments (2)

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  1. Sue says:

    I want to know on a meat product label if the meat was religiously slaughtered, is that so difficult for you to digest? It’s simple, if it was then I do not wish to purchase it. At the moment I don’t buy from supermarkets because they will not label it as such. I sorce from trusted suppliers who know the origin of their meat. What are you so worried about, that perhaps informed people will choose not to buy religiously slaughtered meat, well I can assure you that most of them won’t. We want it labelling !!

  2. hamid says:

    The World Halal Forum is in favour of full and transparent labeling of all products. Halal, kosher, vegetarian, vegan, fairtrade etc.

    What we opposed, with respect to Amendment 205 at the European Parliament, was the proposed enforced labeling of unstunned meat. While this move would primarily affect the Kosher industry, it would also have a lesser, but still significant impact on the Halal sector.

    Our position here is that it is not acceptable to make only one kind of slaughter process adopt compulsory labeling. Why not make all forms of slaughter disclose their methods on the labels?

    Not only was the proposed amendment 205 discriminatory, it was also contrary to the World Trade Organization rulings regarding unnecessary barriers to trade, and it was on this basis that the WHF opposed it.

    If it is clear and transparent labeling for ALL, we would probably support it, and indeed we are actively lobbying the Halal industry to be more open and transparent about its regulatory procedures.

    The World Halal Forum does not buy or sell any products, nor is it invested in any way in the food industry. WHF is a forum, as the name suggests.

    Our agenda regarding labeling is as follows: the WHF is proposing full disclosure labeling that will call for the following information to be disclosed on all meat-based retail products.

    1. Type of feed used, such as grain, grass, anti-biotic free or animal by-product etc

    2. Type of stunning used, electrical, captive bolt, non-stun etc

    3. Slaughter method, such as by hand or mechanical

    4. Details of the body that issued the Halal certificate

    The vast majority (perhaps 80%) of halal slaughter of poultry in the UK (as a case in point) is done using stunning and mechanical slaughter, most of it done by non-Muslim owned business enterprises. This is then sold through non-Muslim owned food service and retail giants to the end consumers. The decision on how to label the product rests with the manufacturers.

    In many cases the only difference between what passes for Halal in the UK is that there was a tape recorder playing ‘bismillah’ (in the name of God). The rest of the process is mainstream…the chickens pass through the stunning bath and then to the mechanical blade at rates of up to 10,000 birds an hour.

    The majority of Halal customers (a significant percentage of whom are not Muslim) are as in the dark about the details of meat and poultry based offerings as everyone else.

    This is not an Islamic conspiracy to feed the world Halal food that they don’t want to eat. If anyone is operating in the dark behind closed doors, it is the (understandably) profit-motivated food companies who are not telling their customers (Muslim or otherwise) exactly what they are being sold. For them, sourcing Halal is simply an economic decision.

    The WHF would like to see all products clearly labeled in a way that lets the customers know exactly what is on offer so they can chose to buy or not. We will continue to lobby for this, not just in the UK but on a world-wide basis.

    At the forthcoming WHF in Kuala Lumpur our position in these issues will be articulated to a global audience of stakeholders from the food production, retail, manufacturing, food service and logistics sectors.

    The decisions as to whether to label fairly and correctly is theirs, not ours. Pressure for full disclosure labeling needs to be put on the food production, food service and retail ends of the supply chain…not on the consumers.

    As a side note, for a scientific assessment regarding the pro’s and con’s of stunning, (and its not as black and white as one might think) we recommend Dr Temple Grandin’s work on this subject as being the most objective and scientific…and least emotive.

    It can be seen here…

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