Consumers could be told whether the meat they buy comes from animals that have not been stunned before slaughter, following a move in the European parliament.
MEPs on the food safety committee voted on Tuesday to back amendments to a food labelling bill that would see the mandatory inclusion of labels stating “meat from slaughter without stunning” on relevant food products.
The proposals, which go before the European parliament in July, target meat slaughtered using ritual techniques like those employed by Jewish shechita and Muslim halal butchers.
Animals killed by the shechita technique are not stunned before having their throats cut and blood drained out. Halal meat is slaughtered using a similar technique, although research by the British Veterinary Association suggests 80% of halal meat is stunned before slaughter.
Religious groups have expressed anger at the proposals. A Jewish campaign group, Shechita UK, controversially claimed the measure was the “21st-century equivalent of the yellow star, but on our food”. “This amendment does nothing to improve animal welfare, fails to fully inform consumers and is clearly discriminatory by design,” said Henry Grunwald, spokesman for the group.
His comments were attacked by the British Humanist Association. “To compare the proper labelling of meat from religious slaughter methods with the Nazi requirement for all Jews to wear yellow Stars of David is grotesque and false,” said Naomi Phillips, its head of public affairs. “Giving consumers the information to make ethical choices about the meat they buy through labelling does not prevent Jews who wish to from buying kosher meat.”
Scottish Conservative MEP Struan Stevenson, who introduced the amendments to the bill, had originally suggested the labels should record whether meat was halal or shechita. But he opted for the “non-stunned” label after representations from religious groups.
Stevenson insisted his proposals were born from “animal welfare concerns, not by anything to do with religion“. Stevenson said: “A very significant quantity of meat finding its way onto our shelves and tables has been slaughtered by this method and we’re not aware of it. The public have a right to know.”
The UK government has signalled it opposes the proposals, which, to become law, also need to be endorsed by the council of ministers, the body comprised of representatives of governments drawn from each of the EU’s 27 member states.