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Food labelling and religious slaughter

Food labelling and religious slaughter

Categories: Latest News

Monday December 22 2014

The Daily Mail picks up on a report in the Daily Telegraph concerning the Government’s consideration of food labelling of halal and kosher meat as the EU Commission prepares to publish a report in the new year on the future of food labelling and slaughter methods.

Noting the debate in the House of Commons last month prompted by Neil Parish MP, chair of the all party parliamentary group (APPG) on beef and lamb, the papers reveal that the Government may introduce food labelling requiring meat to be labelled as “stunned” or “non-stunned”.

Neil Parish MP, addressing the House, made an interesting observation on the over-emphasis on halal slaughter methods in the debate about religious slaughter and food labelling. He said, “The inquiry highlighted that the majority of studies have been about halal slaughter. There is therefore a deficit in our veterinary understanding of the shechita method of slaughter in the Jewish community, which permits no form of stunning. In its evidence, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said it had sought to include the shechita method of slaughter in its studies, but that it had not yet been successful in doing so. I therefore urge the Government to carry on that work and to look at the shechita method.”

Other MPs speaking in the debate highlighted the impact of media coverage of the issue. Shabana Mahmood MP referred to the “deeply divisive” coverage which had caused “a great deal of upset and pain to religious communities, who felt that their religious freedoms were under attack in an atmosphere of misinformation and sensationalist media reporting.”

The Daily Telegraph article last week is another good example of the “atmosphere of misinformation and sensationalist media reporting”. The article states:

“There has been growing concern that consumers are unwittingly buying meat that was the result of religious ritual slaughter after it emerged that diners had been unknowingly served halal chicken in Pizza Express and other restaurants.”

The article is a reference to The Sun’s front page story last May about Pizza Express’s ‘halal secret’ despite knowledge of the restaurant chain’s use of halal chicken being disclosed on its website and freely available to consumers who inquire. The idea that “diners had been unknowingly served halal chicken in Pizza Express” is somewhat misleading.

Pizza Express at the time issued a statement clarifying, “It is no secret that all the chicken used in our dishes is halal slaughtered. Our teams in restaurants have and always will provide this information, and in addition it is available on the customer service section of our website.”

George Eustice MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, responding for the Government, restated the Government’s position and reiterated a promise by Prime Minister David Cameron earlier this year, that religious rights regarding dietary issues would be respected and upheld stating this “has been the long-standing position of every UK Government, going back some 100 years.”

On the European Commission’s study into food labelling, Eustice said, “The European Commission is conducting a study on labelling at the moment; we expect it to conclude in December. Initially, it was planned that the study would be published this summer, but as usual—because this is a very contentious issue—it has taken the Commission rather longer than it thought. Nevertheless, we hope that the study will come by the end of the year, or perhaps the beginning of next year.”

On the introduction of labelling requirements, Eustice indicated a probable solution saying “A number of hon. Members made the point that it would be wrong just to label meat as “stunned” or “unstunned”, and that a fairer way would be to list all the different methods of slaughter. The only thing I would say in response is that, from the EU perspective, “stunned” has a clear legal definition in the legislation, and it is simply that an animal is rendered insensible to pain almost immediately.

“I know that previously people have said that perhaps we should label meat as being “halal” or “kosher”, so that people know what they are buying. However, there are also difficulties with that, in that there is no single definition of “halal”, as many hon. Members have said, and a further complication is that not all meat slaughtered by kosher methods is deemed “kosher”; for instance, the hind quarters of an animal are not deemed “kosher”, even though the animal is slaughtered by kosher methods. As I say, there are complications in the area of labelling, but we await the report from the European Commission and look forward to following it up.”

Advocates for halal and kosher slaughter rights have in the past indicated the disproportionate impact on these industries of discriminatory rules requiring labelling of religiously slaughtered food over other methods that do not meet animal welfare standards.

Representatives from Muslim and Jewish communities have asked for “mis-stunned” meat to be covered by food labelling requirements so that religious slaughter methods are not unfairly singled out.

In response to the concerns voiced, the Minister said “I can confirm that the Food Standards Agency has reviewed the way that it approaches mis-stunning. Previously, it only reported critical breaches that were observed by the official veterinarians in the slaughterhouse. We always accepted that that would not pick up every single mis-stun. Following representations that have been made, which is proof that this Parliament works when people ask questions of Ministers, I can confirm that we looked at this issue again and in future the FSA intends basically to monitor and record all breaches, whether or not they were critical.”


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