European Ministers drop proposals to introduce mandatory labelling of ritually slaughtered meat

European Ministers have dropped plans to ensure that halal and kosher meat from animals slaughtered without pre-stunning is accurately labelled.

Earlier this year MEPs voted in favour of German MEP Renate Sommer’s proposed amendment to draft legislation on food labelling which would mean that meat and meat products from ritually slaughtered animals must carry the label “Meat from slaughter without stunning”.

However, the European Council of Ministers today approved a draft of new food information regulation that did not include amendment 205.

The agreement reached today falls short of demands made by MEPs when they agreed their position on the directive in June.

Renate Sommer said that she was “disappointed” by the agreement, calling it a “sloppy draft” that neglected important details.

The latest move to drop the proposal follows a Europe-wide lobbying campaign by the Jewish food lobby group Shechita UK, which has targeted European Ministers representing their various governments at the Council of Ministers.

Shechita UK has argued that unless meat from religiously slaughtered animals is allowed to slip into the general market covertly, this meat will become commercially unviable. Electrical pre-stunning is not allowed under strict Jewish traditions, whereas the practice is acceptable to many British Muslims.

The NSS has been pressing the UK Government to support the amendment, arguing that where religious exemptions have been made to animal welfare regulations, no more animals should be slaughtered under the exemptions than is necessary for the religious market. Furthermore, consumers are entitled to be informed if meat is from an animal slaughtered without stunning. The current absence of labelling deprives consumers of basic information and consequently artificially fuels the demand for meat from slaughter without stunning.

In a letter to the NSS just weeks before the latest move, Jim Paice MP, Minister of State for Agriculture and Food, signalled the UK Government’s intention to oppose the labelling amendment saying that he had recently met with Shechita UK to help him “understand the concerns driving their opposition to labelling”.

Stephen Evans, National Secular Society Campaigns Officer, said: “Keeping the public in ignorance so they carry on subsidising a slaughter method which they do not approve of is simply indefensible. 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 are well aware of our views – which we believe are supported by the overwhelming majority of the British public.”

Next year, the Government will also be consulting on the implementation of regulations on the protection of animals at the time of killing, which will provide a further opportunity to question the exemptions from animal welfare legislation afforded to religious groups.