MEPs back proposals to introduce mandatory labelling of halal and kosher meat

The European Parliament has approved proposals to introduce mandatory labelling of ritually slaughtered meat.

MEPs voted overwhelmingly in favour of a report covering the provision of food information to consumers proposed by German MEP Sommer Renate. The proposed changes to draft legislation mean that meat and meat products derived from animals that have been ritually slaughtered must carry the label “Meat from slaughter without stunning”.

The amendment covering labelling of ritually slaughtered meat was adopted with 326 votes in favour, 270 against and 68 abstentions.

Ahead of Wednesday’s vote the National Secular Society wrote to all British MEPs and sympathetic MEPs throughout Europe urging them to vote in favour of the amendment which was inserted at the recommendation of the European Parliament’s Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety. Some feedback from Strasbourg suggests our lobbying could have had an influence on the result.

A significant proportion of ritually slaughtered meat in the UK, and throughout the rest of Europe, is sold on the general market and can be unwittingly purchased by consumers who do not wish to buy meat derived from animals that have not been stunned before their throats are cut and they are bled to death. For example, the production of halal-slaughtered chickens in Belgium massively exceeds demand from the observant Muslim community, according to a report. Also, parts of animals killed by ritual slaughter are not themselves regarded as Kosher, so are sold on the general market (currently unlabelled as such).

Shechita UK, the lobby organisation which defends religious slaughter, campaigned against the proposals on the grounds that change in European law on labelling food would mean the “end of shechitah”. Henry Grunwald QC, chairman of Shechita UK, described the amendment as “discriminatory and unfair”. He maintains that the mandatory labelling amendment would have the unintended consequence of making shechitah economically unviable, presumably because the market for the parts unacceptable for Kosher consumption would be less valuable.

However, Renate Sommer MEP, who proposed the amendment, said “This has nothing to do with religious organisations or believers, it is about animal protection” she said.

Although it is often claimed that pre-stunned meat is not acceptable to the kosher/halal market, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and New Zealand are among countries where pre-stunning is compulsory and has been accepted by Jewish and Muslim communities.

Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society said: “We congratulate the European Parliament on voting to give consumers the information they need to avoid buying meat from animals not stunned before slaughter. Large quantities of such meat are sold to the general public without them knowing. While we welcome this progress on labelling, however, we believe it should be extended to food served in restaurants and canteens.

“Animals should not be made to suffer because of centuries-old religious practices. We therefore call for the lifting of the exemption that religious groups enjoy from general animal welfare regulations requiring animals to be stunned prior to slaughter. But even without that change, much more can be done. The European Parliament voted last year to continue to permit member states to lift the exemption if they chose to, and we want member states to exercise this right. We also call on those responsible for religious slaughter not to exploit the exemption but follow the more enlightened and humane example of those countries where pre-stunned animals are regarded as acceptable for ritual slaughter.”

The proposals will now move to the Council of Ministers where it is hoped they will be ratified, but this is likely to take around a year. Member states would be given several years to implement such a change.

See also:

New European threat to shechita

Halal and kosher meat should not be slipped in to food chain, says minister (from 2009)