NSS urges MEPs to support labelling of religiously slaughtered meat

The National Secular Society has written to members of The European Parliament ENVI committee (Committee on the Environment, Public Health, and Food Safety) urging them to support an amendment to food labelling legislation that would ensure meat from slaughter without stunning is accurately labelled.

The NSS campaigns for an end to exemptions granted to religious groups from animal welfare legislation. As long as such exemptions are given, we think meat from religious slaughter (without pre-stunning) should be accurately labelled. Consumers should have the right to information which enables them to make an informed choice when purchasing meat killed by religious slaughter methods.

The amendment, tabled by Dutch MEP Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy, restores the European Parliament’s first reading position which MEPs voted overwhelmingly in favour of last year, but was later dropped by the Council of Ministers.

The Committee is expected to vote on the latest amendments on Tuesday 19 April, ahead of reaching a second reading position in Parliament in July.

In a letter to European Parliamentarians Keith Porteous Wood said:

“An argument often put forward by religious groups against labelling of products from religious slaughter is that this proposal would be discriminatory and would cause prejudice. However, to uphold their objection is to discriminate against the majority of consumers, denying them any right of choice and deliberately misleading them about the source of their meat. We believe such concerns are not sufficient to deny consumers more accurate information.

“Another reason advanced against labelling is the potential loss of income to the kosher industry, making it uneconomic. This reason implicitly accepts two powerful arguments put forward for labelling: that a material proportion of those buying meat that is not pre-stunned would not do so if they knew its source and that the quantities involved are substantial. It glosses over two further — understandably unstated — ethically dubious underlying assumptions, that:

1. It is acceptable to mislead the public in this way, and the legislative process should be complicit in this deceit.

2. The necessity to subsidise the religious slaughter industry is more important than informing customers that meat they buy has been slaughtered in a way that they would not like and may consider unnecessarily cruel.

“The debate should, however, consider the impact on consumers in this regard, a significant number of whom would be alarmed to find that simply not buying or eating labelled halal and kosher meat does not mean that they have avoided it.

“As long as religious groups retain the privilege of an exemption from legislation aimed at ensuring animals do not suffer “any avoidable distress or pain”, we maintain it is only fair that consumers have the right to information that enables them to make an informed choice to avoid such products. We believe that the proposed requirement for non pre-stunned meat to be labelled fits with the current trend to inform consumers about the content and provenance of the food they buy.”

The NSS has also been in correspondence with James Paice MP, Minister of State for Agriculture and Food, who despite stating that he would like to introduce labelling to inform consumers whether or not meat has been stunned before slaughter, failed to support the amendment at the Council of Ministers which would have made this possible.

Read more about our campaigning on religious slaughter

Write to your MP and MEP requesting that they support any legislative changes that require meat and meat products from animals slaughtered without pre-stunning, to be clearly labelled as such.