Written by Benjamin Peim theMedia Line.org
Published Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Law would require warning about inhumane slaughter used in halal and kosher meat
Muslim and Jewish organizations in Europe are putting aside differences over the Middle East conflict to team up against a proposal by European Union (EU) lawmakers that would require ritually slaughtered meat to carry a label warning consumers about inhumane treatment to animals.
Approved in the European Parliament last June as part of food-information legislation, the amendment would require ritually slaughtered meat to carry the warning: “Derived from animals that have not been stunned prior to slaughter.” The amendment was vetoed by a committee of the EU Council of Ministers earlier this month, but critics and supporters agree the fight is far from over and expect to a revised amendment to be submitted next year.
The rule would affect the makers of Islamic halal meat, as well as those whose animals are slaughtered by the Jewish method of shechita, which renders the meat kosher. That has made allies of Behalal.org, a non-profit Muslim consumer protection organization, and Shechita UK, a London-based Jewish group, the Muslim Council of Britain, the Association of European Imams and others.
“To be honest, when there’s a common issue, like food, that’s important for our faith, you have to put your political issues a side and stand together. This isn’t about politics it’s about faith and the basics,” Ruksana Shain, the founder of Behalal.org, told The Media Line. “When we’re both under attack, certainly we should support one another and stand together.”
While proponents say the labeling rule would allow consumers to make better-informed decisions about the food they buy, Jewish and Muslim groups are united in calling the proposed amendment discriminatory. They say it singles them out and is the latest in Europe’s centuries-long struggle with ethnic and religious minorities.
“There’s been a witch-hunt against halal,” Shain told The Media Line.
European law currently requires that meat products only come from animals stunned before being killed. But meat products made from religiously slaughtered animals are exempt. Under both religions’ laws, animals must be alive when they are killed by having their throats slit.
Animal rights activists, however, regard the method as inhumane and say the proposed labeling requirement is the minimum authorities can do to oppose it. Animal Aid, which calls itself Britain’s largest animal rights group, calls religious methods slaughter “brutal, vicious, enormously painful and, therefore, unsupportable.” “Jewish and Muslim religious authorities assert that death by the shechita or halal methods, without pre-stunning, is instantaneous and painless but evidence demonstrates that this is fanciful nonsense,” the organization said in a December 10 statement.
The only EU member to ban the slaughter of animals without stunning outright is Sweden. The practice is also banned in Switzerland, Norway and Iceland, which are in Europe but not members of the EU. New Zealand just lifted a ban on the practice that had been instituted in May.
Animal Aid alleges that animals often have to be cut many times and can struggle to regain their footing for as long as two minutes. But Shain said that stunning methods are not necessarily superior. Slaughterhouses stun animals by gassing or electrocution, they point out.
“Sometimes they don’t work, and it leaves animals in a lot of pain, or the animal is accidently killed,” Shain told The Media Line. “The bottom line is, even if it was about animal welfare, the other methods are not without problems. If they are interested in animal welfare they should label all products to let consumer make an informed choice.”
To fight the amendment, Shechita UK has been coordinating with various Muslim groups to lobby against the amendment. BeHalal.org has been working with Shechita UK to lobby politicians, and have encouraged people to write to government ministers. Separately, the organizations have mounted online campaigns.
“We have no objection to labeling, but if this is about food information, you have to be honest to your citizens,” Shimon Cohen, campaign director for Shechita UK, which promotes awareness of the Jewish method of slaughtering animals, told The Media Line. “When you go to a supermarket you should be able to pick up any item and see whether it’s a product of shechita, halal, gassing or electrocution.”
Cohen said that, if only religiously slaughtered meat products are given labels, “it’s saying something’s odd, something’s inferior about Jewish meat and Muslim meat.”
“It’s discrimination,” he added. “You label it all, or not anything.”
Although they say it’s a secondary concern, the Muslim and Jewish groups fear that a warning label could impact sales. While observant Muslims and Jews will eat halal and kosher meat no matter what, other consumers may be put off by the warning. And, if sales to the non-Muslim and non-Jewish public fall, prices for halal and kosher products will inevitably rise to reflect the higher costs of serving smaller markets.