Meat that has been slaughtered according to religious rituals, such as halal, must be clearly labelled so consumers can make an informed choice, says a Scottish MEP.
But the UK’s farming minister has rejected the idea and says meat should only be labelled to inform consumers whether the animal was stunned before being slaughtered.
Struan Stevenson, a Conservative MEP, has tabled an amendment to a European Parliament food labelling bill, calling for meat to be labelled with: “This product comes from an animal slaughtered by the Halal method” or “This product comes from an animal slaughtered by the Shechita method”.
But the food and farming minister Jim Paice told The Daily Telegraph that while he supports a labelling system, he believes it is a welfare issue not a religious one, so the labels should only show if the animal has not been stunned prior to its slaughter.
Under current laws animals do not have to be stunned before they are slaughtered, but vets and animal welfare campaigners warn that failure to stun an animal leads to “unacceptable levels of suffering and pain”.
Mr Paice said: “We are not going to ban slaughter without stunning. I believe in an ideal world it shouldn’t happen, we don’t particularly like it, but we are prepared to tolerate it on religious grounds. But consumers have a right to be informed.”
Mr Stevenson said: “My concerns are entirely from an animal welfare perspective because the vast majority of kosher meat is sold on to the non kosher market and just as you label the meat (as kosher) so the main market deserves to know what it is buying.”
Last year a Mail on Sunday investigation found that numerous restaurants, fast-food chains, and supermarkets were selling Halal meat without telling customers.
The newspaper’s investigation found Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Somerfield, the Co-op, Waitrose and Marks and Spencer were all stocking halal meat.
McDonalds initially denied the allegations but later admitted to secretly selling halal meat in some of its food, including its Chicken McNuggets and McChicken Sandwich, in its 1,200 British outlets.
Since the original article was published, Asda has said it would be “fair to say” that most of its lamb is halal and half of its chicken is halal.
Last year a Tesco store near Belfast was reluctant to refund a Christian woman who unknowingly bought Halal lamb until she said: you wouldn’t treat a Muslim this way.
Mrs Andrena Robinson said: “If I’d known it was Halal I would not have bought it. It is an issue of conscience for me, something I feel strongly about.”
“If meat is Halal, it should be clearly labelled. Then customers can make an informed choice.”
The duty manager at the Tesco store said he would not refund her unless there was a problem with the quality of the meat.
But told him that if she had been a Muslim who had unknowingly bought non-Halal meat, the store would have given her money back.