8 May 2014

Should shoppers know if meat is halal? Faith leaders say yes

Food in supermarkets and restaurants should be clearly labelled, say Jewish and Muslim faith leaders, as Pizza Express and other chains admit the widespread use of halal meat.

Faith leaders said that consumers should be given the details about how animals had been killed on meat packaging.

The Jewish and Muslim faith leaders said in a letter to the Telegraph that “comprehensive labelling” should be supported by animal welfare groups and faith groups alike so that consumers can make an informed choice.

Their intervention follows the news reported by The Sun that halal chicken was widespread in Pizza Express restaurants and other chains. Campaigners said that the restaurant was “duping” customers by not putting information about the slaughter on the menu – even though the information is available on the website.

The Muslim practice of “Zabiha” and the Jewish practice of “Shechita” slaughter require an animal to killed by a sharp tool through the throat and neck. Under Zabiha, the blood is then drained from the body after the slaughter.

Comprehensive labelling should be supported by faith communities and animal welfare groups alike Faith leaders

There is some controversy surrounding the kosher and halal slaughter of animals when it comes to whether animals are stunned before they are killed – as required by the Defra guidelines. The most recent Food Standards Agency report found that the vast majority of animals – but not all – are stunned before religious slaughter.

The British Veterinary Association has also disputed claims that animals are killed instantly and Denmark has banned kosher and halal means of slaughter.

Photo: Halal slaughterhouse in Poland

However Henry Grunwald, Shechita UK chairman and Shuja Shafi, Muslim Council of Britain’s deputy secretary general in their letter to the Telegaph, rejected claims that animals are treated worse if killed through religious slaughter:

“If two chickens are reared in exactly the same conditions, are both electrocuted until they are unconscious, and then one goes into an enormous machine which scalds, feathers and decapitates it, while the other goes to a Muslim who happens to be reciting a prayer, which are critics quite content with the former but up in arms about the latter?”

The letter added: “Comprehensive labelling should be supported by faith communities and animal welfare groups alike. It would offer all consumers genuine choice, whether they are motivated by animal welfare, religious observance, or even intolerance of anyone who looks or worships differently to them.”

What makes meat ‘halal’ or ‘kosher’?

“Halal” is the Arabic word for “lawful”, and in the context of meat, refers to the way the animal is slaughtered before it is prepared to be eaten. Halal slaughter involves the animal being blessed by a Muslim with a slaughterman’s licence, for the animal to killed by a single cut, and for the blood to be drained from the body after the slaughter.

“Shechita” slaughter covers Jewish religious practices, which produces “kosher” meat that is allowed by Jewish law. Under this law, any stunning is forbidden and “it is forbidden to slaughter an animal in front of other animals or to slaughter an animal and its young on the same day,” the Defra guidelines say:

“Where an animal is slaughtered without prior stunning for consumption by a Jew, the slaughter must take place in a licensed abattoir, licensed poultry slaughterhouse under official veterinary supervision, or in another officially regulated poultry slaughterhouse.”