Amid Halal Meat Debacle, U.K. Jewish, Muslim Leaders Call for Clearer Labeling

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A kosher slaughterhouse. Credit: Reuters

Jewish and Muslim leaders in the U.K. have called for clearer packaging of meat following disclosures by a number of major supermarket and restaurant chains that customers were unknowingly served halal meat.

"Comprehensive labeling…. 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," Henry Grunwald, Chairman of Shechita U.K. and Dr Shuja Shafi, Deputy Secretary General, Muslim Council of Britain said in a letter to the Daily Telegraph.

"Consumers should be informed whether an animal has been mechanically stunned prior to slaughter and whether it has endured repeat stuns if the first attempt was ineffective. They should also be told the method of slaughter: captive bolt shooting, gassing, electrocution, drowning, trapping, clubbing or any of the other approved methods," the letter said.

While stunning an animal before it is slaughtered is prohibited in Jewish law, it is allowed in some forms of Muslim ritual slaughter.

British supermarket chains Marks and Spencer, Tesco, Morrisons and the Co-op have said that lamb they stock from New Zealand is slaughtered in a way that is halal-compliant. The Pizza Express restaurant chain, meanwhile, said that they serve halal chicken to customers, the BBC reported.

Tesco stated that because most lamb exported from New Zealand ends up in the Middle East, it is halal-slaughtered. The lambs are stunned before being killed, Tesco said. The one difference is that halal meat is blessed before it is killed. Therefore, the company said, it would "it would be misleading for all customers to label the meat as halal."

Ritual slaughter is lawful in the U.K. Earlier this year, Britain's top veterinarian recommended reforming Jewish and Islamic ritual slaughter to make it more humane, and said a total ban on the current method may not be far off.

Online petition

Last week, the British Veterinary Association launched an online petition calling for the end of slaughtering animals without first stunning them, as is done in kosher slaughter.

The government petition launched  with the support of RSPCA, a British animal welfare charity has garnered more than 23,000 signatures.The association is aiming for 100,000 signatures to convince the House of Commons to hold a debate on the subject.

“We must differentiate between religious and non-stun slaughter,” the petition says. “Our concern does not relate to religious belief but to the animal welfare compromise of non-stun slaughter.”

The petition also calls for clear labeling on meat and meat products, so consumers are aware they are buying meat that was not stunned prior to slaughter. The hindquarters of animals killed by ritual slaughter, or shechitah, are not kosher and often are sold in the mainstream market.

Calls in Britain for stunning animals before all slaughter have been increasing in recent years. A March 2013 poll by the Jewish Chronicle of London found that 45 percent of Britons favored banning Jewish ritual slaughter, with another 28 percent saying they were undecided and 27 percent opposed to a ban.

“BVA has long believed that slaughter without pre-stunning unnecessarily compromise animal welfare at the time of death,” said Robin Hargreaves, BVA’s president and a veterinary surgeon. “It affects millions of animals every year and action is long overdue.

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