The restaurant has exclusively used halal chicken for a number of years – yet does not say so on its menus
The restaurant chain Pizza Express is to review its menu policy for halal meat after campaigners called for greater clarity on the labelling of chicken produced through religious slaughter. It had emerged that Pizza Express is serving ritually-slaughtered halal chicken in every dish on its menu that uses the meat.
But customers are only told that the chicken they are eating is killed in line with strict Islamic law if they ask staff, as it is not stated on menus.
Under Islamic law, chicken can only be eaten if the bird’s throat has been slit while it is still alive. A Quranic verse is also recited during the ritual.
Some non-Muslims object to halal because they claim the method of slaughter can cause unnecessary suffering.
The firm, which has 434 restaurants across the UK, states on its website: “All our chicken is halal approved but it is important to note that all birds are stunned before being slaughtered.
That Pizza Express has changed its supplier to provide exclusively halal chicken is not news, but the lack of clarity on its menus has raised concerns that customers are not being allowed to make an informed choice.
Popular meals such as Pollo Ad Astra pizza, Pollo Pesto and the salads Chicken Caesar and Pollo Pancetta are all made with halal chicken.
A spokesman said: “At PizzaExpress the quality and integrity of our ingredients remain our number one priority, and we have always been happy to provide information on our ingredients to our guests.
“It is no secret that all the chicken used in our dishes is halal slaughtered. Our teams in restaurants have and always will provide this information, and in addition it is available on the customer service section of our website.
“We’re committed to high animal welfare standards and as such the birds are stunned before slaughter.
“The quality, safety and integrity of our products is paramount and our chicken supplier is accredited by the British Retail Consortium. This means it meets the global standard for food safety. None of our other meats are halal.”
The restaurant said that it was “no secret” that all the chicken used in its dishes was halal slaughtered, adding that all birds are stunned before being killed.
“Our chicken supplier is accredited by the British Retail Consortium,” the chain said on its website. “This means it meets the global standard for food safety and legality. Our chicken also meets the ‘5 freedoms on the farm’ initiative, endorsed by the RSPCA.”
However, the RSPCA itself has campaigned for more clarity on halal meat labelling, and told The Independent: “We believe that meat produced from animals stunned or not stunned before slaughter should be clearly labelled to allow consumer choice, and continue to press for changes in the law that would improve the welfare of all farm animals at the time of slaughter.
“Our concern has nothing to do with the expression of religious belief but with the practice of killing by throat cutting without pre-stunning.
We are currently urging the public to sign the HM Government petition calling for an end to slaughter without pre-stunning. Non-stun slaughter can cause considerable suffering and we believe this practice should be banned once and for all.”
Meat inspector Richard North said chains such as Pizza Express served halal chicken to save money.
He added: “Keeping halal and non-halal meat is expensive and creates the risk of non-halal being fed to Muslims, which shops and restaurants know will cause uproar. Maybe they think non-Muslims are less likely to complain.”
A report produced by the Farm Animal Welfare Council in 2009 said that chickens and turkeys were likely to be conscious for up to 20 seconds after having their throats cut, adding that “such an injury would result in significant pain and distress before insensibility supervenes”.
While people can find the details of Pizza Express’s policy in an FAQ on its website, customers in its branches can only find out by raising the issue with restaurant staff directly.
Today the restaurant chain said that it was going to look into taking steps to label its use of halal meat more clearly, including whether the information needs to go on its menus.
A spokesperson said: “At Pizza Express the quality and integrity of our ingredients remain our number one priority, and we have always been happy to provide information on our ingredients to our guests.”
Provided animals are stunned before slaughter, there is no practical difference in the way they are treated for halal and non-halal meat production.
But around 15 per cent of all halal slaughter in the UK is still done via the traditional method of slitting the animal’s throat while it remains conscious, making it hard to guarantee when eating halal meat that the animal was stunned beforehand.
Stephen Evans, of the National Secular Society, told The Sun: “Meat should be properly labelled, enabling consumers to make an informed choice about the food they’re buying.”
The news comes after the European Parliament voted by 559 to 54 for more detailed, compulsory labelling on all halal and kosher meat. Yet while the motion was backed in June 2010, it still awaits full adoption across Europe.
Earlier this year the Danish government banned the exemption on rules around pre-stunning for halal and kosher slaughter, in a move which was attacked in Denmark as “anti-Semitism” and “a clear interference in religious freedom”.
Defending the government’s decision to ban non-pre-stunned slaughter, food minister Dan Jørgensen said “animal rights come before religion”.
Click here to read the RSPCA’s petition calling for an end to slaughter without pre-stunning