British Prime Minister David Cameron does not support the compulsory labelling of halal meat products, according to a statement from Downing Street.
PM wants food industry to take action but will order review of labelling if shops and restaurants fail to give clearer information.
The prime minister’s spokesman has stated that the labelling of ritually-slaughtered meat is a matter for retailers, customers and faith groups. A review of the labelling of halal meat will be carried out unless the industry delivers greater transparency within the next few months, Downing Street has said.
After media uproar that ritually-slaughtered meat, most notably lamb from New Zealand, is for sale in supermarkets without the knowledge of the consumers, there have been demands for more labelling to reflect its method of slaughter.
Retailers Selling Halal Meat
Retailers say the animals are stunned before slaughter and the only difference from standard meat is that they are blessed by a Muslim when they are killed.
Faith leaders have supported the notion of clearer labelling and more information about slaughter methods.
However Downing Street said that David Cameron didn’t support this. “The greater the transparency the better and we think we can achieve this transparency without necessarily having a full-on national food labelling scheme, said a spokesperson from the Prime Minister’s press office.
Five leading UK supermarkets have defended selling meat that could qualify as halal, due to the method of slaughter or the use of a blessing as the animal was killed, without informing consumers. They all said the animals were stunned before slaughter.
David Cameron’s spokesman said the prime minister believed this was “an issue of consumer choice and consumer information”.
He said: “Instead we believe this will be dealt with by restaurants and businesses. So it is a matter for retailers and restaurants to work with customers and consumer groups and representatives of faith organisations. We think a lot of businesses and restaurants will probably change their practices and change their labelling. We will review the situation in a few months’ time.”
“He is a strong supporter of religious freedoms, including religious slaughter practices.”
The spokesman added: “I don’t think the PM has concerns about the meat that he buys. He very much understands why some people have concerns about the information they are getting.”
Many consumers would “rightly be very demanding of their retailers, the places they shop and the places they go out to eat”, the spokesman added, saying Mr Cameron believed the current approach was “absolutely the right one”.
Marks and Spencer, Tesco, Morrisons, Waitrose and the Co-op said their New Zealand lamb was halal, while Pizza Express has already revealed its chicken is killed according to Islamic tradition.
In each case, the retailers said the animals were stunned before they died.
Tesco said most exported New Zealand lamb was processed according to Islamic tradition because much of the meat ended up in the Middle East.
The company, along with the Co-op, said all the animals were stunned before slaughter with the only difference being that halal meat was blessed as it was killed.
Tesco said that because it does not specify this is done “it would be misleading for all customers to label the meat as halal”.
Waitrose said some of their lamb was slaughtered after a halal blessing, which allows them to sell unused parts of the carcass to other markets.
Sainsbury’s has not commented about the slaughter of its meat products.
Faith Groups Support Clearer Labelling
The statement follows a letter written to the Telegraph by faith leaders Henry Grunwald, chairman of Shechita UK, and Dr Shuja Shafi, deputy secretary general of Muslim Council of Britain, calling for labelling to be clearer: “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.”
They wrote: “Comprehensive labelling should be supported by faith communities and animal welfare groups alike.”
Elsewhere, Philip Davies, Conservative MP for Shipley, said that he had pushed for compulsory labelling of kosher and halal meat two years ago, but the bill he tried to introduce was defeated. “As usual I was ahead of my time because you will appreciate there is widespread concern about the use of halal and kosher meat that is not labelled amongst retailers,” he said.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg also said there should be more information on meat packaging. Speaking on LBC radio he told listeners that telling customers if meat is halal or not would be “relatively straightforward”.
Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability for the British Retail Consortium said: “All our members have confirmed all their own-brand fresh meat is from animals that have been pre-stunned before slaughter.
“Some of our members do sell branded halal and kosher certified meat produced by specialist companies and clearly labelled.
“As the overwhelming majority of meat sold in UK supermarkets is own-brand and from animals that have been stunned prior to slaughter we do not see the requirement to separately label meat based on the method of slaughter.”
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said it had contributed to an EU study into the compulsory labelling of halal and kosher meat and planned to review options for the UK once this is finalised in the summer.
Simply labelling food as halal is not the answer, said Robin Hargreaves, president of the British Veterinary Association, which campaigns for an end to non-stunned slaughter.
Mr Hargreaves told the BBC most halal meat had been stunned before slaughter, but added: “The problem is, if you just talk about labelling halal, it doesn’t help you at all because you don’t know which are stunned and which aren’t.”
Dr Rami Ranger, chairman of the British Sikh Association, said consumers “should not be kept in the dark”.
He said: “If Muslims and Jews wish to have halal meat, then it must be clearly marked so as not to cause offence to anyone else.”