Halal meat is back in the headlines, with national newspapers reporting that UK retailers and restaurants are selling halal meat products without explicitly notifying customers.
The Sun this week highlighted that Pizza Express is selling halal chicken on five of its pizzas without any reference to it on menus. Meanwhile, the Daily Mail today claimed “millions are eating halal food without knowing it”, with restaurants and supermarkets including Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Waitrose and M&S accused of selling halal to customers to save money.
Concerns are running especially high about non-stun methods of halal slaughter, and their potential implications for animal welfare.
So what does the industry have to say about the latest halal furore and calls for better labelling?
Here’s a round-up of reactions:
Andrew Large, CEO of the British Poultry Council:
“All BPC members wish to stun and do stun before slaughter. This is the best method for welfare.
“There is a lot of misinformation on labelling. All Red Tractor-labelled products already state the animals are stunned, while specialist Halal butchers will sell you a non-stunned bird.”
“Labelling in restaurants would be more complicated, but we would like to work with all parts of the supply chain to ensure greater transparency on slaughter methods.”
Phil Stocker, CEO of the National Sheep Association:
“Our big concern whenever this story re-emerges is that it could increase the level of interest and demand in non-standard slaughter.
“We are trying to improve the welfare of sheep, and would like to see the maximum number of lambs stunned before slaughter. There is a lot of talk about halal, but not enough clarity over whether animals are stunned or not.
“We are not against labelling food to identify whether it is halal or not, however I would prefer a stunned and non-stunned label.”
Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium:
“British retailers know that animal welfare standards are a key issue for their consumers. All own-brand meat from major UK supermarkets comes from animals that have been stunned before they are killed and all our members have confirmed all their own-brand fresh meat is from animals that have been pre-stunned before slaughter.
“All own-brand meat from major UK supermarkets comes from animals that have been stunned before they are killed”
“However, we understand there are some customers who want meat from animals that have been slaughtered in accordance with strict religious protocols and in relevant stores meat produced by specialist producers is available with clear certification that is branded halal and kosher certified meat produced by specialist companies.
“There appears to be some confusion over meat that may be produced for a potential Halal market but is sold as own brand but all those animals are stunned prior to slaughter. As the overwhelming majority of meat sold in UK supermarkets is own brand and from animals that have been stunned prior to slaughter so we do not see the requirement to separately label meat based on the method of slaughter.”
Phil Hadley, southern senior retail manager for Eblex:
“We are currently conducting more analysis of the submissions received as part of our Halal consultation. The consultation received 62 responses, which is very encouraging, but raised a number of additional questions and a number of challenges which we need to look into before moving the process forwards.
“The consultation attracted a wide range of more general comment and raised concerns that it is only right to acknowledge and consider.
“The EU is currently conducting a consultation with consumers across all member states to explore options for labelling, giving information about slaughter methods. We need to be aware of this, not least as it could supersede the voluntary assurance scheme for sheep meat that we have proposed.”
Compassion in World Farming:
“Animals should be humanely slaughtered and stunned. We support clearer labelling so consumers can choose whether they want to eat meat from animals that have been slaughtered without being stunned.”
“We recognise that religious beliefs and practices should be respected. However, we also believe animals should be slaughtered under the most humane conditions possible.
“Over 80% of Halal slaughter, the method used by the Muslim religion, is pre-stunned in the UK”
“Our concern does not relate to the expression of religious belief but to the animal welfare compromise associated with the practice of killing by throat cutting without pre-stunning. In fact, over 80% of Halal slaughter, the method used by the Muslim religion, is pre-stunned in the UK.
“The Halal Food Authority has a clear ‘no stunning to kill policy’, which means pre-stunning is permitted when the stun is used only used to make the animal unconscious and not to kill them. This highlights that pre-stunning and slaughter for religious purposes can work together.”
Joint letter to Daily Telegraph by Henry Grunwald, chairman of Shechita UK, and Dr Shuja Shafi deputy secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain:
“Yet again, religious slaughter is in the headlines. If two chickens 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, why are critics quite content with the former but up in arms about the latter?
“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.
“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.”
Saqib Mohammed, acting CEO, Halal Food Authority:
“We have always accepted stunning which does not kill the animal, which is water-based for poultry, and head-based stunning for lamb. I would agree that labelling could be improved among mainstream retailers and restaurants, but humane organisations and the government should also come together to demonstrate that Halal is not cruel. There is a lot we can do to educate and raise awareness among non-muslims. The recent press coverage has agitated people unnecessarily.”
BVA president Robin Hargreaves:
“Our government e-petition calls for an end to non-stun slaughter because it causes an unnecessary animal welfare compromise at the time of death. However, while the practice is still permitted we do believe that clearer labelling would help consumers to understand the welfare issues around the food they are buying and eating.
“Clearer labelling would help consumers to understand the welfare issues around the food they are buying and eating”
Robin Hargreaves, BVA
“There has been a lot of confusion in the media about the difference between halal slaughter that does use pre-stunning and that which doesn’t. Well over 80% of halal slaughter in the UK is pre-stunned which means the animal is rendered unconscious and insensible before the throat is cut. None of the animals slaughtered by the kosher method are pre-stunned. That’s why we want labelling to explain whether an animals has been pre-stunned or not and not compulsory halal or kosher labelling.
“We know that animal welfare is high on the list of UK consumer concerns so we support ways to help people make a more informed choice.”
On the legal ramifications around labelling of halal meat, Gillian Harkess, food labelling expert at law firm Eversheds, said:
“The aim of food labelling and consumer protection legislation is to ensure that consumers have sufficient and accurate information about the product they are purchasing. It is conceivable that under the revised food labelling requirements, the majority of which will come into force during December 2014, and UK consumer protection legislation that it is an offence to fail to notify consumers that they are purchasing halal meat. The test being would this information cause a consumer to make a different transactional decision.
“The test regarding whether a consumer would make a different transactional decision if they knew they were purchasing halal meat is a subjective one. In the cash-strapped world of food regulators, where the priority for time and resource is to investigate and prosecute food businesses which intentionally or negligently cause harm to consumers, it is likely that the appetite to prosecute a food business for failing to declare that their meat is slaughtered in line with halal requirements is low.
“Food businesses should remain aware, however, that public interest on the information provided in food labels remains high as a result of the horsemeat scandal of 2013 and careful consideration should be given to them as result.”