Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders call for clear labelling on food packaging amid claims shoppers are being “duped” by being sold halal meat without their knowledge
Shoppers must be told exactly how animals have been killed through clear labelling on food packaging, religious leaders have said.
In a letter to the Telegraph faith leaders suggest all menus and packets should specify how animals have been slaughtered, including for products that are not kosher or halal.
Their intervention follows disclosures that diners have been unknowingly served halal chicken in Pizza Express and other restaurants.
On Wednesday campaigners accused the chain of “duping” customers because its menus fail to mention that the restaurants serve religious meat. The disclosure is made on the firm’s website.
Halal meat is also served at a series of other restaurants and food outlets, as well as in schools and restaurants.
Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders today issue a defence of the practice, insisting the ability of shops, restaurants and canteens to serve kosher and halal meat is a matter of “religious freedom”.
Under both the Muslim method of slaughter, known as Zabiha, and the Jewish practice, Shechita, a surgically sharp instrument is used to cut straight through an animal’s throat, windpipe and the blood vessels in its neck. Religious groups insist the method kills animals instantly, although this has been disputed by the British Veterinary Association.
In both cases prayers are said over the animals.
Shechita animals are not stunned before being killed, with some Muslim slaughterhouses also neglecting to “pre-stun”. Critics say such practices harm the welfare of animals.
However in a letter to the Telegraph Henry Grunwald QC, chairman of Shechita UK, the Jewish representative body, and Dr Shuja Shafi, Deputy Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, say that animals killed under religious rules are treated no worse than any others that are killed to be eaten.
They add that food labels should specify whether an animal has been mechanically stunned before being slaughtered “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.”
The European Union is carrying out a study on religious slaughter, with officials examining the possibility of introducing clearer labelling. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said it would consider the findings, adding that it wanted customers to be able to make “informed choices”.
The call by Mr Grunwald and Dr Shafi for clearer labelling was backed by the Rt Rev Nick Baines, the acting Bishop of Leeds.
“We do need a more grown-up approach to this issue,” he said. “Clear labelling and clear information is essential so people know what they are eating. That goes much wider than the issues of halal and kosher.”
The calls come after The Sun reported that Pizza Express sold halal chicken in its 434 outlets. The National Secular Society claimed members of the public were being “duped”.
On Wednesday the Rt Rev Paul Bayes, speaking in his first interview after being appointed as the new Bishop of Liverpool, said: “The need for people of faith to be respected and for religious freedom to be one of our main freedoms applies in this matter.
“People of faith and people in this case whose faith has implications for what they eat should be respected and room should be made for that.”