Supermarkets were facing a backlash last night after claiming that it was ‘unnecessary’ to spell out on labels whether meat comes from animals killed by religious slaughter.
Religious groups from all faiths, vets, and animal welfare groups joined calls for new labels to identify halal or kosher meat.
But retailers claimed that shoppers do not care – and even argued that there is not enough room on packs for new labels.
ory MPs have tabled an amendment to the Consumer Rights Bill, which is to be debated next week, that would require a move to clearer labels. However, the idea is opposed by most retailers, and David Cameron, the Prime Minister, believes that there is no need to change the law. Demands for more informative labels follow widespread outrage over the disclosure in yesterday’s Daily Mail that millions of people are being sold halal and kosher meat without being told.
All the major supermarkets are selling New Zealand lamb killed according to the halal ritual without providing labels.
Separately, many restaurants such as Pizza Express, KFC, and Subway are selling halal meat – mainly chicken – without printing the information on menus.
Both halal and kosher slaughter involves a religious ritual in which the throat is cut. But some animals are not stunned beforehand, leaving them in pain.
The Conservative MP Philip Davies, who is leading calls for a new labeling law, said: ‘There is overwhelming public support for this change. People should be able to make an informed choice about what they are buying.’
Mr. Davies has the support of a large number of Tory MPs, while the Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, said that consumers should be given more information.
However, Mr. Cameron, last night ruled out the need for a new national labeling system, insisting that it was up to the food industry to act if consumers demanded more transparency.
‘I would hope it will be dealt with by restaurants and businesses,’ he told ITV West Country. ‘We should start from the approach that the greater the transparency the better and I think we can achieve this without necessarily having a full-on national labeling scheme.’
The British Retail Consortium (BRC), which speaks for most supermarkets, responded to the criticism by saying a change to labels is unnecessary.
Andrew Opie, the food director at the BRC, said: ‘We have not seen evidence that this is what people want to see. Labels are very tight in terms of space and what we can put on them. This has to be driven by evidence to show that people want to see it alongside the things that are already on it like durability, country of origin, and price.’
By contrast, Morrisons, Waitrose, and the Co-op broke ranks to say that it is time for the Government to take a lead to develop clear and consistent guidance for the food industry. The desire for improved labels is supported by groups from all religious faiths.
A joint statement by the Muslim Council of Britain and Shechita UK, which oversees kosher slaughter, said: ‘Comprehensive labeling should be supported by faith communities and animal welfare groups alike.’