If we can’t ban halal meat, we should at least let people know when they’re buying it

The UK now carries out more halal slaughter than the rest of Europe. Most of us eat halal meat unwittingly on a daily basis, since it is sold in most major outlets, including big brand-name supermarkets, without being labelled as such

The EU’s 2009 Slaughter Regulation requires all animals, including poultry, to be stunned before slaughter. Stunning is defined as any intentionally induced process which causes loss of consciousness and sensibility without pain, including any process resulting in instant death.

President Sarkozy says that halal is the 'issue which most preoccupies the French' AFP
President Sarkozy says that halal is the ‘issue which most preoccupies the French’ AFP

The UK has invoked the “religious exemption” from the EU’s “slaughter directive” and in practice now carries out more halal slaughter than the rest of Europe.  Traditional halal meat is expected to be killed by hand and must be blessed by the slaughterman. The exception allows for animals to be slaughtered without being stunned first.

The halal market is worth £2.6bn in Britain alone, and the export market is also growing particularly in the Middle East.  Most of us eat halal meat unwittingly on a daily basis, since it is sold in most major outlets, including big brand-name supermarkets, without being labelled as such.

No one knows at present what form Brexit will take.  Will we still be part of the “single market” and therefore bound by common rules?  Will we, on the contrary, be free to develop our own set of rules and standards, even if these go beyond EU requirements?

Personally, I much regret that the UK invoked the “religious exemption” in the first place.  I don’t believe that religious convictions, however deeply held, justify unnecessary cruelty to animals – a position which, I am glad to say, has been vigorously maintained for some time by organisations such as the British Veterinary Association, the Humane Slaughter Association and the RSPCA.  I would be happy to see specific UK legislation, drafted to replace the EU slaughter directive, explicitly preclude the “religious exemption” from pre-stunning requirements.

I recognise, however, given the strength of feeling in some quarters (and given the explicit commitments in the Conservative 2015 Manifesto to “protect methods of religious slaughter”), that “dropping the religious exemption” may be difficult to achieve in the present context, however desirable in the long term.

But there is, happily, another way of rapidly achieving an important step forward as far as the halal issue is concerned and that is to introduce in the UK a mandatory labelling scheme whereby any and all halal meat offered for sale (including for exports) would be clearly labelled as such.

The EU Commission at present is investigating just such an option but it’s likely to be a long time coming. Nor do individual EU member states have much freedom in this area to take unilateral action. Mandatory labelling schemes devised by individual EU member states for application in their own territory are almost always struck down by the EU authorities as being contrary to the principles of the Common Market. And, of course, EU-wide labelling schemes may no longer affect us at all.

But as far as the halal issue is concerned, Brexit might allow us to devise and implement precisely such a national labelling scheme.  The key building block here is of course the operation of informed consumer choice. If the consumer actually knows what he or she is buying, we would – I believe – in very short order see in a major reduction of halal products without at the same time offending the sensibilities of religious groups.

More generally, well-judged “post-Brexit” action by the UK in the field of animal welfare and the environment may act as a spur and a stimulus to our continental, but no longer-EU, partners to up their own game.

Many years ago, the UK banned the rearing of veal calves in crates.  The EU eventually followed suit. UK rules on animal experimentation were eventually followed by EU directives. We may no longer be able to throw our weight around in the EU, but there is a wider world out there – UN specialised agencies, for example – dealing with international animal welfare and environmental matters where we should be proud to take a lead.

Stanley Johnson is a former Conservative MEP, author and journalist. He was the Founder-Chairman of the European Parliament’s Intergroup Group on Animal Welfare and holder of the RSPCA’s Richard Martin Award for Outstanding Services to Animal Welfare

 

 

 

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French Muslim association proposes tax on halal food to fund mosques and fight radicalisation

The levy would fund a foundation for French mosques to reduce foreign funding

An influential group representing French Muslims is proposing a tax on halal food to fund mosques and fight radicalisation in the wake of a seires of terror attacks.

Anouar Kbibech, president of the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), outlined plans for a new foundation that would help reduce foreign benefactors amid concerns over extremism.

The idea has been supported by politicians on both the right and left, although there are doubts where such a tax could be implemented.

“The idea has existed since the CFCM was founded,” Mr Kbibech told French broadcaster BFMTV.

“We have reached the first step with the signing with of a religious framework in the CFCM’s halal charter, which defines the criteria of halal in France.

“In autumn we will discuss the second part, which is the financial contribution of halal organisations to worship.”

The money raised would go towards paying imams’ salaries and funding the construction and operation of mosques, which cannot receive state support under French law.

The proposal came after Manuel Valls, the French Prime Minister,called for a ban on foreign funding for Muslim places of worship amid concerns over extremism following a string of terror attacks.

“There needs to be a thorough review to form a new relationship with French Islam,” he said.

“We live in a changed era and we must change our behaviour. This is a revolution in our security culture…the fight against radicalisation will be the task of a generation.”

Nathalie Goulet, a French senator for Orne who conducted a report on the issue, said the creation of a central and transparent foundation was a priority but cast doubt on a halal tax.

“Legally, it is not possible to reduce a tax on a religious item,” she told Le Monde.

“And technically, a ‘halal tax’ would be impossible to implement because there is no unity around the concept of halal.

“What would be possible is that representatives of the religion themselves introduce a private fee for service at the time of slaughter, to be set by the community, collected and sent to the foundation.”

There has been continued controversy over the sale of halal food in France, with a supermarket in Colombes ordered to sell pork and alcohol or face closure this week.

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Sell alcohol and pork or we will shut you down, French town tells halal supermarket

PA halal supermarket in a Paris suburb has been told by local authorities it must start selling alcohol and pork or else it will be shut down.

Halal france supermarket

Good Price discount mini-market in Colombes has been told by the local housing authority, from which it rents its premises, that it has not followed the conditions on the lease that stipulate that the shop must act as a “general food store.”

The authority argues that all members of the local community are not being served properly if there are no alcohol or pork products in the Good Price store, which is run as a franchise and which last year replaced another small supermarket.

“The mayor of Colombes, Nicole Goueta, went there herself and asked the owner to diversify the range of products by adding alcohol and non-halal meats,” the mayor’s chief of staff, Jérôme Besnard, told The Telegraph.

He said locals, particularly older residents, had complained that they could no longer get the full range of products at Good Price, which replaced a regular supermarket, and had to travel some distance now to do their shopping.

“We want a social mix. We don’t want any area that is only Muslim or any area where there are no Muslims,” Mr Besnard said, adding that the town’s reaction would have been the same had a kosher shop opened on that spot.

The Colombes housing authority argues that the store breaches French republican principles by prioritising a certain group within society rather than catering to all categories.

It has taken legal action to bring an end to the lease which would normally run until 2019. The case goes to court in October.

Soulemane Yalcin, who runs the shop under franchise, said he was merely catering to the demands of his customers in this area of large public housing estates.

“It’s business,” said Mr Yalcin.

“I look around me and I target what I see. The lease states ‘general food store and related activities’ – but it all depends on how you interpret ‘related activities’,” he told Le Parisien newspaper.

He has hired a lawyer to fight the housing authority’s bid to get him evicted.

The row in Colombes came as another town – this time in the south of France – decided to take action to stop another perceived breach of republican principles.

The mayor of Pennes-Mirabeau, near Marseille, is seeking to ban an event at a water park that is open only to burkini-clad women and children.

The event organised by a local community group said the need for modest swimwear was because there would be male lifeguards on duty at the Speedwater Park venue.

Burkinis are banned at municipal pools in France, as are women-only events, but private venues are in theory allowed to host them.

But the mayor of Pennes-Mirabeau said he was outraged by this “provocation” and that he would use a bylaw to ban it on the grounds that it is likely to cause public disorder.