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Kosher and Halal Meat

Volume 584: debated on Thursday 17 July 2014

We believe that, in the first instance, it is for food retailers and food outlets to provide their customers with reliable information. I know that my hon. Friend is a long-standing campaigner on this issue, but, as I have explained to him before, the introduction of a compulsory labelling scheme for halal and kosher meat would present challenges, because there is no single unified definition. Nevertheless, the European Commission is currently conducting a review, and we will consider its report when it is published later in the year. [Interruption.]

That is one way of ingratiating oneself with a new Secretary of State, Mr Speaker.

Is the Minister aware that the Jewish and Muslim communities would be happy with full labelling of halal and kosher meat if all other meat products were also fully labelled to show the method of slaughter? I am sure that many consumers would want to see such labelling. Will the Minister proceed with the introduction of comprehensive labelling showing the method of slaughter, including halal and kosher, given that it clearly commands widespread support?

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I shall do my best,

As I have said, the European Commission is considering the issue. It is most likely to consider whether the animal was stunned or unstunned, because there is a clear definition in EU law. I am aware that groups in both halal and shechita say that they are open to exploring that further, and I look forward to having a dialogue with them and considering the European Commission report when it appears in December.

I am very pleased to see that the Minister survived the Prime Minister’s cull. The point that he has made is absolutely correct: it is a question of whether the animal has been stunned or not stunned. It is an animal welfare issue. Is it not the case that the majority of halal meat is from animals that were stunned? Surely that is the line that the Government should be pursuing in Brussels: “stunned” and “not stunned” labelling.

I entirely agree. There is a clear legal definition of “stunned” in EU law, namely that stunning renders the animal insensible to pain immediately. In the case of halal, some 90% of poultry and lambs have been stunned, and we should recognise that fact.

Consumers are entitled to know exactly what is going on. Does the Minister agree that what we need in all our slaughterhouses is CCTV to give them that further assurance?

We considered the issue of CCTV in slaughterhouses during our consultation on slaughterhouse regulations last year, and concluded that it would not improve the situation much. Indeed, CCTV had already been installed in some of the slaughterhouses in which problems had been exposed by, for instance, Animal Aid, and it had not prevented abuses. However, we keep an open mind.

My constituents believe that halal and kosher food should be labelled as such, but if there are already clear EU legal definitions of “stunned” and “not stunned”, what is there to prevent the UK Government from pressing ahead with labelling food in that way?

Having looked into the matter exhaustively, we concluded that if we introduced “method of slaughter” labelling, it would be best to introduce it at European level, because that would be safer and clearer legally. Spain considered introducing a national labelling scheme in 2012, but the Commission ruled against it.