Recycling the halal and kosher debate is a proxy for bigotry

Halal or kosher, stunned or non-stunned, it seems the debate around labelling religiously-slaughtered meat continues to ebb and flow. But two recent articles are a cautionary example of presenting speculative solutions.

Shoppers could be told how their meat has been slaughtered after halal row over unsuspecting diners eating animals which weren’t stunned [Daily Mail]

Halal and kosher food labelling: shoppers will be told how their meat has been killed [Telegraph]

Quotes from George Eustice, the Parliamentary under-secretary of state for farming, food and the marine environment are the main source of both stories after he hinted that meats might soon be labelled ‘stunned’ and ‘non-stunned’.

But the quotes are from a parliamentary debate on November 4. The only noteworthy takeaway from both stories is the upcoming European Commission report that details if meat sold within the European Union requires labelling to explain its method of slaughter.

Huw Irranca-Davies, the shadow environment minister argued: “Should meat be labelled halal or kosher? That was roundly and rightly rejected by parliamentarians of all parties when a private Member’s Bill to that end was presented to Parliament last May. Should all different types of slaughter be labelled for the consumer? In that case, make room on the label for “slaughter by electrical current”, or by carbon dioxide, inert gas, captive bolt pistol, gunshot or free bullet and so on.”

Both Davies and Eustice conceded that a lack of consumer demand for these labels would make for an impractical solution even when it offers greater transparency.

Unlike the Mail, the Telegraph article does acknowledge the complexities of the halal/kosher debate within Jewish and Muslim communities. But the full quote from Mr Eustice states: “I know that previously people have said that perhaps we should label meat as being “halal” or “kosher”, so that people know what they are buying. However, there are also difficulties with that, in that there is no single definition of “halal”, as many hon. Members have said, and a further complication is that not all meat slaughtered by kosher methods is deemed “kosher”; for instance, the hind quarters of an animal are not deemed “kosher”, even though the animal is slaughtered by kosher methods. As I say, there are complications in the area of labelling, but we await the report from the European Commission and look forward to following it up.”

Indeed, until the European Commission report is published, the entire debate will progress no further and fall into more speculative articles and debates. It is worth repeating that the larger halal market in the UK is overwhelmingly driven by pre-stunned meats.

Kosher meat is sold in smaller numbers but Jewish MPs (or MPs with large Jewish constituents) defended the method, as Louise Ellman, MP pointed out: “The Jewish laws of kashrut are part of a wider concern for animal welfare. Shechita is carried out by trained, licensed experts. Animals are killed by a single cut to the throat in a prescribed way from a special surgically sharp knife that is regularly inspected. Blood flow to the brain is immediately cut off with consequential inability to feel pain and subsequent rapid death.”

I wrote about the issue last month, a day after the parliamentary debate. All of the above quotes are from the same debate. Neither article adds anything to the debate. Both recycle content already in the public domain.

The Daily Mail piece, short on actual developments dedicates over 800 words to the issue and frames the debate almost entirely around halal scare stories. Kosher meat is mentioned just six times. Once again, a narrow focus potentially turns the debate further into a proxy for bigots who want to view both faith groups as a simultaneous cultural threat and oddity.

Both the Telegraph and Mail articles generated thousands of online shares but neither progress the debate.

The APPG on Beef and Lamb report and parliamentary debate makes for fascinating reading that avoids cheap sensationalism. Read both for a slightly more nuanced understanding of the issue.

Britain should not lose its historic tradition of defending minority religious rights.

Update: A snapshot of bigoted Daily Mail comments