Jewish groups were encouraged by the findings of a pan-European study they hope will support their struggle against legislation that is seen as a threat to ritual slaughter on that continent. The study, which shows that consumers have little interest in knowing the methods used in slaughter, was commissioned by the EU as a preliminary step in weighing legislation requiring labeling meat that was not stunned prior to slaughter. The proposal is vehemently opposed by shechitah and halal advocates.
“Following this report, it is clear that consumers see labeling as a peripheral issue and we will focus on improving best practice in the interest of animal welfare. We hope that animal welfare campaigners will take an equally even-handed approach,” said Shimon Cohen of Shechita UK. “There is still a long way to go, but this report reflects our position on a number of key issues.”
Since 2009, animals slaughtered in EU countries have been subjected to a law requiring that they be rendered unconscious prior to being killed. While the law does clearly allow exceptions for shechitah and halal, there was a significant movement to require meat that was slaughtered without stunning to be labeled as such.
Advocates of labeling argued that consumers desired greater transparency, and that a significant number would want to avoid such products on the grounds of “animal rights.”
Many opponents argued that the movement was actually a veiled anti-Muslim campaign, citing the lack of demand for disclosure of other factors that could cause additional pain to animals.
Yunus Dudhwala, chairman of the U.K.-based Halal Monitoring Committee, told The Guardian when the labeling debate first started that he would be happy for un-stunned meat to be labeled if other meat packaging indicated the method of stunning used, such as gassing or electrocution. He said, however, that this would never happen because it would be unpalatable to consumers.
The legislation was first proposed in 2010, in a climate of opposition to ritual slaughter in Europe. The Netherlands actively called for clear labeling and Denmark banned the practice altogether.
Following a concerted lobbying effort by Jewish and Muslim groups, as well as by other stakeholders in the meat industry, the EU parliament charged its executive branch, the European Commission, with conducting a study of a broad base of consumers across 27 member nations as a means of helping to determine “future Union strategy” on the matter.
In total, the survey represents the answers of 13,500 meat buyers, 500 from each country.
The study overwhelmingly showed low consumer interest and significant risks to the shechitah and halal markets.
The most striking statistic in the poll, only released to the public recently, is that a mere 2 percent of consumers said that production methods were a factor in their purchasing decisions, and “no respondents spontaneously mentioned animal welfare at slaughter as a purchase criterion.”
Consistent with the general lack of interest in the subject of animal welfare among consumers, the study showed a complete lack of willingness to label meat if it would involve any increase in costs.
“The study confirmed our major points,” Shimon Cohen told Hamodia. “Consumers don’t care. Most people take their children to the zoo to pet sheep and calves and then go to the café and order a burger — they don’t want to connect the two things.”
“Shechitah is a key part of our faith, and this study is a significant step in ensuring that the Jewish community is able to continue this practice without fear of discrimination,” said Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the Conference of European Rabbis and Chief Rabbi of Moscow. “I hope that this report puts the issue of labeling into context; however, we must realize that the onus is now on our communities to ensure that we maintain the best possible standards of animal welfare throughout the shechitah process, to ensure that we are above scrutiny on those grounds.”
The study also confirmed that the general populace lacks sufficient knowledge of the slaughtering process to take labeling in context. Additionally, it affirmed that labeling would increase the costs of religious slaughter and would stigmatize the process in the eyes of the public.
“The problem with labeling is that it gives the impression to consumers that they are buying a secondary product, like putting a warning on cigarettes,” said Rabbi Avrohom Pinter, principal of London’s Yesodei HaTorah.
An additional concern, confirmed by the study, is that required labeling would result in significant price increases for ritually slaughtered meat.
A key factor in maintaining affordable prices for kosher meat is the sale of unusable sections and neveilos (improperly slaughtered animals) to the general market. This serves to offset costs for kosher consumers. If such meat were labeled, it would likely decrease its desirability to the non-kosher market. These costs would inevitably be thrown back to kosher consumers.
The original recommendation for labeling will now, once again, come before the EU parliament, together with the findings of the Commission’s study.
“We are very pleased with the findings, but the EU can still choose to reject it or debate whatever points it disagrees with,” said Mr. Cohen. “We have to keep up our lobbying and education efforts full force.”