Meat Labeling Debate Shows Underbelly of British Society

A story in The Sun about customers consuming chalal meat unawares in a chain of pizza restaurants has become the trigger for a wide-ranging discussion not only about the issue of religious slaughter and the potential labeling of meat, but also the impact of immigration on British society and the way in which the media operate.

Last week, one of the main stories in tabloid newspapers was the fact that the chicken served in Pizza Express is chalal.  This, combined with the news that Subway, a chain of sandwich bars, has removed pork products from some of its branches, caused the predictable outcry about religious slaughter and the “creeping Islamicisation” of Britain. It also became known that several supermarket chains are selling unlabeled chalal meat as part of their general range.

However, following the initial story, a letter appeared in The Telegraph, signed jointly by Henry Grunwald QC, chairman of Shechita UK, and Dr. Shufa Shafi, Deputy Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, suggesting that food labels should not just appear on religiously slaughtered meat, but on all meat. They said that the consumer should be told if the animal was mechanically stunned “and whether it has endured repeat stuns if the first attempt was ineffective.”

“They should also be told the method of slaughter: captive bolt shooting, gassing, electrocution, drowning, trapping, clubbing or any of the other approved methods.

“Comprehensive labeling should be supported by faith communities and animal welfare groups alike.”

Mr. Grunwald and Dr. Shafi pointed out that labeling all meat products would offer consumers “genuine choice” regardless of their motivation, whether it is “animal welfare, religious observance, or even intolerance of anyone who looks or worships differently to them.”

This suggestion ties in with Shechita UK’s policy that the debate around religious slaughter should not be whether to allow it or not, but rather about whether all meat, not only that produced by religious slaughter, should be labeled with its means of production.

The idea that some people are motivated to avoid chalal or kosher meat due to intolerance or prejudice is rarely brought out into the open. On this occasion, however, the newspapers picked up on this aspect of the story and turned their attention away from the pros and cons of allowing religious slaughter and labeling meat killed in this way, to the broader issue of why people are so concerned about inadvertently eating chalal meat.

It should be noted at this point that very little, if any, meat produced by shechitah finds its way into the general market, so that it is highly unlikely that a non-Jewish consumer will inadvertently eat kosher meat.

Despite, or perhaps because of, Britain’s multi-cultural society, recently concern has been expressed at the erosion of the Christian nature of British society, with discussion as to whether Britain can still be called a Christian country.

Perhaps inevitably, Muslims, as a visible and vocal religious minority, are often the victims of prejudice in this area. The issue of meat-labeling and religious slaughter is just one aspect of the efforts of certain elements in politics and the media to create a feeling of mistrust towards the Muslim community.

It is therefore very refreshing when newspapers and even celebrities pick up on this story and point out that the continued emphasis on labeling meat killed in one way rather than another way is actually just another way of saying, “We don’t really like these people because they look and behave differently from us.”

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