Shechitah Advocates Encouraged by Study on Meat Labeling

Jewish groups were encouraged by the findings of a Pan-European study showing that consumers have little interest in knowing the methods used to slaughter animals. The study was commissioned by the EU as a preliminary step in weighing legislation requiring labeling meat that was not stunned prior to slaughter, a step vehemently opposed by shechitah and halal advocates.

“The study confirmed our major points,” Shimon Cohen of the Shechitah UK advocacy group 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.”

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 schechitah and halal, there was a significant movement to require meat that was slaughtered without stunning to be labelled as such.

Advocates of labelling 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 over other factors that could cause additional pain to animals. 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 15 member nations as a means of helping to determine “future Union strategy” on the matter.

They study overwhelmingly showed low consumer interest and significant risks to the schechitah and halal markets.

The most striking statistic in the poll, released last week, is that only 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.”

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 labelling 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 labelling in context. Additionally, it affirmed that labelling would increase the costs of religious slaughter and would stigmatize the process in the eyes of the public.

“The problem with labelling 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.

The original recommendation for labelling 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.”