Saturday, 9 November 2013

"Ethical" food labels and ritual slaughter

In contemporary markets, different sorts of labelling have become common. While we reflect on the merits of more "traditional" labels, new sources of consumption concerns gain ground. In particular, amidst the debate on ritual slaughter* the question of labelling can have multiple facets. Not only consumers who adhere to faiths commanding a certain slaughtering technique might find "religious" labelling useful. As a matter of fact, some consumers might also want to avoid meat derived from ritual slaughter out of ethical concerns: animal rights groups tend to have a quite negative outlook on the point. Should then the concerned products be required to bear labels which are also informative for "outsiders" to the concerned communities, hinting at the way the product has been obtained?

This is what some MEPs seem to believe. In particular, this form of labelling is presented as a midway between total non-interventionism and the prohibition of ritual slaughter. The issue remains controversial because going beyond mentioning the "halal" or "kosher" brands into "descriptive" labels (such as "meat from slaughter without stunning") is likely to immediately associate a negative image to the product and the groups to which it is primarily addressed. At the same time, it might a contrario create a sort of presumption that the means adopted for non-ritual slaughter are not only less controversial but also intrinsically "better". Such labels were also discussed, and finally discarded, during the process that led to the adoption of the recent Regulation on food information. But the discussion does not seem to have ended yet.

* The European Convention for the Protection of Animals for Slaughter requires in principle that animals should be stunned before being killed, but allows member states to enact or keep in place exceptions based on the respect of religious beliefs. The situation in the MS is varied, with some allowing ritual slaughters, some having prohibited it in more or less recent times and some trying to avoid taking an open position.

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