MEPs shy away from honest labelling of meat & obscure the issues.
When it comes to food regulation the EU has a bad reputation. These may not be entirely accurate recollections but I'm sure I've seen mutterings about the bend of bananas, the tinge of tomatoes or the provenance of pasties.
It can seem so silly and petty. Most often it seems fundamentally wrong-headed. And so it has come to pass yet again, this time some Members of the European Parliament have decided to focus on slaughter by the halal and shechitah methods.
The regulation on food information for the consumer is supposed to be about allowing consumers to make healthier choices when they buy food. Struan Stevenson, a Scottish Tory MEP and some colleagues have decided to stretch the meaning of healthy as far as possible and are trying to re-direct the regulation to incorporate some spurious animal welfare ideas. In particular, he has singled out the slaughtering methods of the Jewish and Muslim religions for special labelling treatment. You can read his amendment here (Word doc, pg 138, amendment 354) but for those who don't want to scroll I'll quote:
"This product comes from an animal slaughtered by the Halal method"
"This product comes from an animal slaughtered by the Shechita method"
In other words they want a sticker across your pack of mince saying
"Don't buy this meat. It was SLAUGHTERED by RELIGIOUS nutjobs"
To be clear, Mr Stevenson is not asking for other meat to be labelled according to its slaughtering method. So for example if you happened to buy meat that was killed at this abattoir Mr Stevenson does not think it necessary that your food is labelled
"Don't buy this meat. We have it on camera that they are psychopaths that kill the animals and we all know that psychos torture animals before they turn their attention to humans. Steer well clear!!!!"
He's just focusing on those darned Jews and Muslims.
"Meat from slaughter without stunning"
But my favourite is from the brilliantly named Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy who wants to target
"Meat and meat products derived from animals that have not been stunned prior to slaughter, i.e. have been ritually slaughtered"
Hmm, that reminds me of that scene in Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom where the guy's heart gets ripped out whilst he's alive.
Before we get too carried away with all this blood lust, let's just remind ourselves that this legislation is supposed to be about ensuring that consumers make healthier choices.
Mr Stevenson has made no attempt to argue that his amendments benefit the health of the consumer, for the obvious reason that he never could. Whatever one's moral issue with shechita or halal, you'd be hard pushed to argue that meat killed by this method is less healthy than meat killed by secular methods.
So why do Mr Stevenson and his colleagues think it's so important that consumers know and what could the consequences of such knowledge possibly be. With Indiana Jones in mind, it's hard not to think that possibly, just possibly, people might be put off a teency bit by the big bad label.
The average consumer will be innocently trying to buy a leg of lamb when they see a label telling them the following facts:
Fact: Their meat was slaughtered.
"No way, my meat was slaughtered?! I don't want meat that has undergone anything like slaughter. No siree. Never in my life have I eaten meat that was slaughtered. I'm not starting now."
Fact: It was slaughtered for religious reasons.
"Those bastards, look what they've done. What was it Marx said about all religious nuts smoking opium. He was right, otherwise no-one would slaughter meat."
Which leaves our consumer wandering off in a haze looking for some meat that clearly hasn't been slaughtered and clearly hasn't been slaughtered to sate some fanatics' blood lust.
Oh pish you say, Silverbrow you're exaggerating. Am I? If I am, then why aren't Mr Stevenson et al calling for labelling of all meat. Why not propose
"Meat from slaughter but the stunning didn't quite work so to all intents and purposes this animal wasn't actually stunned"
"Chicken that was too short to get fully electrocuted in the water bath. But don't worry, we had already sliced off its beak to stop it fighting with its bathing companions"
"Meat from a pig that wasn't fully knocked out when we gassed it"
"Meat from an animal that required multiple bolts to the head because the gun was a bit defective or perhaps the bloke using it was just a bit shakier today than he was yesterday."
If the MEPs really cared about informing consumers then they'd go the whole way with labelling. They wouldn't stop at halal or shechitah. They shouldn't stop there because as they know full well, there is nothing wrong with them. They cause no more pain to the animal being slaughtered and in many cases, especially when compared to the vast majority of slaughtering in the UK, much greater care is taken of these animals.
So MEPs, why can't you rise to the challenge? The kosher and halal communities already label their food. They're past masters at it. Why don't you either accept that your amendments have nothing to do with this legislation. Or, if you insist on the worst kind of policy creep, then go the whole hog and allow the consumer to be truly informed. Admittedly it won't impact their ability to make healthy choices but it might open their eyes to the cruelty of so much secular slaughter. The consumer can think twice about buying the bacon from the gassed pig or steak from the floundering, wounded cow.