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Don’t chicken out of labelling food

9 May 2014

Do you know where the chicken in your lunchtime sandwich came from? Where it lived and how it died? For most people, the answer’s probably no, so it might have been a surprise to discover that many restaurants, supermarkets, and even schools have been selling halal meat without labelling it as such. Of course there are people who will argue for both sides of halal. I can understand why people are so against it, as Melanie McDonagh explains in her blog. After all, slitting an animal’s throat while it’s still conscious isn’t the nicest way of doing things. But I’m not sure that halal – or even kosher slaughter, which prohibits pre-stunning – is the one burning issue in meat production. In terms of this recent uproar, the initial problem was that chicken was being used in restaurant food, without people being informed that halal methods were used for the slaughter.

But these chickens haven’t exactly had a very nice life before they were killed, have they? A normal chicken would take at least 6 months to become fully grown, but with broiler chickens, their growth is often quintupled, so that they are ready for slaughter at 6 weeks of age. Those 6 weeks of life that they have experienced were pretty miserable as well; spent in a cage the size of an A4 piece of paper… I probably don’t need to go on, as we’ve all heard it before. I’d have thought the nicest thing to happen to that chicken in a long time is its actual death. At least the chickens that we eat only have to live like that for 6 weeks ­ ­– the ones laying eggs have to live there for a year or so. And even in 2014, when most people are aware of how battery chickens live, 70 per cent of British eggs are battery.

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If anything, this is a problem of food labeling. The issue of food – and particularly meat – labelling is one that crops up time and time again. Last year, it was the horsemeat scandal that brought to our attention the fact that cheap ‘beef’ mince often contained lots of juicy horsemeat. Last September, pork was put under the spotlight, after ‘Red Tractor’ logoed (ie, British) pork was found to have come from Holland.

How difficult can it be to sort out a system whereby meat is labelled correctly, so that the consumer knows exactly what they are buying or eating? The British Retail Consortium yesterday said that consumers weren’t bothered about the method of slaughter, stating that they ‘have not seen evidence that [a change to labelling] is what people want to see’. Perhaps this is true; but the outcry might seem to suggest otherwise. A YouGov/The Sun poll yesterday suggested that 55% of those questioned think the government should force retailers to specify whether meat has been ritually slaughtered. Whether they do or not is another question.

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  • Frank

    A minor point, the labelling of food is an EU Competence, so Britain cannot decide what its food labels say (whatever the m*r*n in 10 Downing Street says).

  • tigerlily

    Just give up animal products altogether – the only way to ensure your food is cruelty free.

  • Liz

    Halal stunning is not the same as conventional stunning, they use the stun to stun method so the animal remains conscious.

  • Mark Thompson

    I will stick to eating Pork. Full English breakfast. Non halal guaranteed.

  • oldestel

    “I’d have thought the nicest thing to happen to that chicken in a long time is its actual death.”
    To be a tad bitchy for a moment, only a journalist or a politician could come out with that. Just because an animal has had a miserable life is no excuse for giving it an unnecessarily miserable death.
    I have seen animals killed and on occasion have killed them. They can suffer just as much as you can.

  • Smithersjones2013

    Of course the great dishonesty of this article is that even if the chickens had human feelings and perception they have have no knowledge of anything other than their cage so how on earth would they know whether they have had a ‘nice life’ (give me a bucket) or not.

    Of course all this navel gazing about food labelling will have one certain effect. It will force the cost of production and no doubt the price of food up and what for? So little Camilla can salve her tender conscience that the chicken she is eating has had a ‘nice life’? Well screw that. If Camilla is so concerned about the plight of the chicken she should BECOME A VEGETARIAN!

  • jason green

    The vast majority of those against halal meat are the usual intolerant bigots. Most halal meat is pre-stunned just as non-halal meat, So what exactly are these people objecting to? Are they afraid that because some Islamic prayers are said over the meat, that by eating it, they may sub-consciously become Muslims against their will?

    If people are truly concerned about the provenance of their meat then they would do due diligence. If all they are after is value for money then it should be of no concern. And if you are truly concerned about animal welfare not just paying lip service, then you would not eat meat at all.

    It is telling that those who are shouting the loudest about this, and demanding labelling are the very same people who complain about there being too much red-tape and regulations hampering British business.

    • bf3

      “Are they afraid that because some Islamic prayers are said over the meat, that by eating it, they may sub-consciously become Muslims against their will?”

      No, I am afraid that an alien culture is being imposed upon us without any consent from us.

      • jason green

        Yes, but no, but. Make up your mind will you. What alien culture is being imposed on you? The only culture that I can see that is being imposed is a very much home-grown culture. That being the culture of the market, and market forces.

        Just be honest with yourself, and others and admit it, you have an ignorant bigoted hatred of Islam, and all things connected to it.

        • the viceroy’s gin

          No, let’s rather be honest with ourselves and admit that you’re an internet troll, shrieking out insults.

        • bf3

          If you don’t understand what alien culture is being imposed, then you are too thick to argue with. Go play with kids of your age.

          I have no hatred of Islam – as long as it minds it own business far away from me and keeps itself to itself.

        • Adam Carter

          In Islamic societies different status and civil rights are given to muslims and non-muslims; the non-muslims are legally inferior.
          Check this if you like, just find the word ‘dhimmi’ and go from there.
          In Islamic societies women have inferior status to men. Their testimony in court is worth half that of a man; their inheritance from a parent is less.
          In Islamic societies maiming and execution are sanctioned as criminal punishments.
          ‘Propnet’ mohammad had carnal knowledge of a 9 year-old girl.
          All of this is unarguable in Islamic theory.
          That’s without going into practices that are not mandated, but often tolerated. This would include FGM.
          Now just be honest with yourself, and with others who read this blog, and tell us why you DON’T hate Islam.

        • oldestel

          “Just be honest with yourself, and others and admit it, you have an ignorant bigoted hatred of Islam, and all things connected to it.”

          It is not bigotry or ignorance Jason, that makes me object to animals being subject to inhumane slaughter.
          I’m being honest: I wonder if you are.

        • cartimandua

          Its just what we see. It not what we “think” its what we see all over the world. And another reason for objecting to un stunned slaughter is that it brutalizes.
          Hunting is better for animal welfare but un stunned slaughter obviously isn’t.
          Where do you think they get the “beheading” idea from?

        • Fergus Pickering

          My hatred of Islam is by no means ignorant. As for bigoted, I have no idea what you mean.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      Well then, you’ve recruited and dispatched a whole platoon of strawmen with that post. Well done, lad.

    • Liz

      You might as well ask what Muslims are afraid of when Jewish, Christian or no prayers are said over theirs.

    • Mark Thompson

      We have every right not to be involved in islamic rituals.

    • cartimandua

      We are objecting to animal cruelty.

    • edlancey

      “The vast majority”

      Any assertion with that cliche is open to ridicule (in other words, you and your trendy chums think so, and everyone is a scumbag).

  • Tom M

    All quite beside the point. Whatever our rules are, for good or bad, on the raising and slaughter of animals is it has been done from our perspective to suit the particular peculiarities of our culture. All done in what we consider to be in the interests of humane rearing and slaughter. Shortcomings? No doubt but that is irrelevant here.
    It now seems that those carefully constructed rules are being subverted clandestinely to suit a religious minority. It would be bad enough (but at least in the open) if it were discussed in the normal way but it hasn’t has it? That is what is getting up people’s nose. Mine included.

  • you_kid

    Food in Britain – a curious topic once again.
    Whilst this country is great for getting Italian Balsamicos, Greek virgin oils, Norwegian bakery products, Vietnamese noodles in various thicknesses or Japanese condiments, meat and its production and origin is from my experience comparably below European standards. Continental butchers are far better than ours, across the board.

    Does the religious aspect of slaughter affect my purchase behaviour? Should it?

    • William Haworth

      The religious bit is irrelevant; the animal cruelty part is not.

      We can argue about the quality of the charcuterie another day.

      • you_kid

        It is not in our culture to poach European songbirds for food.

        That’s why we imposed our will and got the EU to ban it in these godforsaken places 😉

        • William Haworth

          Feel free to make sense, at any time. We’ll be waiting.

          • the viceroy’s gin

            …strongly recommend you not hold your breath, with this plonker.

          • you_kid

            You want to ban something? No, you don’t – because you have no case.
            You want to avoid halal meat? Why don’t you?

            • William Haworth

              Why should I change my behaviour to suit a tiny minority?

              • you_kid

                You have not responded to my points. Who said you need to change anything?

      • Liz

        The religious part is not irrelevant to people of other religions.

  • Bert

    How has it come to this?
    We should not need special labelling to tell us an animals slaughter has not been slaughtered according to fairy tales. Why are we appeasing (and being contaminated by) these wierdos?

    • glurk

      Why Are you surprised about this? It has food industry written all through it like rock. Surely you know by now that we are caught in a trap of our own making with food. Its a business. We want the cheapest so we drive the prices down so the industry responds by looking after its profits. Supermarket meat is sourced from wherever the chain can get it and not get caught out in half truths and occasional outright lies. You must know this. Also there is no way to produce food for the many zillions of us that need it that will not set this activity in train. Stick to burgers then at least you arent deluding yourself. As far as weirdo activities go regarding food, take your pick, its not limited to religions.

  • Keith D

    Thank you for this article where I pretty much agree with all you say. I can only speak from a personal perspective, and weak as I am, I love a good steak.
    I’ve often considered a Veggie diet but then I think you know what?..theres a food chain and thank goodness we’re at the top of it.
    It would certainly make me feel better about myself if the animal that died for my sustinence was well treated through life. Hence my organic purchases.

    The halal debate is a no brainer really. In common with Islamic norms this slaughter is cruel and barbaric. Not in my country please, and certainly not unattested to on my shrink wrap.

  • zanzamander

    People who’re against the ritual aspect of the way their food ended up on their plate should not hide behind the pc argument of animal welfare. Animal welfare argument nearly always ends up defeating a meat eater and makes him/her look silly because they’re desperately trying not to sound anti-Islamic (a “hater”!).

    Just come out and say that you refuse to eat food that has been subjected to Islamic (or indeed Jewish) ritual and make a stand of it.

    In the meantime do not touch New Zealand meat with a bargepole because nearly all their meat is subjected to Islamic ritual.

    • bf3

      As a result of the horsemeat and now the halal scandal, I have completely stopped buying meat and chicken from supermarkets. I only buy them from local butchers I trust. I do not eat meat in restaurants because I have frankly no idea what kind of animal it came from. So I stick to fish, seafood or just vegetarian dishes.

      They think they are very clever, but they have lost my custom – as well as of many more like me.

      • oldestel

        My response was the same. Decent meat can be got at proper butchers and farmers markets.
        Actually I don’t buy fish at supermarkets either! – it usually appears to be rather old.

      • Daviejohn

        You are absolutely right, I always try to by from our local butcher,it may be a tad more expensive but I know where and how the animal is slaughtered. Like you my diet consists now of primarily fish and seafood.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      What’s wrong with both? Or all of the above arguments?

      Animal cruelty, increased cost, AND disagreement with a forced compliance with potentially conflicting religious strictures.

    • oldestel

      I don’t agree.
      My motivation is quite simple: I do eat meat, but I require it to be as humanely slaughtered as possible. As I understand it, Halal is a method of slaughter that deliberately increases suffering for no practical reason and therefore I will not eat meat produced in that way. My view of islam doesn’t come into it.
      I don’t eat New Zealand lamb by the way.

  • Hello

    “A YouGov/The Sun poll yesterday suggested that 55% of those questioned think the government should force retailers to specify whether meat has been ritually slaughtered”

    That’s not the same as 55% of people actually caring. They might say the government should do that because they assume that other people care about it, and make an assumption that the government forcing labelling would make no difference to their own lives.

    Of course, if you’re right, and they do care about these things, then labelling is only going to drive up food prices, as shoppers are given the means to start rejecting “efficiently” produced food.

    • Alexsandr

      sorry. how is ritual slaughter cheaper than non ritual?

      • Hello

        Presumably it’s cheaper to just do it one way, then you don’t have to distinguish, or put in place the production methods that maintain that distinction right through to the sale.

        • Alexsandr

          ah i see.
          fucking food industry

        • the viceroy’s gin


          By who?

      • Liz

        It costs money to comply with regulations and for the electricity supply.

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