Labelling of meat products with information about religious slaughter techniques is a matter between retailers and restaurants and their customers, Downing Street has said.
David Cameron’s official spokesman signalled that the Prime Minister does not believe the Government needs to intervene in the current row over labelling of halal and kosher products.
Representatives of Jewish and Muslim groups have are calling for consumers to be given detailed information about slaughter methods when buying meat, following a string of Press stories revealing that halal meat is routinely sold in the UK without buyers being told.
A majority of New Zealand lamb sold in UK supermarkets comes from halal abattoirs, while restaurant chains including Pizza Express use meat from chickens slaughtered in accordance with halal procedures.
A significant proportion of meat produced by exporting countries such as New Zealand is slaughtered to halal standards, in order to ensure it can be sold to both Muslim and non-Muslim nations.
Asked whether Mr Cameron thought the Government should act to ensure halal and kosher meat is clearly labelled, the PM’s spokesman said: “The Prime Minister’s view is that it is an issue of consumer choice and consumer information.
“So it is a matter for retailers and restaurants to work with customers and consumer groups and representatives of faith organisations.
“He is a strong supporter of religious freedoms, including religious slaughter practices.”
Asked whether Mr Cameron thought consumers should ask about the slaughter methods used for the meat they buy, the spokesman replied: “Many consumers will rightly be very demanding of their retailers, the places they shop and the places they go out to eat. I am not telling shoppers or people who go to restaurants what they should do.”
The call came after former Health Secretary Andrew Lansley told the House of Commons that he felt shoppers must be given information to help them when making purchases.
Mr Lansley said the Consumer Rights Bill, which returns before the Commons next week, could allow MPs to draw attention to issues of retailers not informing people about religious customs associated with slaughtering animals.
Conservative Philip Davies (Shipley) reminded the Commons that his attempt to introduce a Bill for compulsory labelling of halal and kosher meat at the point of sale was defeated by three votes two years ago.
He told Commons Leader Mr Lansley: “(It was) voted down largely by the political brigade on the Labour benches.
“As usual I was ahead of my time because you will appreciate there is widespread concern about the use of halal and kosher meat that is not labelled amongst retailers.”
Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, said: “British retailers know that animal welfare standards are a key issue for their consumers. All own-brand meat from major UK supermarkets comes from animals that have been stunned before they are killed and all our members have confirmed all their own-brand fresh meat is from animals that have been pre-stunned before slaughter.”
Halal row in focus: Page 11