Food manufacturers would be forced to declare whether products contain halal or kosher meat under a change to the law being proposed by MPs.
A group of Conservatives has tabled an amendment calling for “compulsory labelling” to prevent people “unwittingly” eating the meat of animals slaughtered in accordance with Islamic or Jewish religious law.
The intervention by MPs follows disclosures that millions of diners have unknowingly eaten halal chicken in Pizza Express and other restaurant chains.
The Telegraph has found that Ask, Harvester and Costa restaurants are also serving halal meat that is not marked as such on menus.
Schools and hospitals serve it in at least some meals, and the Queen has served halal-only banquets at Buckingham Palace when entertaining Muslim guests of honour.
Under both Muslim and Jewish practices, a surgically sharp instrument is used to cut an animal’s throat, its windpipe and the blood vessels in its neck, which is supposed to kill it instantly. Critics say death is not immediate.
In some cases animals are not stunned first, which has led to claims that the practice causes unnecessary suffering.
But in a letter to The Telegraph on Thursday, Jewish and Muslim leaders said that animals killed under religious rules were treated no worse than others slaughtered for food.
There were signs of a Coalition split over the issue this week after David Cameron refused to call for clearer labelling. His official spokesman said: “The Prime Minister understands why some consumers may have concerns about the information that is provided to them. In terms of this type of information, his view is that it is one for retailers [and] restaurants … in discussion, of course, with their customers and representatives of faith groups.”
Asked whether Mr Cameron was comfortable not knowing how his meat was slaughtered, the spokesman said: “I don’t believe the Prime Minister has concerns about the meat that he buys.”
Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democrat leader, backed explicit labelling of all halal meat products. He said that while he had “no problem” eating halal meat, it would be “relatively straightforward” for businesses to inform their customers. Two Conservative ministers also contradicted Mr Cameron. Andrew Lansley, the Leader of the Commons, said that “giving consumers not only rights but information on which they can base their purchasing decisions” was “something I’m sure we all believe in”.
Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, said: “If meat is slaughtered in a particular way that should be made clear.”
Philip Davies, the MP for Shipley, who has tabled the amendment to the Consumer Rights Bill, to be debated next week, said: “What we’ve seen in far too many cases is people unwittingly buying a product that they don’t want to buy. That’s not acceptable. It’s all about consumer choice.” His amendment is backed by Julian Sturdy, the MP for York Outer, and Philip Hollobone, the MP for Kettering. Many schools only serve halal meat. In the London borough of Waltham Forest 37 schools serve only halal meat.
A council spokesman said: “This is not an issue of cost, and more often than not comes down to simple logistics as many school kitchens simply aren’t big enough to allow staff to store and prepare two types of meat.”
Halal meat is served in dozens of Church of England schools, though children have non-halal alternatives and the menus state that meat is halal.
Anglican schools in Bolton, Rochdale, Woking in Surrey, Burnley, Bradford, Sheffield and Stoke-on-Trent were among those found to offer halal meals in a snap survey.
According to the Food Standards Agency, 51 per cent of sheep and goat meat is slaughtered according to Islamic or Jewish practices, 30 per cent of poultry and 7 per cent of beef. Between 80 and 90 per cent of the animals are stunned first.
The RSPCA and British Veterinary Association have called for mandatory stunning and Philip Lymbery, the head of Compassion in World Farming, said: “When animals are killed without stunning, the science shows that they suffer extreme pain, distress and anxiety.
“I have absolute respect for religious beliefs. As up to 90 per cent of animals killed for halal purposes in Britain are already being slaughtered with pre-stunning, we should make it illegal across the board for animals to be slaughtered without pre-slaughter stunning.
“We are calling for all meat to be labelled according to slaughter method.”
Buckingham Palace confirmed that the Queen and all guests are served halal meat at banquets for Muslim heads of state.
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