Religious groups have called for better food labelling after supermarkets were accused of selling halal meat to consumers without telling them.

Why are we talking about it now?

Supermarkets including Tesco, Waitrose, Morrisons and Co-Op, and some restaurants, have been accused of selling halal meat to consumers without telling them, prompting religious groups across the board to call for better labeling of meat products and how they are slaughtered.  Seventy per cent of New Zealand lamb sold in UK supermarkets as own-label is halal, however, in some cases the labels do not mention the slaughter method. The meat is slaughtered using the halal method so it can be exported to Muslim and non-Muslim countries.

What is the slaughter method for Halal and Kosher meat?

Both methods involve cutting the animal’s throat, severing the windpipe and blood vessels to the brain. The issue is whether the animal is pre-stunned so it is unconscious.

The halal Dhabihah method does allow pre-stunning as long as it does not kill the animal outright.

The kosher method, Shechita, does not allow pre-stunning, but Jewish organisation Shechita UK argues the throat cut renders the animal immediately unconscious.

What are the arguments for and against clearer labelling?

In a letter to the Daily Telegraph, Shechita UK chairman Henry Grunwald QC and Muslim Council of Britain deputy secretary general Dr Shuja Shafi argued clearer labelling “would offer all consumers genuine choice, whether they are motivated by animal welfare, religious observance, or even intolerance of anyone who looks or worships differently to them”. The British Retail Consortium disagrees. Director of food and sustainability Andrew Opie said: “There appears to be some confusion over meat that may be produced for a potential halal market but is sold as own brand, but all those animals are stunned prior to slaughter.

“The overwhelming majority of meat sold in UK supermarkets is own brand and from animals that have been stunned prior to slaughter so we do not see the requirement to separately label meat based on the method of slaughter.” The Government said the matter is between retailers and their customers.

 What other labelling issues have there been in the past?

Last year’s horse meat scandal, when beef products sold by Iceland, Aldi, Lidl and Tesco were found to have traces of equine DNA,  led to calls for a complete overhaul of European food testing programmes. Last month, Tesco increased the number of products which carry a warning for peanut allergy to include baked beans, butternut squash and potatoes. It said it was complying with EU regulations on cross contamination, which come into effect in December. Earlier this year consumers in China complained to Walmart when traces of fox were found in a donkey meat product.