The European Commission (EC) will launch a study next year to ask consumers whether they would like meat labels to contain information about stunning methods used before the animal was slaughtered, said Denis Simonin, animal welfare chief at the health and consumer directorate general.
“We will ask consumers how far they are interested by such information and what kind of information they would want to know,” said Simonin, speaking at a European Meat Forum event, organised in the European Parliament in Brussels on Wednesday by the International Butchers’ Confederation.
The results of the study are expected to be published next year.
“We didn’t have the courage to take a decision here, this is why we brought up the study,” a German Christian Democrat member of the European Parliament (EP) Horst Schnellhardt said at the event, noting that he believed a majority in the EP would be in favour of including information on animal stunning and slaughter on the label.
“The principle of labelling is to meet customers’ expectations and concerns, not to impose”, Simonin explained.
With a little more than one month left before the European Union (EU) regulation 1099/2009 on the protection of animals at the time of killing comes into force on January 1, 2013, representatives of national butchers’ associations present at the event in Brussels complained that many slaughterhouses use ritual slaughter to avoid the high costs involved by the regulation’s demand for pre-slaughter stunning. The butchers’ representatives therefore questioned the EC on the best way to enforce the rules in a way that prevents slaughterhouses to abuse ritual slaughter exemptions for economic gain.
Brussels cannot however rule on the best way to do that, as it is up to the EU countries to decide what slaughterhouses should be exempted from the new regulation based on religious reasons. “Religion is part of the fundamental rights recognised by the EU,” Simonin responded to butchers’ concerns, noting that religious freedoms are something each EU country deals with on its own, without any authority from Brussels.
“In Germany animal welfare and religious rights are on the same level,” Simonin explained the different approaches EU member states might take when it comes to derogation. Sweden, on the other hand, is one of the countries preventing any slaughter without stunning, according to Simonin.
“I was shocked when I visited a slaughterhouse in Spain where there was a production line that only used ritual slaughter for animals destined to the African market,” MEP Schnellhardt stated. He believes a labelling regulation on the stunning method would lead to more controls in slaughterhouses, which in turn might prevent abuses from happening.