European rabbis are up in arms over a bid to impose meat labels indicating how an animal was slaughtered, warning it could kill the kosher food business by portraying their ritual as "barbaric."
A European Parliament committee endorsed this week a draft bill that would require meat labels to say whether or not an animal was stunned before being slaughtered.
"Meat from slaughter without stunning (in accordance with certain religious traditions), should be labelled as such," the parliament says.
The Rabbinical Centre of Europe lamented that the legislation appears to "discriminate against the Jewish community as no other method of slaughter will be mentioned."
Rabbi Arye Goldberg, the organisation's deputy director, argued that the Jewish method of slaughtering an animal, shechita, "has been proven to be one of the most humane ways of animal slaughter."
"It is insulting to the Jewish community, which holds ancient precepts about caring for animals, to have our traditions portrayed as barbaric as some have done," Goldberg said.
The Jewish shechita ritual requires the animal to be healthy and uninjured before its throat is slit in order for the meat to be considered kosher to eat.
The process is similar for Muslim halal meat, and some Christian communities in parts of central Europe also slaughter their animals in a similar fashion.
In large-scale slaughterhouses, cattle are usually rendered unconscious, often with a steel bolt shot in the head or by electric shock, before they are cut up and meat is sold.
The Rabbinical Centre of Europe worries that non-Jews could be turned off by meat with the proposed labelling, causing a financial drain for the kosher industry.
When a shechita slaughter goes wrong, making the meat not kosher, a slaughterhouse will still sell the steak or chicken filet to a non-Jewish market without a kosher label.
Without that non-Jewish business, the Rabbinical Centre of Europe fears that slaughterhouses would hike their prices, which would in turn force the kosher industry to increase its own prices for Jewish customers.
"Funds from kosher food are an important contribution to Jewish institutions in Europe, the lack of these funds will mean the closure of many institutions which in turn will severely restrict Jewish life on the continent," said Rabbi Goldberg.
The bill must now be negotiated with EU states and debated within the full EU Parliament.