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Halal and kosher meat should not be slipped in to food chain, says minister

Halal and kosher meat should be labelled when it is put on sale so the public can decide whether they want to buy food from animals that have bled to death, the Food and Farming minister says.

Lord Rooker said all meat from animals killed by slitting their throats should be marked, allowing customers to decide whether the suffering troubled their consciences. "I object to the method of slaughter," he said.

"My choice as a customer is that I would want to buy meat that has been looked after and slaughtered in the most humane way possible."

His office later said that Britain would play a "full part" on religious slaughter practices in negotiations to introduce a European-wide labelling system by 2010.

Lord Rooker's comments were welcomed by the RSPCA, which is concerned about the experience of animals killed for Jews and Muslims.

The veteran minister, who speaks for the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the Lords, raised the issue of religious slaughter in a discussion of animal welfare in other countries. "The country, source of origin and method of slaughter for meat ought to be on the label because that way I could stop the bloody halal meat that is excess to the industry's requirements being slipped into the food chain without people being told."

More than 100 million animals a year are killed for kosher and halal meat in Britain. They bleed to death in what government advisers say is "very significant pain". Certain cuts such as the hindquarters of cattle, however, are deemed inedible by religious teachings and are sold back into the general food chain.

Lord Rooker accepted the legality of religious slaughter but said customers should be warned when they might be eating meat killed in such a way. "I've been in slaughterhouses," he said. "Religious slaughter techniques are something I don't subscribe to."

Julia Wrathall, the head of the RSPCA's farm animal group, said she hoped the Government would follow through on the criticism. "We are delighted that Lord Rooker has raised this. We very much hope that the Government will now progress what it has claimed to do before, which is to work with religious groups and look at the area of labelling."

Religious slaughter is exempt from the provisions of the Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulations 1995, which insist that creatures such as cows, goats and chicken be stunned first. Under the Jewish shechita system, kosher cows, lambs and poultry have their throats slit and then bleed to death. Halal animals also bleed to death, but some of them are stunned after the incision is made, depending on the interpretation of the Koran.

The Government no longer keeps statistics on animals slaughtered under religious methods in the UK but figures in a Meat Hygiene Service report in 2004 suggest 114 million halal animals and 2.1 million kosher animals are killed each year.

Kosher and halal explained

"Kosher" food meets standards laid down by Jewish law. "Halal" food refers to that which complies with Islamic law.

*In both halal and kosher slaughter, an animal is killed with one cut from a razor-sharp knife, severing the windpipe, jugular vein and carotid artery. For meat to be halal, a carcass must bleed dry. Jews remove blood by salting and soaking the meat for three days.