What began as a scare story in Rupert Murdoch’s Sun about halal meat being used at Subway fast-food outlets late last month, rapidly moved on to Pizza Express and almost inevitably spilled over into a wider debate about religious slaughter.
The reality is that the fact that halal meat has widely entered into the food chain is actually no surprise. Pizza Express has been disclosing its use of halal meat, in some dishes, on its website since 2012.
Halal meat has become an easy target for the popular press as a surrogate for boosting anti-Islamic sentiment that already is being stirred by a divisive agenda on immigration for the European elections.
Once halal meat and poultry was the centre of attention, Jewish religious slaughter — shechita — was bound to get an airing. A puzzled British public has been treated to a debate about the merits of pre-stunning before cutting the throat, post-stunning or no stunning at all. All questions which no ordinary citizen is qualified to answer.
What much of the coverage across the media has failed to reflect is that animal slaughter is always a messy business, whatever forms are used. Halal and shechita religious slaughter, carried out in conformity with the highest European standards, is as humane that any other methods.
One solution to the problem proposed by many papers, including my own, is better labelling so that consumers are absolutely clear about the methods used in the abattoirs and can make up their own minds.
But if there is to be clearer labelling, it is essential that it is non-discriminatory so that all forms of slaughter are identified not just that of halal and kosher.
The media message is driven by the idea that there is something alien about halal slaughter and somehow it is contrary to Britain’s love affair with animals.
It fits it with a broader menu of concerns about Islamisation that includes segregation in Birmingham schools and the spread of sharia law.