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Shechita study finally published

    There is little interest among European shoppers for increased labelling of kosher meat, a long-awaited report on religious slaughter has revealed.

    The European Commission study into consumer opinions on shechita and halal meat production was published this week.

    The findings could allay fears in Jewish and Muslim communities about possible changes to the labelling of meat across the continent.

    Shechita campaigners welcomed the study's warning that religious communities could be stigmatised by pejorative labelling.

    But they added that MEPs could dismiss the findings and consider implementing new laws.

    Shimon Cohen, Shechita UK campaign director, said: "It's not the end of the issue by any means at all. The European Parliament could reject the report. The battle now will be at MEP level. If they legislate it would be very difficult for the British government to oppose it."

    He said the report made it clear "that consumers see labelling as a peripheral issue".

    The report was commissioned in the wake of growing pressure to label meat - which has implications for shechita because a lot of the meat produced through it is sold to the general, rather than kosher, market.

    To label only unstunned meat would, the report warned, "carry a high risk of stigmatising religious communities, especially in the present political climate and given that consumers have little understanding of the slaughter process".

    Shechita campaigners argue that it would be unfair simply to state whether meat was stunned before slaughter or not. They want additional labels to include specific details of how animals were killed, such as whether they were gassed or electrocuted.

    The report found that consumers would prefer "non-pejorative" labelling , which stated "stunned" or "not stunned", rather than "kosher" or "halal" .

    Conducted in the summer of 2013, it asked 13,500 people - 500 in each of the 27 European Union member states - whether they wanted information on the stunning of animals.

    Only two per cent of respondents cited slaughter methods as a primary concern when buying meat. One per cent said animal welfare was their key concern.

    Labelling was only "an important issue for a small number of relatively vocal consumers". There was a higher rate of interest in religious slaughter and labelling in Ireland, Belgium and France, and less in Poland, Slovakia and Spain.

    The cost of labelling could also fall disproportionately on Muslims and Jews and result in higher meat prices for their communities.

    A Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spokeswoman said: "We welcome the findings of this report, which is a serious contribution to this debate. We will study the findings and look forward to any proposals that come from the EU Commission."

    The release of the report had been repeatedly delayed, leading the last British government to hold off on altering its labelling stance.

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