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Don’t chicken out of labelling food

9 May 2014

4:05 PM

9 May 2014

4:05 PM

Do you know where the chicken in your lunchtime sandwich came from? Where it lived and how it died? For most people, the answer’s probably no, so it might have been a surprise to discover that many restaurants, supermarkets, and even schools have been selling halal meat without labelling it as such. Of course there are people who will argue for both sides of halal. I can understand why people are so against it, as Melanie McDonagh explains in her blog. After all, slitting an animal’s throat while it’s still conscious isn’t the nicest way of doing things. But I’m not sure that halal – or even kosher slaughter, which prohibits pre-stunning – is the one burning issue in meat production. In terms of this recent uproar, the initial problem was that chicken was being used in restaurant food, without people being informed that halal methods were used for the slaughter.

But these chickens haven’t exactly had a very nice life before they were killed, have they? A normal chicken would take at least 6 months to become fully grown, but with broiler chickens, their growth is often quintupled, so that they are ready for slaughter at 6 weeks of age. Those 6 weeks of life that they have experienced were pretty miserable as well; spent in a cage the size of an A4 piece of paper… I probably don’t need to go on, as we’ve all heard it before. I’d have thought the nicest thing to happen to that chicken in a long time is its actual death. At least the chickens that we eat only have to live like that for 6 weeks ­ ­– the ones laying eggs have to live there for a year or so. And even in 2014, when most people are aware of how battery chickens live, 70 per cent of British eggs are battery.

If anything, this is a problem of food labeling. The issue of food – and particularly meat – labelling is one that crops up time and time again. Last year, it was the horsemeat scandal that brought to our attention the fact that cheap ‘beef’ mince often contained lots of juicy horsemeat. Last September, pork was put under the spotlight, after ‘Red Tractor’ logoed (ie, British) pork was found to have come from Holland.

How difficult can it be to sort out a system whereby meat is labelled correctly, so that the consumer knows exactly what they are buying or eating? The British Retail Consortium yesterday said that consumers weren’t bothered about the method of slaughter, stating that they ‘have not seen evidence that [a change to labelling] is what people want to see’. Perhaps this is true; but the outcry might seem to suggest otherwise. A YouGov/The Sun poll yesterday suggested that 55% of those questioned think the government should force retailers to specify whether meat has been ritually slaughtered. Whether they do or not is another question.

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