Religion and the horsemeat scandal

The “horsemeat scandal” first became apparent in Ireland and the UK when “traces of horse DNA” were discovered in beef products and as the food supply-chain came under deeper scrutiny, similar issues were apparent in a number of European countries and it became apparent that there was up to 100% horsemeat substitution in some cases.  As Archbishop Justin Welby noted when Dean of Liverpool, “God doesn’t like you eating any of these things [listed in Leviticus 11]”, including the rock hydrax (badger), and for some faiths the presence of potential contamination is a serious problem.

However, the Jewish Chronicle reports  that the horsemeat scandal has led to an upsurge in kosher beef sales and has provided an unprecedented boost for kosher meat suppliers.  Butchers are reporting “booming” business as shoppers who previously bought non-kosher meat have returned to kosher stores following concerns about the threat of contamination of supermarket products.

The head of the Manchester Beth Din has said that the Food Standards Agency and meat companies could “learn a lot” from kosher producers, and there are clearly many checks to ensure transparency in the supply chain of meat and meat products such as salami, viennas and ready-meals. Kosher meat is of UK origin, animals are first checked by a vet prior to slaughter, and every piece of meat is sealed and an inspector later checks they are still intact.

Although the chairman of the Licensed Kosher Meat Traders’ Association is quoted as saying the scandal could be “the best thing” to happen to the kosher meat industry for years, there are some who regard this as a blinkered view of the situation and point to experience in the USA that indicates the kosher food industry has not been without its scandals.

Comment

Those of us who have eaten polpette di cavallo in Sicily or unmentionable parts of a horse in Beijing will be bemused at the squeamishness of the UK population to idea of eating equine meat products.  In his article in the Catholic Herald, The British are rather picky about their scandals, Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith identifies the problem as a labelling issue, both within the food industry and at the point of sale, and clearly the religious demands for the production of kosher products are conducive to high levels of transparency and quality control.

However, as the House of Commons Library Standard Note SN/SC/1314, ‘Religious Slaughter’ states

“Much of the meat on an animal killed by Shechita may not qualify as Kosher meat. There is no requirement that it should be labelled as meat from an animal killed without pre-stunning.

The Coalition Government has no intention of making Halal or Shechita slaughter illegal, but it is considering welfare labelling of meat. “

Thus the increased demand for kosher meat products will inevitably lead to an increased amount of non-kosher meat that has been religiously slaughtered, and is likely to rekindle the arguments concerning its identification on product labelling, discussed in an earlier postPerhaps some of the enthusiasm on this increased demand needs to be reined in.

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