The religious groups said that discussion about labelling meat to reflect methods of slaughter had narrowed on issues of faith at a sensitive time before European elections, with far-right groups hoping to gain.
Recent stories in national newspapers have made much of the routine use of halal meat in restaurants, fast-food chains and supermarkets without customers being informed.
Senior vets and animal welfare activists have repeatedly objected on welfare grounds to Jewish shechita and Islamic halal ritual killings that do not involve electric stunning of animals.
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Growing concerns over the tone of the debate were voiced by the Muslim Council of Britain, and Shechita UK, a pro-shechita pressure group. Both organisations support comprehensive labelling of meat to reflect the method of slaughter, but claim that it should go beyond whether electric stunning is used or not.
Yunes Teinaz, deputy chairman of food standards for the Muslim Council of Britain, said: “We should be more concerned about food fraud, poor animal welfare and abattoirs where they beat the animals or make them travel in dirty or cruel conditions.”
He said that many methods of slaughter were equally cruel and involved animals watching others die, which is forbidden in the halal ritual.
“It’s unfair to concentrate on Muslims. It’s a kind of Islamophobia,” Dr Teinaz added.
One representative of Shechita UK said: “It might be much more to do with people who don’t like Muslims.
“What are they really upset about? It’s just the faith of the slaughterman. It’s as though they have two chickens and they have handed one to a white man and one to a Muslim man. What are they upset about?”
Henry Grunwald, QC, chairman of Shechita UK, said that faith communities should support labelling but that consumers had the right to know whether captive bolt pistols, gassing, drowning and clubbing were used to kill the animals.
“It is deeply troubling when the tone of this important debate about animal welfare and consumer information descends into intolerance,” he added.
“In the run-up to European elections, at a time when we will be acutely aware of the alarming rise of the far-right across Europe, who thrive on this sort of sensationalism, we have a responsibility to approach this subject with objectivity and even-handedness.”
David Cameron entered the debate for the first time last night, making clear his support for religious freedoms, but saying that businesses had a duty of transparency to their customers, playing down calls for compulsory labelling.
“Do we need a national labelling scheme? I would rather hope not, I would hope it will be dealt with by restaurants and businesses. I think a lot of businesses and restaurants will probably change their practices and change their labelling.
“But we should start from the approach that the greater the transparency the better and I think we can achieve this transparency without necessarily having a full-on national labelling scheme.
“This situation has arisen in a way that people had not expected because they did not know so much meat was not labelled. Let’s see if we can get some transparency and review the situation in a few months’ time.”
A spokesman for Number 10 added that the prime minister was “a strong supporter of religious freedoms, including religious slaughter practices”.
The European Commission is set to deliver a report in the autumn on information for consumers on the stunning of animals for slaughter.
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Disappointing to see Jewish groups piling on, apparently unaware of how low in esteem they are held by Muslims. But there are liberal idiots everywhere, as we know.