TV documentary’s revelation that slaughterhouses around Paris have
switched meat production entirely to halal methods has stirred a
political storm in France, where attitudes to Europe’s largest
Muslim minority are a subtext in a presidential election campaign.
The France 2 documentary last week said all of the abattoirs in
the greater Paris region were producing only halal-style meat,
selling some without labeling it as such to avoid the cost of
running separate lines for halal and non-halal customers.
Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen – who is hoping to win voters
away from center-right President Nicolas Sarkozy ahead of the
two-round election in April and May – has seized on the issue.
“All the abattoirs of the Paris region have succumbed to the rules
of a minority. We have reason to be disgusted,” Le Pen told a
rally in Lille Saturday, pledging to file a legal complaint.
In a country known for its obsession with the provenance of its
cuisine, the issue could play with a wider audience than the far
right, including animal rights groups, consumer advocates and food
Some European animal rights campaigners say that the Islamic halal
and Jewish kosher rules for ritual slaughter are less humane than
standard European practice, because they ban the practice of
stunning animals before they are killed.
“This polemic requires us to call for more transparency,” Frederic
Freund, director of a group called Aid to Animals in Abattoirs (OABA),
told RTL radio during a call-in program.
Halal meat, slaughtered according to Islamic norms, is a booming
market in France and growing demand for it on school, hospital and
company canteen menus has already caused tension and
misunderstandings between Muslims and non-Muslims.
Officials say most of the meat consumed in and around Paris is
slaughtered outside the region and much of it still comes from
slaughterhouses that use non-halal methods.
The French state is strictly secular, and politicians have
intervened against the spread of some Muslim traditions in ways
that critics say is populist and xenophobic.
Sarkozy and his predecessor Jacques Chirac both won support among
right-wing voters for banning Muslim full-face veils in public and
headscarves in school.
Like kosher slaughter, the halal rite requires the butcher to kill
the animal by swiftly slitting its throat. Stunning it first to
lessen its pain, as recommended in a European Union directive, is
France’s large Muslim and tiny Jewish minorities make up only
about 10 percent of the population and not all of them eat only
meat slaughtered according to their religious traditions.
But eating halal has become an identity marker, especially among
younger members of the 5 million-strong Muslim minority. The halal
market is now twice as large as that for organic foods and is
estimated to grow at 20 percent annually.
“This explosion of halal is one of the most significant phenomena
in the transformation and identity affirmation of Islam in France
in the first decade of the 21st century,” wrote Islam expert
Gilles Kepel in a new study of Muslim life in the suburbs of
Much of the meat Le Pen referred to would probably not pass muster
if checked by strict halal certifiers, because the animal would
probably not have been pointed toward Mecca or blessed with a
short “bismillah” (in the name of God) invocation before being
killed by a Muslim butcher.
Jean-Francois Hallepee, who heads a group representing local
cattle farmers, said it had just conducted a survey in the greater
Paris region and found “100 percent of slaughtering is halal.”
After meeting demand for halal meat, slaughterhouses usually sell
the surplus unmarked through the regular food chain, said Freund,
the animal rights advocate.
“That keeps the cost of halal and kosher down,” he said.