Human cultural diversity is particularly evident in culinary diversity. It is an undeniable richness within each people and an opportunity for multiple exchanges. It goes without saying that everyone eats as they wish. This is an elementary but decisive freedom. However, controversies in which confusion vies with political ulterior motives are multiplying, especially on halal, while sometimes tipping over into kosher.
For practising Jews and Muslims, the notions of purity and impurity are central. Dietary prohibitions play a decisive role. Jewish and Muslim cultural identities are defined in particular by these prescriptions. Moreover, the control of food purity is a source of internal power and an important financial resource.
Three questions arise for the whole of society. Firstly, the financing of these halal and kosher sectors via the certification tax. Secondly, the question of the derogation from common law authorising ritual slaughter. Finally, there is the question of informing people of other philosophies or religions who cannot have these dietary taboos imposed on them surreptitiously.
The certification fee
Representatives of the religions are in charge of enforcement, certification, product control and procedures from the slaughterhouses to the shops and restaurants. In France the Consistoire de Paris plays the main role. Its court, the “Beth Din”, affixes its KBDP (Kosher Beth Din de Paris) label. Since the 1990s, the Grand Mosque of Paris, the Mosque of Evry and the Mosque of Lyon have been approved to authorise sacrificers. Certification bodies have been created and have multiplied.
The question of the fee for certification was raised. The amount varies from €0.10 to €1 per kilo. Kosher certification, having set up an important organisation, is more expensive. The total amount of this fee paid by slaughterhouses to certification bodies (halal and kosher together) is close to €50 million per year. It constitutes half of the budget of the Consistoire de Paris. It is very diversely distributed among the various Muslim certification bodies. Its collection has become a power issue.
This tax is a problem for local authorities and secular associations. As a result, they have organised collective catering, in particular school canteens, open to all thanks to the diversity of menus. This mode of organisation respects the secular principle of non-subsidisation of religions, by legal obligation for local authorities, and by political or even philosophical choice for secular associations. They therefore do not use halal or kosher products in order not to finance a religion. The Ligue française de l’enseignement has written a practical guide on this subject: https://laligue.org/guide-laicite-et-restauration-collective-des-enfants-et-des-jeunes/
Ritual slaughter: the derogation is widely exceeded
What is the applicable regulation? In Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, Latvia, Iceland… and recently in Flanders and Wallonia, stunning is a general obligation. The Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) ruled in December 2020 that the obligation to stun does not infringe the freedom of Jewish and Muslim believers. The EU regulation includes this obligation, while granting a derogation for ritual slaughter. The same provisions (obligation to stun with derogation) exist in France, enshrined in Article R 214-70 and following of the Rural Code. The derogation granted has become disproportionate: the proportion of animals slaughtered without stunning far exceeds the consumption of Muslims and Jews alone.
This state of affairs was recognised by the Standing Committee for the Coordination of Inspections (COPERCI) in 2005. While religious consumption is estimated at 7% of production, 80% of sheep, 20% of cattle and 20% of poultry are slaughtered without stunning. This calculation is confirmed on two occasions. A 2007 Ministry of Agriculture survey found that 32% of animals were slaughtered in the same way throughout France. And according to a confidential audit by experts from the Ministry of Agriculture submitted in November 2011. Made public by the weekly magazine “Le Point” on 7 March 2012, it found that 40% of cattle, 58% of sheep, 26% of calves and 22% of goats were slaughtered without stunning, i.e. 51% of the animals in the slaughterhouses covered by this report.
Derogation is tending to become the rule. Decree No. 2011-2006 of 28 December 2011 and its implementing order set out the conditions for authorising slaughterhouses to derogate from the obligation to stun animals. These provisions require that these slaughterhouses must set up a registration system to verify that the use of the derogation corresponds to commercial orders that require it, i.e. for consumers practising one of the two religions concerned by ritual slaughter. We are far from this…
Information for citizens and consumers
This generalisation of slaughter without stunning is accompanied by a refusal to provide information. On the initiative of the Œuvre d’Assistance aux Bêtes d’Abattoir (OABA) , eight animal protection organisations have joined forces to launch an information campaign and demand labelling. Like the actions of the “Ethics on the Label” collective in favour of respect for human rights, these associations want consumers to be informed. Consumers are citizens who have the right to make an informed choice about the meat they consume.
To date, beef and sheep meat labels may include the name of the piece, the weight, the price per kilo, the net price, the packaging date, the use-by date, the batch number, the place of slaughter, the approval number of the cutting plant, the place of birth, the place of rearing. But still not the method of slaughter. Secularist associations require that the mode of slaughter be mentioned, thanks to a letter: “T” or “R”. The first stands for “traditional slaughter”, indicating that the meat comes from animals slaughtered with stunning. The second stands for ‘religious slaughter’, indicating that the animals have been slaughtered without stunning. This right to transparency is part of the freedom of conscience of each of us.
The French League of Education runs a “Secularism” edition on the online newspaper “Médiapart”.https://blogs.mediapart.fr/edition/laicite
A detailed article on the theme of “Food and secularism” contains numerous documents https://blogs.mediapart.fr/edition/laicite/article/221021/alimentation-et-laicite