09/05/2014 15:13 BST | Updated 09/05/2014 15:59 BST

Halal Hysteria Hits Cameron: Now PM Has Second Thoughts Over Labelling Of Ritually-Slaughtered Meat

Joe Giddens/PA Wire
Prime Minister David Cameron gives a speech as part of the Conservative Party's European and Local Election campaign at the JCB World Logistics site in Newcastle-under-Lyme.

Just hours after David Cameron insisted it was not for the government to intervene over the mounting controversy involving major supermarkets not labelling Halal meat, he appears to have changed his mind.

The labelling of ritually-slaughtered meat is a matter for retailers, customers and faith groups, the prime minister's spokesman insisted Thursday night.]

But now the Prime Minister has conceded that – although he would prefer it if supermarkets were more transparent about halal voluntarily – he is prepared to "review" that decision if no action is taken within the next few months.

The Prime Minister insisted that food retailers can “achieve transparency” without having a “full-on national labelling scheme” but, if information is not being given to customers, the Government is prepared to “consider a number of options.”

“Do we need a national labelling scheme? I would rather hope not, I would hope it will be dealt with by restaurants and businesses," he said.

“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.”

Cameron added: “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.”

The Prime Minister's comments came after it emerged some meat was being sold which could qualify as halal but was not labelled as such, in a growing row that has engulfed some of Britain's biggest retailers.

Conservative MPs are pushing to change the law around the labelling of ritually slaughtered meat, demanding an amendment to the Consumer Rights Bill. Nick Clegg has also backed compulsory labelling, while Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, said people have a “right to know” what is in their food.

Cameron has previously said he is "a strong supporter of religious freedoms, including religious slaughter practices" and has said his government would never put restrictions on religious slaughter.

But the Halal Food Authority said Friday that the pressure should not be put on retailers and that the government has a responsibility to regulate transparency over the issue by implementing legislation on the issue.

"If the responsibility is directly with the retailer themselves to label products halal, an undeniable increase in the self-certification of halal products will be observed," the group said in a statement sent to the Huffington Post UK.

"The entire production process is not vigorously regulated as it would be if slaughterhouses and product manufacturers are halal accredited by an independent, reputable certification body," they added.

Faith leaders and animal welfare experts have also joined the call for clearer information about slaughter methods.

Halal meat is, like kosher meat, exempt from the legal requirement to stun an animal before slaughtering it for food. In practice, the vast majority of halal meat sold in the UK is pre-stunned.

Four major chains - Tesco, Morrison's, Marks & Spencer and Waitrose - had to defend themselves for selling imported New Zealand lamb that was killed in accordance with Islamic ritual but not labelled as such.

They all told The Huffington Post UK that this meat was from animals stunned before death.

Britain's top vet said that, if they are not stunned, the religious slaughter of poultry, sheep and cattle causes unnecessary suffering.

Mr Blackwell said the way halal and kosher meat is created, through the throat being slit, resulted in "five or six seconds" of pain for the animal.

"They will feel the cut," he said.

"They will feel the massive injury of the tissues of the neck. They will perceive the aspiration of blood they will breath in before they lose consciousness."