Sarkozy hits back at French far-right for “hidden halal” allegation

February 21, 2012

(France's President and candidate for the 2012 French presidential elections Nicolas Sarkozy (L) speaks with butchers as he visits the Rungis wholesale market near Paris, February 21, 2012. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer )

Visiting Paris’s main food market at Rungis on Tuesday morning, French president Nicholas Sarkozy poured cold water on far-right leader Marine Le Pen’s allegation that abattoirs supplying beef to the greater Paris area were only using the throat-slitting methods of halal butchery required by Muslims for all meat slaughtered on their premises, in order to cut costs.

Sarkozy said that only 2.5 percent of the 200,000 tonnes of beef consumed each year in the Paris area was halal, figures backed up at a news conference by the meat trade union SNIV. Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire also spoke out, saying that a December 28 government decree that will go into effect in July, enforcing more transparency in abattoir methods, should help calm the controversy fanned by Le Pen after a TV documentary questioned the slaughtering methods.

A TV documentary’s revelation last week 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. Le Pen – who is hoping to win voters away from centre-right President Nicolas Sarkozy ahead of the two-round election in April and May – has seized on the issue at the weekend. “All the abattoirs of the Paris region have succumbed to the rules of a minority. We have reason to be disgusted,” she told a rally in Lille on Saturday, pledging to file a legal complaint.

“There are always people who want to get noticed by making polemics off the backs of people who work, who have won the trust of the consumers,” Sarkozy said while touring the meat section of the market. “Is it really worth it, making such polemics for that? What’s the point? To make consumers lose confidence? To lie? Why? There really are things we should debate. But to cast suspicion on craftsmen, on merchants, on breeders … to get a few votes — is that worth debating? I don’t think so.”

Le Pen kept up her charge on France Inter radio on Tuesday morning. “The fact that a majority of the French are being fooled about what they buy means this is not a harmless polemic,” she said. She insisted that all beef slaughter in the region was halal and “40 to 45 percent of the meat consumed in the greater Paris region comes from these abattoirs.”

“100 percent of the meat slaughtered in greater Paris is halal, 100 percent of the meat on sale is suspected of being slaughtered by a religious ritual — and I don’t belong to that religion,” she said.

Most meat sold in the greater Paris region comes from agricultural regions further away such as Brittany, said André Eloi, director of the FNEAP federation representing small abattoirs, including two among those mentioned by Le Pen. He said four of the abattoirs were privately owned by Muslims who slaughtered meat for the Muslim community. The fifth abattoir in the region only handled pork.

Agriculture Minister Le Maire said the government didn’t need Marine Le Pen to discover problems with ritual slaughter in France. “Madame Le Pen raises an issue we have been working on patiently for several months now,” he told journalists. From July 1, 2012, abattoirs will only be allowed to slaughter according to religious norms if they have a prior authorisation from the state and can prove through written orders that this production corresponded to market demand.

He estimated that 14.4 percent of all meat production in France was halal, without giving details by sector.

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