(Packaged halal turkey and beef salami at the Paris Halal Expo fair, 3 April 2012/Tom Heneghan)

Some French politicians have seized on the spread of halal food to win votes. Producers selling their wares at Paris’s annual Muslim food fair are much more sure it will bring something else: profit.

(Halal ravioli at Paris Halal Expo, 3 April 2012/Tom Heneghan)

France’s halal market, now estimated at 5.5 billion euros with about 10 percent annual growth, became a political issue in recent weeks as President Nicolas Sarkozy used it in an unabashed pitch for votes from the anti-immigrant far-right.

The raw facts about halal butchering became a top issue on the election campaign trail, to the point that Sarkozy’s prime minister, Francois Fillon, said halal and kosher slaughter were outdated “ancestral traditions” that should be scrapped.

That hit a raw nerve in France’s Muslim and Jewish communities – both the largest of their kind in Europe – whose leaders complained openly. The issue has since mostly faded from the campaign for the two-round presidential election, which ends on May 6.