(Packages of Halal food are displayed in a supermarket in Nantes, western France, September 7, 2010. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe)

A 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 labelling 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 centre-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 on 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 industry professionals.

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.