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.”