French President Nicolas Sarkozy and far-right election rival Marine Le Pen are on a collision path. The conflict is over the assertion of Pen that all meat in the Paris region was prepared using Islamic halal traditions.
Le Pen, trailing both Sarkozy and Socialist leader Francois Hollande ahead of the April-May vote, made the claim at a rally on Saturday and vowed to file a legal complaint for “misrepresentation of products”.
Campaigning on Tuesday in Rungis, Sarkozy blamed National Front leader Le Pen of getting her facts incorrect and creating an artificial debate. Rugnis is home of the main wholesale food market serving the Paris metropolitan area.
Sarkozy stated that there was no controversy. Every year they use up 200 000 tonnes of meat in the Paris region and 2.5 percent of it is kosher or halaal.
On Tuesday Pen made clear her comments to say that all meat distributed in the region could be alleged of being halal. She added, “Without a label ‘neither you nor I know which is halal and which is not’.”
In a reply to Sarkozy she said that extensive animal suffering, in violation of French and European law, was not small.
Halal meat is butchered according to Islamic rules that, among other requirements, ban the exercise of stunning animals before they are killed.
Some animal welfare campaigners said this was more cruel than standard European practices.
Le Pen, whose party plays on anxiety of growing Muslim influence, cited a recent public television documentary that said all abattoirs in the greater Paris region used halal techniques but do not always label the meat as such.
She had stated it came out that all the meat distributed in Ile de France was, exclusively halal meat. She had added “This was a real dishonesty, the government had been aware of this for months.”
The campaign team of Pen stepped up the pressure Tuesday, calling for a “ban on the slaughtering of animals for consumption without stunning”.
The campaign team stated that obligatory surprise had two advantages. It decreased animal suffering and allowed consumers to be reassured about the slaughtering conditions of the meat they were purchasing. Authorities and meat producers also denied Le Pen's claim.
Interior Minister Claude Gueant stated that Pen’s claims were totally wrong. Interior Minister Claude Gueant said there were halal slaughterhouses in the region and their products were clearly marked.
Veterinary services ensure that abattoirs send halal production to people who wanted to consume halal meat.
Producers said that, while slaughtering in the region was mostly done according to Islamic or Jewish traditions, only about two percent of the meat consumed in the greater Paris area came from the region itself.
Le Pen is struggling to catch up to Sarkozy and Hollande in the election campaign, with polls showing her with between 16 and 20 percent support in what is gradually looking like a two-horse race.
Pen took over the leadership of the National Front last year from her father Jean-Marie, who was known for his anti-immigrant rants and shocked observers by making it to the second round of France's 2002 presidential vote.
Home to Western Europe's largest Muslim minority, estimated at between five and six million, France has for years been debating how far it was willing to go to oblige Islam, now the country's second religion.