Paris: French President Nicolas Sarkozy and
his far-right election rival Marine Le Pen traded blows on Tuesday
over claims that all meat in the Paris region is prepared
using Islamic halal methods.
Le Pen, trailing both Sarkozy and Socialist frontrunner
Francois Hollande ahead of the April-May vote, made the claim
at a rally on Saturday and pledged to file a legal complaint
for "misrepresentation of products".
Campaigning today in Rungis, home of the main wholesale
food market serving the Paris metropolitan area, Sarkozy
accused National Front leader Le Pen of getting her facts
wrong and creating an artificial controversy.
"There is no controversy here. Every year we consume
200,000 tonnes of meat in the Paris region and 2.5 percent of
it is kosher or halal," Sarkozy said.
Halal meat is slaughtered according to Islamic rules
that, among other requirements, ban the practice of stunning
animals before they are killed.
Some animal welfare campaigners say this is more cruel
than standard European practices.
Le Pen, whose party plays on fears of growing Muslim
influence, cited a recent public television documentary that
said all abattoirs in the greater Paris region use halal
methods but do not always label the meat as such.
"It turns out that all the meat distributed in Ile de
France is, unbeknownst to the consumer, exclusively halal
meat," she said on Saturday. "This is a real deception, the
government has been aware of this for months."
On Tuesday she clarified her comments to say that all
meat distributed in the region could be suspected of being
halal, as without a label "neither you nor I know which is
halal and which is not".
"Widespread animal suffering, in violation of French and
European law, is not trivial," she said on France Inter radio
in response to Sarkozy.
"The fact that a majority of French people are being
misled about what they buy is not a trivial controversy," Le
Authorities and meat producers also denied Le Pen`s
Le Pen`s claim is "absolutely false", Interior Minister
Claude Gueant said on Sunday, noting that, while there are
halal slaughterhouses in the region, their products are
"Veterinary services ensure that abattoirs send halal
production to people who want to consume halal meat," he told
French media, saying there were "frequent checks to avoid any
misrepresentation of products".
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 increasingly looking like
a two-horse race.
She inherited 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.