PARIS (JTA) — French Prime Minister Francois Fillon advised Muslims and Jews to forego ritual slaughter practices he deems un-modern, sparking controversy.
“I think religions should think about maintaining traditions that no longer have much in common with the state of science and technology, health issues today,” Fillon said Monday on French Europe 1 radio, in reference to halal and kosher practices.
“We’re in a modern country. There are traditions that are ancestral traditions that no longer correspond to much, whereas they corresponded in the past to problems of hygiene,” he said, speaking his “personal” opinion.
The French Jewish community reacted with outrage.
“Shocked,” said Richard Prasquier, the president of the French Jewish umbrella group CRIF. “Fillon’s declaration is stupefying.”
“There is something disagreeable, humiliating and against our republican tradition” in the prime minister’s comments, he added, speaking to French media.
Fillon’s remarks were in reference to a recent controversy initiated by the far-right National Front party leader, Marine Le Pen, who claimed that Parisians were only being supplied with halal meat without knowing it. That claim was later denied, but it led to another contested proposal by French President Nicolas Sarkozy on March 3 that animals slaughtered according to halal and kosher tradition be clearly labeled.
The previous day Sarkozy’s interior minister, Claude Gueant, added to the furor by arguing in a speech that if non-European foreigners were given the right to vote and run for local office in France, they would impose halal laws.
“We don’t want foreign municipal councilors to make it obligatory to have halal food products in our cafeterias,” Gueant said.
Jewish community leaders have been among those against labeling kosher slaughtered meat because they are afraid those products will be boycotted. Ritually slaughtered animals do not necessarily end up being sold as kosher meat but enter the regular market, according to CRIF’s website.
“I’m very bothered” by the debate on ritual slaughter, said the grand rabbi of France, Gilles Bernheim, on French RMC radio. During the interview, the rabbi tried to refute the apparent impression that kosher slaughter is more cruel to animals than regular methods and that a percentage of kosher meat sales fund the Jewish community.