Posts Tagged labelling
Unstunned slaughter and organic labelling. CJEU gets it wrong on Shechita (kosjer) and zabihah (halal).
“Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made” is a quote widely attributed to German statesman Otto von Bismarck. It is not a wise perception. If, like laws, we want sausages, then it is paramount we see how they are made, starting from the rearing of the animal, via the transport to and processing in abattoirs, through to food processing.
In Case C-497/17, Oeuvre d’assistance aux bêtes d’abattoirs the Court held that the particular methods of slaughter prescribed by religious rites that are carried out without pre-stunning and that are permitted by Article 4(4) of Regulation No 1099/2009 (on which more here) are not tantamount, in terms of ensuring a high level of animal welfare at the time of killing, to slaughter with pre-stunning which is, in principle, required by Article 4(1) of that regulation. No organic label under Council Regulation 834/2007 and Commission implementing Regulation 889/2008 may therefore be attached to said meat.
The AG had opined the matter is outside the scope of harmonisation of the organic labelling rules. The CJEU however essentially employs Regulation 1099/2009 as a conjoined piece of law and holds that organic labelling must not be assigned to meat originating from animals unstunned prior to slaughter.
The Court is wrong.
At 41 the Court itself acknowledges that ‘no provision of Regulation No 834/2007 or Regulation No 889/2008 expressly defines the method or methods for the slaughtering of animals that are most appropriate to minimise animal suffering and, consequently, to give concrete expression to the objective of ensuring a high level of animal welfare’.
At 47, the Court refers to Wahl AG’s statement in para 43 of his opinion, suggesting the AG ‘ stated, in essence, in point 43 of his Opinion, scientific studies have shown that pre-stunning is the technique that compromises animal welfare the least at the time of killing.’
What the AG actually said is ‘In the first place, it seems to me to be accepted that, while every killing is problematic from the viewpoint of animal welfare, the use of pre-stunning methods when animals are slaughtered may, at least in theory, and as a considerable number of scientific studies show, [FN omitted, GAVC] help to minimise that suffering when those methods are used in the proper conditions. that unstunned slaughter, properly carried out, meets with the ethos of organic farming.’ (emphasis added).
The AG in footnote refers to 2 studies in particular (he suggests there are more). Other studies show the exact opposite. Yet the wider relevance of what he opined lies in the ‘slaughter in the books’ admission. ‘In theory at least’ a perfectly carried out pre-slaughter stun minimises pain. That is very much the same with a perfectly carried out shechita or zabihah incision, particularly where it is carried out with the religiously-inspired stewardship ethos in mind.
In practice, pre-stunning goes horribly wrong in a considerable amount of cases for small and large animals alike. I am not the only one to have witnessed that. And as frequently occurring footage of abattoirs shows, there is little respect for animal welfare in commercial abattoirs, regardless of an eventual stun or not.
Of wider relevance in my view therefore is the problematic enforcement by certification bodies of generally formulated standards – admittedly not an issue that may be solved by a court case.
Consider Wahl AG’s point made at 45 of his Opinion: ‘the certification ‘halal’ says very little about the slaughtering method actually employed.’ That is exactly the same for pre-stunning. The EU but more particularly its Member States and regions (which given subsidiarity ought to have a big say in this) will not achieve animal welfare if they do not properly address the wider relationship between food professional and animal, between upscale agro-industry and mass meat production.
Finally and evidently, this case is of no consequence to the acceptability of unstunned slaughter from the point of view of expression of freedom of religion.
Wahl AG advised last week in Case C-497/17, Oeuvre d’assistance aux bêtes d’abattoirs. In this case an NGO requests a certification body to stop certifying as ‘organic’, products obtained from religious slaughter, even though neither Council Regulation 834/2007 nor the Commission implementing Regulation 889/2008 on organic production and labelling of organic products with regard to organic production, labelling and control, mention stunned or unstunned slaughter.
I suggested earlier that the case turns around scope of application, albeit that the shadow of the human rights implications hangs over it. The Advocate General agrees: at 33: ‘the Court is therefore not strictly speaking required to rule on a question of interference with the freedom to manifest one’s religion’. In essence, what is not forbidden is allowed: the legislation on organic farming is silent on the question of ritual slaughter; (at 91) this silence on the matter is not the result of oversight for the ‘slaughter’ of animals is mentioned on several occasions in the legislation – is it just simply not regulated.
A certification body therefore is not in a position to impose conditions that do not appear in the relevant legislation in order to obtain an ‘organic farming’ certification. Provided that the provisions governing the methods of raising and slaughtering of animals in order to obtain the ‘organic farming’ label are complied with, the certification body is in principle required to issue that label without adding conditions that are not laid down in the legislation.
I believe the AG is right. I also, on substance, believe that unstunned slaughter, properly carried out, meets with the ethos of organic farming.
The CJEU held yesterday in Case C-296/16P Dextro Energy (text of judgment available in French and German only at the time of posting), an appeal against the General Court’s ruling in T-100/15. The General Court had declined to annul the European Commission Regulation which refused to authorise certain health claims made on foods, other than those referring to the reduction of disease risk and to children’s development and health. Dextro Energy had wanted to include health claims such as ‘glucose supports normal physical activity’ and ‘glucose contributes to normal muscle function’. The EC had refused: citing (in Regulation 1215/8)
‘Pursuant to Articles 6(1) and 13(1) of Regulation … No 1924/2006 health claims need to be based on generally accepted scientific evidence. Authorisation may also legitimately be withheld if health claims do not comply with other general and specific requirements of Regulation … No 1924/2006, even in the case of a favourable scientific assessment by [EFSA]. Health claims inconsistent with generally accepted nutrition and health principles should not be made. [EFSA] concluded that a cause and effect relationship has been established between the consumption of glucose and contribution to energy-yielding metabolism. However, the use of such a health claim would convey a conflicting and confusing message to consumers, because it would encourage consumption of sugars for which, on the basis of generally accepted scientific advance, national and international authorities inform the consumer that their intake should be reduced. Therefore, such a health claim does not comply with point (a) of the second paragraph of Article 3 of Regulation … No 1924/2006 which foresees that the use of claims should not be ambiguous or misleading. Furthermore, even if the concerned health claim was to be authorised only under specific conditions of use and/or accompanied by additional statements or warnings, it would not be sufficient to alleviate the confusion of the consumer, and consequently the claim should not be authorised.’
The General Court performed its standard review in the face of a wide discretionary room for manoeuvre for the EC, and decided the EC had not exceeded its authority in holding as it did – even in the face of more lenient EFSA recommendations. The Court of Justice has now entirely sided with the General Court. The Judgment is a good reminder of aforementioned standard test (no de novo or merits review; annulment in the event of manifest transgression of power or error in judgment only), and readers best refer to reading the judgment itself.
One consideration however, I should like to highlight: Dextro Energy had suggested the health claims needed to be assessed in light of the target group (determined in the product’s advertising), which, it was suggested, were physically active people for whom consumption of the glucose tablets in question is not harmless. The Court rejected this approach: the population as a whole, for whom the product is available, are the group which the EC justifiably seeks to protect. The manufacturer’s professed target group is not the relevant group to consider (do bear in mind that this is a product which is widely available and not restricted in any way at points of sale):
At 76-77: si les allégations de santé en cause étaient autorisées, elles s’adresseraient à la population en général, pouvant ainsi encourager la consommation de sucres par les personnes autres que les hommes et les femmes bien entraînés. Dans ces conditions, le Tribunal n’a pas commis d’erreur de droit lorsqu’il a rejeté, au point 57 de l’arrêt attaqué, l’argument de Dextro Energy, selon lequel c’était le groupe cible qui importait aux fins de l’appréciation des allégations de santé en cause.
At first sight, it may seem a bit nerdy to report on Dyson, Case T-544/13. Yet (pun alert) once the dust settled on the judgment, the case in my view reveals quite a lot on how the CJEU sees the role of the EC as a regulator involved in all three steps of risk analysis: risk identification; risk management; and risk communication.
Arguably, misleading information often does more damage than a lack of information. It is on this basis that well-known Dyson, producer ia of bagless hoovers (or vacuum cleaners), challenged a delegated EC Regulation which establishes, in its own wording, ‘labelling and the provision of supplementary product information for electric mains-operated vacuum cleaners, including hybrid vacuum cleaners’. The purpose of the Regulation and of its mother Directive on energy labelling, evidently is to encourage consumers to purchase hoovers using less energy.
The contested regulation requires tests conducted with an empty dust bag. That, Dyson essentially argues, is like testing a Ferrari and a 2 CV on fuel consumption, with both cars in stationary condition (my comparison, not theirs). It will, in Dyson’s plea, lead to: (i) reporting of inaccurate information; (ii) ‘during use’ information not being integrated into the energy performance data; (iii) less incentive for manufacturers to invest with a view to improving the energy efficiency of vacuum cleaners; and (iv) labelling which does not serve to attain the objective of reducing energy consumption and, on the contrary, leads to an increase in energy consumption.
The Court held (at 47) that the Commission cannot be criticised for having failed to require tests conducted with a dust-loaded receptacle if, under its broad discretion, it decided that such tests were not yet reliable, accurate and reproducible. Even though the Court in various parts of the judgment acknowledges the inadequacy of the resulting product comparison, it cannot be held that the Commission made a manifest error of assessment by favouring a test conducted with an empty receptacle over a test conducted with a dust-loaded receptacle (at 53).
The judgment entertains many arguments brought forward however they essentially all revolve around the seemingly unavailable nature of appropriate, peer reviewable testing methods. The Court dismisses them all as (pun alert) hot air and effectively requires Dyson to offer the peer reviewable, repeatable alternative.
With respect, I believe the judgment is fundamentally mistaken. It was obviously not considered to be of a very crucial nature (chamber of three). Yet despite its very focussed nature, it reveals a lot about what the EU expects of its Institutions. In this case, misinformation is essentially considered preferable to no information. Surely (pun alert) that sucks.
The case was before the General Court hence appeal with the CJEU is not impossible.