Eversheds: would failure to inform consumers of halal meat constitute offence?

According to recent media reports, retailers have been selling meat that satisfies halal requirements but is not clearly described as ‘halal’. According to Eversheds, this prompts the question: would failure by food businesses to inform consumers that they are eating halal meat constitute an offence under UK law?

Gillian Harkess, food labelling expert at Eversheds, said that the answer is an interesting one. She said: ‘The aim of food labelling and consumer protection legislation is to ensure that consumers have sufficient and accurate information about the product they are purchasing.

‘It is conceivable that under the revised food labelling requirements, the majority of which will come into force during December 2014, and UK consumer protection legislation that it is an offence to fail to notify consumers that they are purchasing halal meat, the test being: would this information cause a consumer to make a different transactional decision.’

Harkess said that the test regarding whether a consumer would make a different transactional decision if they knew they were purchasing halal meat is a subjective one. ‘In the cash-strapped world of food regulators, where the priority for time and resource is to investigate and prosecute food businesses that intentionally or negligently cause harm to consumers, it is likely that the appetite to prosecute a food business for failing to declare that its meat is slaughtered in line with halal requirements is low.’

She added: ‘Food businesses should remain aware, however, that public interest on the information provided on food labels remains high as a result of the horsemeat scandal of 2013 and careful consideration should be given to them as result.’