PARIS, March 7 (UPI) -- Halal meat, slaughtered according to Islamic tradition, has become a central issue in the election campaign in France.
Marine Le Pen, a presidential candidate of the far-right National Front, raised the issue recently by saying all meat consumed by Parisians is halal and millions of French people eat it without realizing it, The Washington Post reported.
President Nicolas Sarkozy had initially dismissed the claim, as did French butchers.
But on Saturday, Sarkozy changed course, calling for labels on all meat indicating how the animals were slaughtered. Sarkozy cited a recent poll saying halal meat had become the top concern among French people.
Francois Hollande of the Socialist Party said Sarkozy was seeking to win National Front votes and called for "restraint." Hollande said the only legitimate concern should be that animals are slaughtered in humane and sanitary conditions.
Mohammed Moussaoui, the head of the French Council of the Muslim Religion, expressed concern that halal meat had become an issue in the campaign, saying, "It creates tensions in the society."
For his part, Prime Minister Francois Fillon suggested Muslims and Jews consider abandoning the traditional ways of slaughtering animals, saying they "no longer have much to do with today's state of science, with the state of technology, with health problems."
For halal or kosher meat, the animal is killed by having its throat slit.
Richard Prasquier, the head of the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions, said he was "shocked" by Fillon's suggestion.
Prasquier's comment prompted Fillon to invite Jewish and Muslim community leaders to discuss the issue with him.