French politicians rap fast food chain for halal menu

Thu Feb 18, 2010 7:25am EST
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By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor

PARIS (Reuters) - A French fast food chain's decision to serve only halal meat in eight restaurants with a strong Muslim clientele has sparked a wave of criticism from politicians decrying the step as unacceptable.

A far-right leader said the 350-branch Quick chain was imposing "an Islamic tax" on its customers. A Socialist mayor has threatened a law suit for discrimination against customers who do not want to eat according to Muslim dietary laws.

The uproar, like France's drive to ban Muslim face veils and its state-led debate on national identity, has come just ahead of regional elections next month even though Quick began what it calls a six-month marketing test in late November.

The 5.5 billion euro ($7.46 billion) halal market in France is growing strongly, according to a survey in December 2009, citing increasing demand among young Muslims for halal produce.

Marine Le Pen, vice president of the far-right National Front, launched the accusations on Sunday, saying clients "are forced because of halal meat to pay a tax to Islamic organizations" that certify the food was produced according to Muslim dietary laws.

Socialist Mayor Rene Vandierendonck in Roubaix, a town near Lille with many Muslim residents, threatened a law suit. Lionnel Luca, a conservative parliamentary deputy, called for a boycott to restore "freedom of choice" in the Roubaix Quick.

Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire told the daily Le Figaro: "When they remove all the pork from a restaurant open to the public, I think they fall into communalism, which is against the principles and the spirit of the French republic."

Escalating her attack, Le Pen said on Wednesday that President Nicolas Sarkozy supported a "forced Islamization of France" because an arm of the state-owned savings bank, the Caisse des Depots et Consignations, held 99.63 percent of Quick's capital.   Continued...