VEGA News Item

All Change at Harrow on the Halal - 06/09/2010

Town Hall Rules that Halal Meat Must Be Served in State Schools Burghers Doolally

School Dinners for Thousands of Pupils will Contain Only Meat claimed to be Halal

1.  School dinners for thousands of pupils will contain only meat claimed to be halal if Harrow Council’s decision to allow meat from animals killed and prepared in accordance with Islamic teaching at high schools in the borough in northwest London, “apparently on the recommendations of dieticians,” reports The Times (Town Hall rules that halal meat must be served in state schools, News, 05 August 2010.)

2.  Primary schools “can express an interest” in the scheme from the start of term next month.
3.  For the Council a spokesperson is quoted as saying: “All Harrow’s high schools are to serve halal meat from September. Primary schools have been able to express their interest at this stage, but from September, if they sign up to the caterers, they will also have halal meat served in their schools. Halal meat was written into the specifications when high schools were procuring their catering contracts. This was due to recommendations from dieticians.”
4.  The private-sector caterer used by Harrow’s state schools said that the halal-only menu was stipulated in its contract. Harrison Catering Services, based in Oxfordshire, has provided meals at 9 of the borough’s 10 secondary schools for the past 2 years and will take on the final high school next month. It will also bid for contracts at 52 primary schools from the autumn.
5.  A few days afterwards the Council said that it was delaying expanding the scheme to primary schools after complaints from parents. Councillor Brian Gate said: Some faith groups do not eat halal meat; we will be reviewing the position in the autumn. The borough of Harrow is in the most religiously diverse area in Britain with just under half of the population Christian, a fifth Hindu, 7% Muslim and 6% Jewish, according to the 2001 census.
6.  The decision to allow Muslim pupils to be able to eat all school meals without deterring children of other faiths has been praised. Critics say that it has been introduced without consulting parents, who have complained about the forced adoption of religious practices. Mohammed Rizvi, coordinator of the Pakistan Society of Harrow, said: “For Muslim children the only option they have to eat is halal, whereas it isn’t a problem for other faiths to eat halal. This isn’t about Islamification or pandering to Muslims, it’s just common sense.” However, a leading organisation that supervises the slaughter of animals under Islamic rules said that it was opposed to halal meat being served in schools. Masood Khawaja, president of the Halal Food Authority said: “It is commendable for schools to provide halal meals, but there must be an alternative for non-Muslims. Some people are opposed to halal and kosher meat on animal welfare grounds and they should be given the choice not to eat it.”
7.  The halal market is estimated to be worth more than £2 billion a year in Britain. With pet food it is now the most profitable sector of the meat market. Its popularity in supermarket meals and restaurants means that it is now consumed by more non-Muslims than by Muslims. Halal rules require animals to be killed by having their throats cut to allow the blood to drain from the carcase until death supervenes; the ritual cut can therefore be regarded as the lethal act, practised on a conscious and sentient animal. In “humane” methods of killing a stunning blow to the head can complete the kill without the animal’s return to (dazed) sentience (as a boxer out for the count is not killed). The RSPCA and the Government’s veterinary experts, as well as semi-official organisations such as the Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC), condemn the ritual procedures as cruel but, like the Jewish rituals, they are exempted from the stipulations applied on “normal” methods of “humane slaughter.” Some methods of “instantaneous” stunning can proceed forthwith in “stun/kill” to death of the stricken animal because its heart beat is arrested and the requirements of the kill may satisfy some Muslim factions; the meat may then be passed on as halal, or haram if it is not. In a somewhat similar fashion Jewish killing may be regarded as kosher if the cut is made with special rituals, after which the animal’s throat is slashed with a special knife to ensure bleed out and death. If this process miscarries the animal receives a blow from a captive bolt in a gun and the stunned animal is then bled out but the meat is then no longer kosher.
8.  Meat from an acceptable Jewish procedure and inspection is passed as kosher; if the process miscarries but is quickly killed in the usual fashion or if irregularities exposed in the Jewish or normal methods of inspection the meat and offal are declared trefa (or treif) and may still go, whole or in part, to the normal, unmarked trade. The muscles may continue involuntary twitching for some time and complete bleed out cannot be assured, nor can complete removal of blood vessels and nerves be achieved by “porging” of hindquarters in British practice, so such meat is regarded as trefa and sold unmarked and unlabelled into the normal market, especially for manufacturing purposes and processing. European regulations are overtaking British practice in requiring all meats and products to be sold with details of the place and method of slaughter and the inspection it received. The meat trade and food standards agencies in the UK and EU are looking at the consequences in labelling of composite products and on imported materials (including ingredients) and corollaries extend to manufactured things, such as pharmaceuticals, clothing and regalia (the history of mutinies in the Indian raj come to mind and recent concern over bearskin headgear for ceremonial soldiers, lawyers’ wigs and robes and pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and toiletries must also be entertained.)
9.  In New Zealand, which has a trade with the Middle East in sheep and goat meat (live and on the hook) the Muslim authorities at the ports accept NZ declarations that the killing routinely adopted there (which avoid the cruelties in long-distance travel on the hoof) meet halal standards; religious methods and rituals on these matters have been banned and apply to all exports from the country, with exemptions only for imports and for all poultry slaughtered in other countries.
10.  Before the burghers of Harrow blunder into a serious matter with a special significance at the moment (and with more to come with the annual hajj pilgrimage in November) we suggest they do justice to the subject in which scientifically established concerns for animal welfare and the consequent implications for populations practising aversions and self-discipline are prompted by a variety of reasons.
11.  The Local Authority Caterers Association states that, “there is no legal requirement for schools to provide halal meals.” Beverley Baker, the Associations chairperson said. “Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said: There is no suggestion of health risks from halal meat. The objections are on ethical grounds. By only offering halal meat there is an assumption that a Muslim’s conscience is more important than someone who is concerned about animal rights.” The alternative of heeding the Stern message and leaving the interpretation to the consumer, parent and the children becomes especially relevant at this time, when eating plans need to be altered in a knowing way into meat – and dairy – free lifestyles. We hope our help in these matters will be rehearsed at all Harvest Festivals, many of which owe their origins to pagan observances. Britain has ceased keeping statistics on the religious slaughter of animals, but 114 million were killed in 2004 under halal rules.



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