VEGA News Item

Halal, Haram, Kosher – Religious Words With Commercial Clout - 09/08/2007
Vegetarians need to compare their performance in the food market with the Muslims’...
1. Vegetarians need to compare their performance in the food market with the Muslims’. There are about 3 million consumers buying veggie and as many professing halal preferences. According to the meattradesjournal (03/08/07) “halal meat is moving outside its niche and proving increasingly popular to non-Muslim consumers. But rising demand in tradition brings its own difficulties.” Nonetheless, “the industry continues to grow at a staggering rate and demand for halal has never been higher.” Recent changes in the market for veggie foods don’t display such vigor and enterprise, and they display an untoward cheesiness and acceptance of the by-products and co-products of the dairy/beef/veal industry.

2. A recent survey by an advertising firm identified Muslims as “Britain’s largest untapped niche market” and “as the fastest-growing religion in the world, with the youngest age profile in Britain”, their percentage at 3% of the UK’s population, “that percentage is set to rise even faster.” By the year 2025 it is estimated that Europe’s Muslim population will have doubled. The survey urges “businesses to take advantage of a consumer group with a collective spending power of £20.5bn. Halal meat is one of the main sources of potential profits for businesses looking to capitalize on this spending power. According to Tahira Foods, Europe’s leading producer and distributor of halal foods, the UK market is worth £700m a year at retail.” Figures released by the Meat and Livestock Commission (MLC) suggest that sheep and poultry account for 82% of meat consumption in the British Muslim community and that Muslims consume 20% of sheep meat in the UK. Beef is the smallest sector of the halal meat market, worth £100m a year; poultry and lamb are worth £350m and £250m respectively.

3. This year UK meat businesses have begun to broaden and diversify the range of halal produce they stock, adding frozen items, ready-meals, and meat accompaniments (such as sauces and spices) to already popular fresh meat ranges.

4. “We now supply every major multiple in the UK,” says Faiza Akmal, marketing executive for Tahira Foods. “Morrison’s introduced a frozen range in May and we are doing a lot of work with Tesco, which plans to spend RM1 billion (€215m) on Malaysian-made halal food over the next 5 years”. Foodservice establishments have also been quick to jump on the halal bandwagon. Subway opened up its first halal store in Walthamstow, East London, on 27 June this year. McDonald’s is running a trial with a halal chicken menu at its Southall restaurant; and Nandos is using 100% halal chicken. “Restaurants are now more overtly displaying their halal credentials”, says Tony Goodger, foodservice trade manager for the MLC, who continued: “Halal is very important in public catering, especially in schools. The NHS, the prison services, and the Home Office have all released halal guidelines for their catering suppliers, which were drafted after discussions with the local Muslim community”. However, disputes have arisen in schools in which Muslim and non-Muslim parents have been at loggerheads over the halal content and origins of the meat in the meals provided.

5. “The needs for agreement on standards and practices for halal meat production are particularly pressing in the UK. Conflicting opinions of different accreditation bodies and imams over issues such as stunning have created a growing mistrust of halal meat among British Muslims, which culminated in a call for a boycott of all halal meat in July. Abdul Raja, who started the campaign by e-mail, wants Muslims to use their spending power to force the government into setting up a national body to regulate halal,” states the meattradesjournal (03/08/07). EBLEX, a body monitoring the beef and lamb trades is willing to help the community to produce a quality assurance scheme, but argued that it needed an agreed set of rules before work could begin.

6. Stunning is at the centre of the controversy. Some independent accreditation groups, such as the Halal Food Authority (HFA) believe that stunning prior to slaughter should be allowed as long as the animal is not actually killed at that point. Other groups, such as the Halal Monitoring Committee have placed a ban on all stunning because of the possibility that the animal could die from that part of the process. “The word ‘halal’ is now a buzzword, not only nationally but internationally”, says Masood Khawaja, president of the HFA, “but we must modernize to develop the industry. Islam does not stop us from doing things scientifically and taking advantage of technology”, HFA “has robustly answered attacks from animal welfare groups about the welfare implications of religious slaughter”. He continues: “With the efforts of the HFA the question of animal rights and animal welfare has been thwarted, “explains Khawaja. “We have addressed the question and Islamic slaughter is not as inhumane as people report it”.

7. Introduction of “a more moderate” version of halal slaughter does not satisfy all Muslim groups, some of whom aver that stunning and modern methods of slaughter result in haram – or non-permissible – meat. Khawaja disagrees that a government accreditation body provides an answer. He thinks it “preposterous to even think about a government-unified body to regulate halal because the government cannot make religious laws”, he says, while accepting some sort of global agreement on what they are. These standards “need to be agreed by people involved in the food industry – not imams and clerics who are out of touch with the sector”, he says (but, VEGA notes, they do buy and eat the meat).

8. “Forward-thinking growth” is Khawaja’s hope for the future, “rather than a return to ancient methods of slaughter. The most important thing is to offer traceability right through the chain, from the beginning to the end. But we must ensure that we continue to use science and technology for our growth and our progression”. Khawaja cites principles of halal that “translate into the fact that the food is wholesome, pure, and simple and so for everyone”. Halal products should be available “not just for Muslims by Muslims, but for it to come to represent the highest-quality standards and sanitation for everyone”, said Khairy Jamaluddin at the 2007 World Halal Forum, held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: “halal must come to represent a value-added product… Halal is not just a niche market for Muslims, but a powerful, vibrant, and rapidly expanding sector that has a significant role to play in global trade”. But this does not count with Britain’s government-appointed Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC), who have argued twice during the last 2 decades for a ban on “religious” methods of slaughter (i.e. Muslim and Jewish); and Europe has its DIALREL project, which aims at “encouraging dialog on issues of religious slaughter… as well as gathering and dissemination of information”.

9. Where does “organic” stand in all of this? It is a “potential growth area for the halal sector. The Qur’an states that food should not only be halal but should also be ‘tayyib’, meaning wholesome, natural, and good. Organic production methods “are one way to guarantee animals have been reared naturally to high standards in accordance with criteria for halal and tayyib meat”, explains the MTJ Abraham Natural Produce, run by Muhammad Rhida, is one of the first companies in the UK to offer organic halal meat. He started the business after moving out of London to the countryside to enjoy a greener lifestyle. The family became smallholders “almost overnight” in a small village and they began raising and slaughtering animals themselves “to guarantee truly halal meat”. (What, with no training, VEGAns may ask.) “When you are eating flesh, something else’s DNA, you need to be 100% positive that the animal was pure, healthy, and happy”, explains Rhida.

10. Rhida discovered some “uncomfortable truths” about the halal industry through conversations with breeders, abattoir owners, and locals. He decided to launch an organic meat company to provide Muslims with ethically-reared halal meat. “Our target market is people who really care about the quality of the animals, their treatment”, Rhida says. He rears his own chickens and goats and sources geese, turkey, and lamb from local farmers. He slaughters each animal personally (we are not told how he performs this act). The meat is butchered fresh, vacuum-packed, and delivered in a thermal box. However, we note that the Soil Association does not include halal meat in its list of accredited products; and we comment that animals killed for ordinary, commercial, HFA-standard meat and products – as well as livestock drawn for the kosher-trade – come from ordinary, unblessed farms, markets, and dealerships.

11. Veggies can draw a few favourable signs from this activity. Muslims living in communities including a strong Hindu (and this veggie influence), as in India, recognize the feasibility of living on an essentially plant-based diet. A VEGA exploration into the end-of-aisle cabinet of halal foods in a local supermarket revealed some ready-meals that are strictly vegetarian (i.e. vegan) alternatives to meat and dairy. The vegetarian compartment in this supermarket is no more, although some familiar commodities turn up in the special needs section adjoining the pharmacy. Otherwise, foods for meat-reducers and dairy-frees are fairly widely distributed. Strict veggies will, however, have to take magnifying glasses with them to read the labels as they pick their way through ever-increasing choices in ranges that look promising but a whey out, are cheesy or, otherwise contaminated with signs of cruelty in the food chain.

12. The DIALREL project must extend its purview to include, in a womb-to-tomb manner, all aspects of the production using livestock, wild and domesticated, for exploitation by humans, not just the matter of final slaughter and culling. Nearly all the animals used in the live/deadstock industry must surely be output from an industry guilty of numerous violations of the religious texts. Any meat declared haram or non-kosher (treif) after slaughter by shechita or Muslim practice and exclude by peculiar applications of hygiene laws may still be legally unloaded into the general meat-market undistinguished and specifically indicated to consumers – who may therefore be unwitting accomplices in processes they abjure. Labelling at least must give appropriate warnings.

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