VEGA News Item

Parents Say No to Halal School Dinners - 03/03/2008
An Oxford primary school introduced halal meat to the school dinner menu in September last year as part of its inclusion policy, but failed to inform parents of the move...
1. An Oxford primary school introduced halal meat to the school dinner menu in September last year as part of its inclusion policy, but failed to inform parents of the move until December. The parents are now petitioning for an end to halal-only meals (and we hope, for choices of excellent veggie meals for all to enjoy).

2. In a letter to parents at the end of term Sue Mortimer, headmistress of Rose Hill Primary, said that halal meat had been chosen because it was not forbidden by any religion or culture. (Does this imply that veggies are uncultured heathens, we ask). However, parents are angered by the decision to serve just meat killed in a particular way to make it possible [acceptable?] for Muslims have started a petition for an end to halal-only meals and the introduction of a choice of meat on the menu. (Halal meat is not suitable for observant Jews, although kosher products are acceptable to Muslims). Parents were upset, not being consulted, that the school had become the first primary in the country to ask all caterers for all meat dishes to be halal, for a trial period. (Sikh’s observances are variable, but they generally eschew halal and kosher meat and all food served in a gurdwara is lacto-vegetarian).

3. Several parents were annoyed by the manner of the introduction and announcement, but one complained that she “doesn’t agree with the way the animals are killed for halal meat.” Raghib Ali, one of the funders of the Oxford Islam and Muslim Awareness Project, says: “The meat looks the same and tastes the same. It’s just a different way the animals are reared and killed. It’s not cruel – It’s better for the animal.” However, Dr Taj Hargey, chairman of the Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford, believed that the school was at fault for failing to tell parents about the change. A spokesperson for Oxfordshire County Council said that three other schools in Oxford offered halal chicken up to once a week and two more schools had requested halal meat, but had not started serving it. Another school was consulting parents over whether to offer a fully halal menu.

4. The parents have recourse to many experts to explain why doubts over cruelty and prolongation of pain perpetrated in Jewish and Muslim procedures have attracted recommendations from the government-appointed Farm Animal Welfare Council for bans. The Food Standards Agency and Meat Hygiene Service, as well as sources such as our own website and the RSPCA and British Veterinary Association, can supply further details on traceability and labeling. They can also deal with requests by consumers to see the procedures for themselves; however, this may entail visits to slaughterhouses in countries within the EU and in South America from which meat and poultry are transshipped or imported into the UK.

5. As Oxford has been the centre of much argument over animal welfare issues – and the completion later this year of the labs for experiments on animals is likely to focus these matters anew – it is worth commenting that strict interpretations of Jewish and Muslims scriptures sees followers of these religions opposed to hunting for sport and – certainly for Muslims – to experimentation on animals and resort to GM.

6. We may note that Professor Colin Blakemore, who teaches neuroscience at Oxford and Warwick Universities, was former Chief Executive of the Medical Research Council and winner of the Royal Society’s Michael Faraday Award for public communication of science, and is now Chair of the Food Standards Agency’s new General Advisory Committee on science, has described animal testing as more “noble” than eating meat for pleasure. “In general, I don’t eat mammals, he says,” adding that he also tries to avoid consuming factory-farmed chickens (Sunday Times, 2 March 2008). Parents, teachers, and catering suppliers and buyers, especially in Oxford, might find these further warnings useful.  

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