VEGA News Item

Dispute Over Halal Meat - 07/03/2008
Confusing Schools of Thought and Practice for Oxford Parents.
1. Mothers in Oxford complaining that their children are having to eat halal meat in school meals are not alone in their reservations over provenance of the meat. Muslims themselves are at odds over the processes involved.

2. “Slaughtering methods are the subject of a fierce debate between different Muslim groups, with some scholars arguing the stunning of animals is allowed and others saying consciousness while the throat is slit is a prerequisite under Islamic law”, states the Grocer (1 March 2008). MD of Tahira Foods. Ghias El-Yafr, a major supplier of halal meat, fish, ready meals, and prepared meals, says that the arguments have been going on for 1,400 years: “Sharia is a wide spectrum. There is no one school of thought, and there are always some people who are more royalist than the king, and there are others who are far more liberal in their interpretation.”

3. There is no central body for regulating halal standards in the UK; instead companies are verified by “numerous halal bodies.” Tahira Foods, Europe’s largest halal food company, has been forced to deal with a barrage of emails and phone calls from concerned Muslim shoppers after a smear campaign urging customers to boycott the company. Abdul Raja is a campaigner who last year gained attention when he urged Muslims to boycott all halal meat during July as a protest against what he saw as lax standards in the halal industry generally. He claimed to have emailed about 1000 contacts, who in turn forwarded the email to many more.

4. He alleges that the company’s website misleads consumers in claiming animals are slaughtered by a Muslim facing Mecca. He says that an automated stunning and slaughtering line is used. Tahira Foods vehemently deny the allegations. Ghias El-Yafr defended the accuracy of the website, saying that Muslims were employed to carry out the slaughtering and “while water baths were used to stun animals or ‘put them to sleep’ before their throats were cut, this was allowed under certain halal certification systems.” Raja states that his campaign is not intended to stop the use of stunning but to ensure that the method used was declared on the label.

5. VEGA has found that the enthusiasm for traceability and labelling wanes among Food Standards Agency officials and trading standards officers faced with the wide spectrum of Sharia rules and the interpretation of kosher laws, which would tax the capabilities of even the most diligent archbishop.

6. The parents at Oxford and procurement officers generally for school, local authorities, government agencies, and other institutions may note that a halal or kosher monopoly on a communal meat supply is likely to preclude access to organically certified sources.

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