8th May 2014
Once again the last few days has seen a number of headlines on halal food. Some of them are misinformed and some are simply there to generate unnecessary hysteria.
Many faiths place an emphasis on meat, and food in general, to be “pure and wholesome”, a broad concept which takes a holistic approach to the processes of rearing and consumption of animals. The welfare and treatment of animals is central to this so that the whole supply chain should be underpinned by ethical principles.
Muslims believe the ‘halal‘ (literally meaning, ‘permissible’) method (just like Jews do for kosher) to be the most humane way to slaughter animals for consumption. The aim is to make the death of the animal as quick and painless as possible. The halaland kosher methods of slaughter which causes a rapid loss of consciousness is indeed equivalent to the stunning of the animal. Although there is a difference of opinion, a large proportion of Muslims do not accept that pre-stunned methods of slaughter conform to the criteria of halal.
None of us are opposed to proper labelling of meat so consumers know whether they are halal or kosher. Indeed, this would be in the interests of Muslim and Jewish consumers who wish to observe their dietary rules.
But in the interests of fairness and equality, consumers also have the right to know the origins of non-religious slaughtered food. If the current controversy is truly about consumer transparency, then we must also have labelled meat slaughtered via captive bolt shooting, gassing, electrocution, drowning or trapping. Singling out halal meat for compulsory labelling thus leaves us open to religious discrimination.
We understand that there is a genuine concern about animal welfare. Indeed the welfare of animals is a central condition of halal food (known as tayyib). However, for many years now, both Muslim and Jewish experts have engaged and debated with certain activists who disagree with our notion that non-stunned slaughter is far more humane than the stunned method.
Finally, we are extremely concerned by the tone and tenor of the argument raging in our newspapers today. Those responsible for sensationalist headlines must ask themselves: are they intent on banning all methods of religious slaughter, or will they somehow single out Muslims, and if so, how?
The halal food industry is big in the United Kingdom. Valued at over £3 billion, it contributes large amounts to the UK economy. Many popular curry houses and restaurants clearly displaying Halal attract customers who are not often Muslims. We welcome any move by mainstream companies to cater for Muslim consumers. At the end of the day, informed consumer choice, rather than prejudice should be the motivating factor here.