Tuesday, 3 November 2009

The Cut-Throat Battle for Halal Meat

Man Ist Was Man Isst” this German saying means “You are what you eat!”

Since the beginning of time, people in different cultures have tried to make laws about what to eat, what not to eat and how to eat what. 

The concepts of Kosher and Halal are codes to followers of Judaism and Islam about what food products are good and which are bad for them. The market for Halal food for Muslims in the West is a multibillion dollar industry with cut-throat competition.

Meat for Muslims in the West is a Huge Market

One out of every six persons alive today is a Muslim. Of the 1,5 billion followers of Islam worldwide, a significant proportion live in the West. According to the 2001 census 2.7 % of the UK population of 61 million are Muslims. Estimates of Muslims in the USA vary from 1.1 million (American Religious Identification Survey) to 6-7 million (Council on American-Islamic Relations).

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American Muslims are one of the most racially diverse religious groups in the United States according to a 2009 Gallup poll. As other Muslims in the West, they may disagree about many things, but one thing they agree upon is that their meat is properly slaughtered or Halal and not Haram or improper.

What is Halal?

The animal is to be slaughtered (only by a Muslim) should be healthy and alive at the time. 

Here is a video of a properly done Halal slaughter. Warning: Gruesome and shocking to watch!

Since carrion or eating dead animals is forbidden, the jugular vein, carotid artery and windpipe are severed with a razor sharp knife by a single swipe, to cause minimal pain. Further, all the blood should naturally drain away and the meat kept away from Haram meat like pork.

One county in Ohio, USA has a 2005 law against selling or producing food mislabeled “Halal”, which does not meet Islamic dietary standards. Halal Monitoring Committee in the UK tries to provide comprehensive certification.

The Australian government regulates all Halal slaughter, but in France there are as many certification bodies as France has varieties of cheese. Halal Industry Development Corporation, based in Malaysia has tried to create a global Halal certification standard but not succeeded.

The Lucrative market for Muslim food dollars in the West

The market for Muslim food in the West is about $650 billion globally. Big European chains have been quick on the pursuit of this catch. The French Carrefour, the second largest retailer in the world, the British chain Sainsbury sells Halal meat and they even sell Halal chocolate at Tesco.

Zabihah, lists an online guide to shops and restaurants, which sell Halal products globally. Even Fast-food chains like KFC have Halal only restaurants in the UK and France.
No country has any kind of ban on foodstuffs favoured by Muslims though there may be bans on apparel. France forbade Muslims students to wear headscarves in schools in 2004. There is no similar ban in the UK. 69% of non-Muslim respondents in the USA, would allow Muslim students to wear headscarves and 64% would allow Muslims to date their sons or daughters, according to a July 2007 Newsweek survey.

Muslims may be disproportionately poor in the West, but they spend proportionately larger sums on food than other population groups. Maybe for this reason as well as for the rich cuisine, Muslim food has also become popular in the West. Antoine Bonnel, of Paris Halal Expo, claims that non-Muslims spend 12-14% of their income on food but Muslims spend double that amount on food and meat makes 30% of their food budget.

Why Oppose Halal?

Are there any reasons for opposing the practice of halal and kosher?

  • Animal rights groups, even if they might eat meat themselves, object to the Halal method of slaughter as the animal should be alive when the throat is slit and the animal does feel pain.
  • Immediately after coming to power, the Nazis outlawed Jewish ritual slaughter (very similar to Halal). Mussolini followed suit. As the Allies liberated Europe, these bans were revoked except in Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland.
  • Some countries like New Zealand insist on specific methods of stunning before ritual slaughter as a compromise.

Some people strongly express their opinion that vegetarianism and Islam don't go very well hand in hand. But, this is not a comprehensive opinion shared by all Muslims. There are many Muslims who live perfectly sane, happy and healthy lives while choosing not to eat meat. 

I asked a Muslim friend of mine about his family's vegetarianism, and he replied "The one overall guideline on food that the Prophet gave was: Eat of what is halâl and what is agreeable to you. That says it all."


Holla said...

Even this is such a business. Good post.

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