Anyone who uses social media will be familiar with flash campaigns over certain companies, when a God-fearing Christian (because we all are, that’s why church attendances are so high) discovers that a company has halal certification, allowing it to sell to Muslims.
The general tone of the postings is a rather frenzied “Company X is pandering to Muslims! I’ll never buy their products again!” The implicit suggestion — of course — is that becoming a Muslim will soon be compulsory unless we all join Britain First.
While there is a debate to be had on halal slaughter and whether animals are pre-stunned (see below), the comments are usually just Islamophobic — Britvic Soft Drinks are halal, Kingsmill 50/50 sandwich thins are halal, as are Krispy Kreme Donuts and Mars chocolate products, none of which have anything to do with how animals are treated. Indeed, halal covers not only food and drink but also all matters of daily life.
Aside from the depressing lack of tolerance these postings show, two things always strike us.
One is that if you search for halal food on the Internet, you invariably find young Muslims desperate for Haribo trying to establish what sweeties are acceptable, which is sweet in itself.
The second is to question the basic lack of knowledge some people have, not only about marketing products to niche groups — why would Krispy Kreme et al not want a potential 2.5m customers — but also about our own local economy: read our cattle market reports and you will see how important what’s called the “ethnic trade” is to local farmers. This is particularly true around the end of festivals but in general the Muslim community consumes around 20% of all sheep meat sold in England.
It’s so important a sector that industry levy organisation the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board Beef and Lamb has now announced plans to boost sales into the halal sector.
The board has commissioned a new cookery show, Healthy Kitchen, to be broadcast on MuslimTV to showcase the quality of home-produced beef and lamb, as well as give recipes. The series starts in June.
The show will feature on-farm production and look at how the halal sector adds value throughout the supply chain. The levy board will also have a stand at the Muslim Lifestyle Show at London Olympia at the end of this month, where it will host a cookery and butchery demonstration theatre. Consumer research has been commissioned to investigate decision-making by Muslims when purchasing their meat.
The aim of the campaign is to help AHDB Beef and Lamb decide where to target its activity, supporting what Dr Phil Hadley, its head of global supply chain development, calls the “vibrant and growing domestic market” for halal sheep meat.
Clearly people can have concerns about slaughter of animals. Although 80% of halal food is pre-stunned before slaughter, that means that 20% is not, though abattoirs are not pretty places to begin with. (The exact figures for pre-stunning are 84% of cattle, 81% of sheep and 88% of chickens. All halal supermarket meat is pre-stunned; Tesco says the only difference between its halal meat and other meat is that the former was blessed as it was killed).
The Halal Food Authority stresses that while it ensures meat is slaughtered to halal standards, it also pays attention to EU regulations. In fact, Muslim slaughter only requires animals to be alive and healthy at the time of slaughter, which is why stunning can be used.
Jewish law prevents any mechanical or electrical stunning, because an animal must be entirely unharmed and healthy at the point of slaughter; Jews say their ritual cut itself involves an irreversible stun.
Perhaps that’s the reason why there is no ban on halal slaughter that doesn’t have pre-stunning – it would also make kosher slaughter illegal. A difficult one. Animal rights or a belief system?
Incidentally, the Halal Food Authority does not recognise poultry slaughterhouses that use a mechanical fixed blade (mechanised killing) to slaughter birds, whereas those of you who eat chicken have no such qualms. By the same token some Muslims find captive bolt stunning not acceptable, because it smashes the brain and causes death before the ritual slaughter, but other meat-eaters are quite happy with that arrangement.
(This obsession with standards and ritual might seem a bit quaint in a secular country, but of course it’s unlikely that Muslims or Jews will end up eating horsemeat in lasagne because they had no knowledge of who was feeding them what).
To get back to the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board Beef and Lamb campaign: the point is that the halal market is a big one, and it benefits local farmers; it’s not just those colourful supermarkets you see driving through Manchester.
So next time you see social media memes faking outrage at halal food outlets, stop before you share them — you could actually be hitting the pockets of local farmers. Twenty out of every 100 lambs you see grazing now will be sold to the halal market, often at a premium for local farmers.