Halal food monitor riles sellers

| 29/07/2008 | Reply

Muslim agency ensures dietary laws are followed, but stamp of approval costly, some merchants find

The sign says halal, but is it really?

A Muslim
not-for-profit organization says that even though meat might be
advertised as halal, that doesn’t ensure it is slaughtered according to
Qur’an guidelines. And the Halal Monitoring Authority admits its
growing influence on halal food has upset some businesses.

“In
the process of establishing this organization and growing rapidly, in a
number of years, we are making enemies,” said Imam Yusuf Badat of the
monitoring agency.

The monitoring authority was formed as a
branch of the Canadian Council of Muslim Theologians after a group of
imams toured the country to inspect halal slaughterhouses, abattoirs
and meat processors in 2004. Some were registered with U.S. halal
certifying bodies; many just purported to sell halal products.

What
they found astounded them, Badat said – some of the men doing the
slaughtering did not recite the name of Allah at the time of the
slaughter, while others were not Muslim. Some used mechanical blades to
cut the meat; others contaminated it with non-halal meat.

In
Arabic, the word “halal” means “lawful” or “permitted.” The universal
term refers to anything allowed by sharia – Islamic law grounded in the
Qur’an.

In 2006, the HMA began a full-fledged effort to monitor
halal slaughtering practices, encouraging consumers – namely, members
of their congregations – to buy meat products certified by the agency.
It invited businesses to join for a price: $13.50 an hour for
slaughterhouses, abattoirs and meat processors, and between $75 to $150
a month for restaurants, butchers and manufacturers of nonmeat
products.

“Upon the demand of the consumer, the plants, one
after another, started applying to be recommended by our organization
to prepare halal products,” said Badat.

Badat said the
monitoring authority’s fees only cover its costs, and that the extra
expenses for halal businesses should only result in a three to four
cent increase for the consumer. Anything more than that, he said, is
“ill-practice.”

According to its website, 14 businesses are
registered with the monitoring authority. Badat stressed that joining
is optional. “We don’t ask anyone to be certified,” he said.

Akbar
Ali Badeshah, owner of Lindsay Zabiha Meat Packers in Sunderland, says
the demand for HMA products, coupled with fees he cannot afford, has
hurt his business. He usually runs his slaughterhouse two days a week.
“Now this week my plant is closed,” he said yesterday. “I don’t have
any business.”

Badeshah said his wholesale customers were
demanding he be certified by the authority, because their customers
were following the advice of their imams. He said HMA was charging him
$1,500 a month, the cost of two days a week of supervision, plus
administrative costs – more than he was able to pay, especially because
his 11-year-old son has been sick and needs expensive medicine. He says
he reached an deal with the agency to pay them when he could, but Badat
said no such deal was made.

Badeshah’s certification was withdrawn last week because he was not able to pay the money owed.

Eliss
Kontos, owner of Mr. Greek Meat Market on Danforth Ave., recognizes
that HMA certification is pricey. “A lot of people don’t want to become
members because of the cost,” he said.

Kontos said he pays
about $500 a month to the agency, the cost of having an inspector
supervise the slaughter of approximately 2,000 lamb, 100 cattle and 100
calves.

Kontos said he is happy with what the agency is doing,
and that his sales have gone up because of consumer demand. He said his
customers “feel better, 100 per cent reassurance that everything is
slaughtered properly.”

But Kontos admitted his profit margin for halal products has gone down due to the added expenses.

While
the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and the
Canadian Food Inspection Agency monitor all slaughterhouses for health
and safety standards, they do not have specific halal licences or
regulations.

Ravi Rai, a red meat program specialist with the
Canadian Food Inspection Agency, said the HMA is listed with them as a
monitoring authority, which gives them permission to label meat halal.
But Rai said the government does not regulate the practices of these
bodies and that he doesn’t know how much HMA charges members.

Susan
Murray, spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and
Rural Affairs, said some slaughterhouses are registered with the
provincial government as being halal, but that that “is not a specific
designation in our point of view.”

“We would know that they say that’s what they’re doing,” she said. “We’re not experts at halal slaughter.”

Badat
said the imams consulted with the provincial and federal governments
before establishing the agency. “They know what we are and what we are
doing,” he said.

Badat said the HMA can barely keep up with
demand for its services, thanks to a growing Muslim population and
increased awareness about halal practices.

Some halal consumers
say that according to the Qur’an they are only responsible for eating
what they have been told is halal meat.

“It says halal meat in the sign,” said Melica Abdu. “If they lie to me, that’s their problem.”

Category: Halal Integrity, Meat & Poultry, The Americas

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