Opinion: Halal lawsuit for Halal violation

| 04/07/2013 | Reply

RUSHDIThe Malay Mail

“Discourage litigation. Persuade your neigbhours to compromise whenever you can. As a peacemaker the lawyer has superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough.” — Abraham Lincoln.

News flash: “The only two McDonald’s restaurants in the United States that were serving food prepared according to Islamic law have stopped several weeks after a US$700,000 settlement over a lawsuit [brought by a customer named Ahmed Ahmed] that alleged the items weren’t consistently halal.” — Associated Press, June 24, 2013.

There were 3,776 comments (at time of writing this article) linked to the news story, and below are a sampling, unsure how representative, of the sentiments of Muslims in the US in the post 9/11 period.

“Maybe McDonald’s simply saw the potential financial nightmare of constantly being badgered by these people concerning offering a ‘halal’ version of its menu, and the constant scrutiny of the ‘halal’ process. Considering that the animals have to be slaughtered by cutting their throats, and not…”

“There is no way to accommodate these people, we need to stop trying.”

“… foreigners may adopt to America — America should not adapt for foreigners…”

“And in what other country can you ‘immigrate’ and demand they change their centuries-old customs just to accommodate you, the newcomer? Try doing this in a Muslim country and see what happens to you, particularly if you’re a Christian.” This particular comment had the most “thumbs up.”

McDonald’s is not an isolated incident. According to a recent piece in the Washington Post, “… In 2011, the Orange County, California, district attorney obtained a US$527,000 settlement against the Super King Market in Anaheim, alleging the store falsely advertised generic and mixed meat as halal. The store denied wrongdoing…”

Halal trigger happy

Islamic finance does not seem as trigger happy compared to the self-appointed gate-keepers of the halal industry! It may have to do with authenticity.

For example, when DNA traces of pork were found in, say, halal burgers recently, it made the consumption of the burger impermissible, yet of minor interest as tolerated  by scholars in transactions (as long as there is purification).

A leading halal certification organisation in the US, Islamic Food & Nutrition Council of America (IFANCA), attempts to promote, preserve and police the integrity of halal offerings. According to them, there are now over 2,300 retail outlets offering halal (from 10-20 in the 1970s) and nearly 7,000 restaurants. (Source: WP)

The victory

Ahmed may be a hero to a segment of the Muslim population which believes in protecting and preserving the halal authenticity, and its violation must be addressed immediately through, say, legal means, where possible.

It assumes there is a universal halal certification standard for handling, processing, inventory, etc, signed off by a (single) US halal certifying body. However, this is unlikely as there are several such bodies in the US.

The settlement of US$700,000 (RM2.2 million) raises a few questions:

1. How did the parties arrive at this figure, which is not available in the story, but explained in the settlement? It would be interesting to know the dollar amount formula for halal violation, i.e. emotional and psychological distress? Does this open the litigation floodgates elsewhere?

2. The amount will be “… shared by a customer named Ahmed Ahmed, a Muslim-run Detroit health clinic, Dearborn’s Arab American National Museum and lawyers.” What about the many customers who ate the “…halal McChicken sandwich or Chicken McNuggets…” and who are not part of the settlement (as did not know)? Why not donate all this money (ex legal fees) to charity, much like Islamic finance does with purification money?

3. Could this have happened in a Muslim country, and would it be resolved through the settlement of a legal suit? How would an entity, like Jakim, advise similarly aggrieved victims?

The loss

McDonald’s stated, “… Dearborn, which has a large Muslim population, [is] no longer offering a halal McChicken sandwich or Chicken McNuggets in order  ‘to focus on our national core menu’… [It] takes into account ‘local and dietary preferences,’ and supports its franchisees in Dearborn…”

Now, with McDonald’s exiting the halal product offering in the US, what are some possible developments:

1. There may be political backlash to the halal story by a segment of the American public and media sensationalism as McDonald’s will come across more of a victim trying to cater to the religious sensitivities of Muslims. Thus, halal may face similar challenges to the ones that Islamic finance encounters from the anti-syariah movement.

2. It also sends a negative signal to other fast-food franchisers, restaurants, supermarkets, etc, that were considering catering to the growing Muslim market as part of their affinity market offering.

3. Some of the suppliers of the halal chickens will no doubt be adversely impacted as McDonald’s is a large customer. The issue was more of the handling of the halal chicken parts (on-site contamination) rather than the manufacturing/processing at the supplier factory. The blame may rest more on the certifying body (or individual) as they should have advised the franchisees that they should have gone either totally halal or stayed the same. It is rather difficult to offer two halal items on the menu and not to have some sort of cross contamination.

Verdict

A legal recourse may be a double-edged sword, where a “wrong may be righted” at micro level, but it also sends a chilling effect on commerce at the macro level.

When Western/conventional companies undertake to serve the “religious” market, be it Thomson Reuters for Islamic finance or Nestle for halal, it implies a credible market worthy of committing budgets, resources and priorities to.

Furthermore, the same company will not compromise its established brand or risk existing revenue to serve a small niche market where there are threats of lawsuits for “non-compliance.”

Thus, the entry of Fortune 500 companies into Islamic finance and halal industry is welcomed as it’s deemed as a badge of arrival, and, conversely, their exit may imply such markets are fads and will not mature to mainstream.

Thus, are my fellow American Muslims shooting ourselves in our collective feet with legal recourse, confrontation over conciliation, without understanding or appreciating the business consequences?

“Litigation: A machine which you go into as a pig and come out of as a sausage.” — Ambrose Pierce.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

– See more at: http://www.themalaymailonline.com/opinion/rushdi-siddiqui/article/halal-lawsuit-for-halal-violation#sthash.6GJalc6Z.7RTlNpRU.dpuf

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Category: Halal Integrity, Meat & Poultry, Opinion, Restaurants, The Americas, USA

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