Mohammad Ashraf’s first foray into the world of halal certification
began in 1975, when the microbiologist took orders to buy hundreds of
chickens from neighbours in Burlington. He slaughtered them by hand,
one by one.
“I did it for my own consumption, and for my
friends’ use,” said Ashraf, now the secretary general of the Islamic
Society of North America.
The society, a Canadian offshoot of an
American organization, has been certifying meat across the country as
halal, or “lawful” in Arabic, for 20 years.
“There was no
certification process at the time. So I did it myself,” he said. “I
always felt there was a need for a supervising body.”
certification is a job provincial and federal agencies stay away from.
That has paved the way for self-regulating certification agencies.
they charge. ISNA’s fees depend on the size of business and whether
travel is required. There is a one-time fee of $250 to $500, but annual
expenses never exceed $2,000, said Ashraf.
The Halal Monitoring
Authority, which began certifying food as halal in 2004, has come under
fire from local businesses who say their rates are too high, and are
putting a dent in their profits. Charges start at $13.50 an hour for
slaughterhouses, abattoirs and meat processors, and the agency charges
restaurants and butchers $75 to $150 a month.
Council of Canada, which certifies all kosher meat processed and sold
in Toronto, charges a “supervision fee,” which includes the salary of
the inspectors and the overhead costs on an hourly basis. A
spokesperson for the council wouldn’t say how much it charges.
Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and the
Canadian Food Inspection Agency monitor slaughterhouses for health and
safety. But they don’t regulate or monitor what’s halal or kosher, or
how much the groups charge.
In 1988, Ashraf began working to
implement internationally recognized guidelines of Islamic slaughter in
Canada, such as reciting a prayer before the slaughter, and ensuring
the act inflicts the least possible pain on the animal.
then, the Muslim community has increased significantly, as has the need
from consumers for an Islamic stamp of approval on their meat products.
But increased demand has also brought forth different interpretations
of what is halal and what isn’t.
The Halal Monitoring Authority
was formed after a group of local imams inspected slaughterhouses and
meat processing plants. After seeing shortcomings, the group approached
ISNA to work together.
But ISNA adheres to rulings made by
Islamic scholars that machine slaughter is acceptable in large-scale
plants. Imam Yusuf Badat of the HMA, which has halal-certified almost
100 businesses in the GTA, says it “openly speaks out against machine
slaughter” and “only allows for hand slaughter.”
For many in the community, it all boils down to trust, said Ashraf.
At Iqbal Halal Foods in Thorncliffe Park, which is monitored daily by the HMA, shoppers seem to follow this philosophy.
rely on the owners. If they tell me it’s halal, I take it as halal,”
said Hossein Jamal, waiting to pick up his meat. “It is their duty to
make sure it is.”