Opinion: Double Standards in Halal certification?

Building for the Future Blog 

UK flagHaving been had cause to think about Halal meat certification in the UK, BFTF thought it a good time to put down on paper, as it were, thoughts on this and a number of a number of related issues…A good place to start is an excellent (and remarkably objective) paper by Ramon “Ibrahim” Harvey entitled “Certification of Halal Meat in the UK”, published by the Cambridge Centre of Islamic Studies.Ibrahim points out that “the injunction to eat that which is halal (and indeed tayyib, or wholesome) is a fundamental aspect of the Islamic way of life” and that there is a “lack of a universal and authoritative standard or legal definition of halal.”

This in turn means that there is no legal sanction that can be employed against businesses that say they are selling halal meat but are not actually doing so.

In response to this, organisations such as HFA (Halal Food Authority) and HMC (Halal Monitoring Committee) have been formed to certify meat and poultry as being halal.

These two main certifying bodies have taken different views on what constitutes halal, particularly with regards to the two issues of pre-stunning and mechanical slaughter.

Regarding pre-stunning, the Jewish and Muslim communities have exception from the EU legislation making this mandatory. Whilst the HMC do not allow pre-stunning, the HFA do allow electric pre-stunning (so long as it does not kill) for poultry, lambs, sheep and goats – but not for cows, possibly because no effective epecric method is available for these large animals

In the case of mechanical slaughter, this is a practice that is not allowed by the HMC. but is allowed by the HFA, so long as Muslim slaughtermen are present and saying the “Tasmiyah” at the same rate that the animals (usually poultry) are being killed.

These differences have caused a significant amount of disagreement and argument within the Muslim community regarding which of the bodies is acceptable. This debate also has cultural dimensions, with Ibrahim noting that whereas there are 37 butchers in the East of London, but none in the West of London (despite their being significant numbers of Muslim in both halves of the city. Ibrahim explains that this may well be because “the East is dominated by a broadly Deobandi influenced Bengali community, the West has a high proportion of Arab and Somali residents, who have seemingly ignored the growth of the HMC within the capital”

Ibrahim concludes by recommending that :

a) the certifying bodies should implement a system of labelling that states that “all relevant EU laws had been met, whether that particular meat had been stunned pre-slaughter, and whether it had been mechanically slaughtered.”

b) There should be “an agreement to mutual tolerance over diverse scholarly opinions, whether they are the majority opinion or not, and a serious effort to avoid the language of ‘nothalal’ in regard to such labelled products, as this is incredibly damaging and confusing to the community at large”

c) Thinking of the long term, the UK halal industry could take great strides in terms of its quality and accountability if “the HMC’s excellent grassroots work and rigorous monitoring procedures could be combined with the HFA’s impressive record of working with government and corporate entities, both nationally and internationally,”

Further comments by BFTF
Two issues related to Halal meat have troubled BFTF in recent years, as described below.

Back in 2010, KFC began selling halal chicken products in some of their stores, including at least one in Nottingham. As KFC were using poultry certificated by the HFA, this predictably led to comments by some Muslim organisations that Muslims should not buy these KFC products as they were not really halal. For example, BFTF received an email circular (from a local mosque ) that had a statement from the Lancashire Council of Mosques (LCM) attached in which following a meeting with KFC, they stated that :

“…the KFC chickens are stunned and mechanically slaughtered. The [LCM] Sub Group presented the LCM Halal criteria to the KFC representatives, which stipulates a condition of Halal to be slaughtered manually by a Muslim invoking the name of God. The Sub Group expressed concerns about mechanical slaughter and informed KFC that the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), the largest umbrella organisation in the UK, supports LCM’s position. . . the conclusion of the Sub Group is that the KFC Halal Supply Chain does not fulfil the LCM Halal criteria and therefore cannot be termed as Halal.”

BFTF wondered why KFC was being singled out for this treatment when Muslim owned fast food eateries and grocery shops were selling HFA certified products, or meat products with similar certifications. It felt like the Muslim community was insisting that KFC meet a very high standard whilst holding businesses in the Muslim community to a lower standard. To look at this a bit further, BFTF contacted Tahira Foods, one of the largest producers of processed meat products such as frozen burgers, and asked them about the way the animals in their products were slaughtered.
Tahira responded that:

“Please note that the Tahira products using lamb and/or beef come from animals which have not been stunned. Products using chicken meat however come from animals which have been passed through a mild “bain marie” with an inspector on hand to ensure that they are still alive afterwards. In doing so we have relied on fatwas from al marhoum Dr Zaki Badawi as well as Sheikh Yussef Al Qaradawi mufti of Qatar and Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein fadhlallah”

And that, regarding the performing of the prayer at the time of slaughter:

“Inasmuch as chicken are concerned this is done by machine with an inspector on hand to invoke the name of Allah (SWT) and ensure the animal is not dead after going through the bain marie. Whereas in the case of beef and lamb this is done by a Muslim hand.”

So it seemed that, if the KFC products were not halal, then neither were the Tahira poultry products (which were widely available in virtually all Muslim food stores. So should Muslim be boycotting these too?

BFTF asked Jammat Alhe Sunnat, an organisation representing many of Nottingham’s mosques, whether they agreed that the Tahira products were not halal – but did not receive a reply.

BFTF also asked, on a number of occasions, the Muslim Communities Facilitator, if they could raise this issue at their next committee meeting – but did not receive a response.

As Ibrahim mentions in his paper, the concept of “Tayyib”, or wholesomeness, should go hand in hand with Halal slaughter.

“Tayyib” would include the animal being humanely raised and not undergoing suffering during its life. Yet this is something that both the HFA and HMC appear to ignore completely. They simply do not seem to have made the slightest effort to incorporate any animal welfare standards (relating to the life of the animal prior to slaughter) into their codes.

BFTF finds this very sad and very difficult to understand.

The full report can be downloaded here