Opinion: Halal – know your market!

Rizvan KhalidRizvan Khalid, owner director of Euro Quality Lambs, explains why the issue of harmonising halal standards is complex and how the industry can learn from the New Zealand system.

In a short space of time we had the Eblex Halal Forum and the World Halal Summit (WHS) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Both events demonstrated not only the growing importance of halal in the industry, but also the growing risks if the correct marketing and engagement strategies are not deployed.

Halal gives access to a huge marketplace – 23% of the world’s population are Muslim – yet many marketers surprisingly treat them as one homogeneous unit. What emerged from the WHS was the desire to harmonise halal standards, but the acknowledgement that it is a very difficult task due to differences of priority and emphasis. To understand why, we only need to reflect upon the different organic standards across Europe – what is acceptable to some organic certifiers is not to others. This is the crux of the halal standards issue and means it is ever more important to really understand what your customer wants and what suits your business to supply.

At the same time it is important to assess and manage the impact a halal strategy may have on the existing customer base. As highlighted by recent research disseminated at both events, halal has been used by some as a pretext for xenophobia. Concern about halal has been voiced in terms of animal welfare, specifically slaughtering without stunning, without due recognition that 80% of UK halal is pre-stunned.

This narrative of negligently inter-mixing halal and welfare has created negative connotations that industry could have avoided if consumers had been made aware early enough that the New Zealand lamb that is and has been consumed for decades has been slaughtered reversibly-stunned halal.

What many don’t appreciate is that the wider a market a business can serve, the cheaper the overhead costs and ultimately the cheaper the costs for all consumers, even with added certification and audit costs. The industry needs to be on the front-foot and not on the back-foot.

Firstly it needs to lobby government to allow recovery demonstrations of reversibly-stunned halal animals, as they do in New Zealand, to assure segments of the halal market that the stun does not cause the death of the animal – a fundamental halal criterion. Specific controls can be implemented under OV supervision to ensure no abuse of process.

Secondly, those businesses that are slaughtering without stunning need to develop and deploy best practice in restraint and slaughter to minimise the number of concerns welfare activists have and to beat the drum of continuous improvement. Most of the issues seen in recent welfare footage in a slaughter-without-stunning plant were systematic relating to pre-slaughter handling, rather than the slaughter process itself, and it was interesting that the fallout from the welfare abuse at a conventional pre-stun abattoir a week later was markedly less emotional, with less reporting.

Mis-stuns are a reality and need to be minimised, but the existing recording of these are inadequate. The bottom line is to improve practices, know your marketplace, get the right product to the right customer and communicate the right messages, and hopefully everyone across the supply chain will benefit.