Halal refers to Muslim criteria for how food is raised slaughtered and prepared. But do the requirements make the food healthier?
On Monday, Denmark announced it would ban Halal and Kosher slaughtering practices. Halal meat is reared—and slaughtered—differently from conventional meat. But is it healthier?
Like kosher food, Halal food is guided by religious criteria that govern everything from how the animals destined to be eaten are fed and raised, to how they are slaughtered and prepared for consumption.
According to the Muslims in Dietetics and Nutrition, a member group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Halal food can never contain pork or pork products (that includes gelatin and shortenings), or any alcohol. Rasheed Ahmed, founder and president of the Muslim Consumer Group (MCG), which both certifies Halal food and educates Muslims about different foods’ Halal status, says that to be truly Halal, how the animals are raised is taken into account. Animals must be fed vegetarian diets, which means that many chickens and cows raised on U.S. farms don’t qualify (some feed contains animal byproducts). Halal animals also can’t be treated with antibiotics or growth hormones, since the hormones may contain pork-based ingredients.
Halal animals must be slaughtered by a Muslim, who says a blessing, and by hand, not by machine (which is the way many chickens in the U.S. are killed. Once killed, the animal’s blood must drain completely, since Muslims who eat Halal do not consume the fresh blood of animals.
Ahmed admits that his criteria for certification are a bit stricter than others; for example, MCG won’t certify fish if it’s farm-raised, since it’s not clear whether they fish was fed animal byproducts. Only wild-caught fish are Halal certified by MCG standards.
While some people believe that these criteria make Halal food healthier, Carol O’Neil, professor of nutrition and food sciences at Louisiana State University Agricultural Center says that there simply aren’t studies showing that to be true. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which serves as the reference for nutritional content of food, does not separate out Halal meat (or kosher meat, for that matter) from other meats for its nutritional information.
“It’s difficult to know if there are any kind of nutritional differences,” says O’Neil. “There are certainly no studies done looking at people who consume Halal meat to see if their cholesterol levels are different, or anything like that. We just don’t know.”
O’Neil does note, however, that Halal practices may be more humane for the animal, and therefore that may make a difference for some people. “Our religion does not allow us to put any pressure on the animals,” says Ahmed. “So we treat them as humanely as possible.”