Opinion: Political bias against halal meat market

By Ashfak Bokhari

THE fast-growing halal meat market in France has become one of the contentious issues in the campaigns of two presidential candidates.

Incumbent Nicholas Sarkozy, who is finding his re-election too difficult, is deliberately using extreme-right rhetoric to regain ground by attacking what he calls ‘the expanding distribution of halal meat in France’.

The halal row began last month when Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right Front National (FN) who is running on an anti-immigration platform, announced that 100 per cent of all meat in the Paris region was halal and ‘ncroaching on the French way of life’. Later, she called for a ‘ban on the slaughtering of animals for consumption without stunning’ or Islamic way of slaughtering. However, meat industry representatives said her figure was incorrect. Sarkozy also initially called the fact wrong.

He said most of the meat consumed in Paris originates in slaughterhouses located in other parts of France that do not necessarily follow halal procedures.

But later, in a desperate bid to woo right-wing voters, he again attacked halal food, saying that halal meat options should not
be available in state school canteens. But his tactics to steal Le Pen’s votes seem to have backfired. Some newspaper columnists were of the view that Sarkozy had tried to ‘push fears of a supposed secret Islamisation of the dinner plate’.

Le Pen had in fact based her anti-Muslim tirade on facts played up in a France2 television documentary which said that much of the slaughtered meat known as halal is not labeled as such and is entering the general food chain, where it is being unknowingly consumed by the non-Muslim population.This accusation sparked a political controversy and the question of Muslim
immigration suddenly became a central issue in the presidential campaign.

Leaders of both Muslims and Jewish communities in France have expressed anger over bringing religion into the election campaign. Mohammed Moussaoui, a key leader of the Muslim community in France, said exploiting halal meat as a campaign issue was a matter for great concern to the Muslims because ‘it creates tensions in the society.’ He said he could not accept that ‘Muslims serve as scapegoats in this campaign.’

The grand rabbi of France, Gilles Bernheim, said: “As we are in a period of crisis, how can the issue of kosher meat and halal meat be a major problem?”

Halal products have a big market in France, which has the largest Muslim population in the European Union, estimated at between four million and six million. The halal food market in France has more than doubled over the past five years and is now valued at $7 billion.

The sector is now more than twice as large as that for organic foods and the industry experts expect the demand for halal to grow at more than 20 per cent annually.

This has annoyed many elements who are not comfortable with fast-growing halal market.

They are calling it the ‘stealth Islamisation’ of the French food chain. Similarly, when the large fast-food chain Quick removed bacon burgers from its menu and replaced them with a version using halal beef and a slice of smoked turkey, the socialist mayor of the northern French city of Roubaix, called it ‘discrimination against non-Muslim customers’.

About 85 per cent of the halal market in France consists of fresh meat sold by halal butchers. But in recent years, the fastest-growing niche in France’s halal food sector has been halal-certified cold cuts, sauces, soups, ready-made dishes, baby foods and other processed food products.

Halal meat is also proliferating on menus of schools, hospitals and company cafeterias across the country.

France is among the countries, mostly non-Muslim, which are exporting halal products. They include Brazil, the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand and India. In 2010, India exported halal brand products worth $21 billion.

It is interesting to note that awareness about what is halal is much more in those countries where Muslims are in a

Halal products are not for Muslims only whose population at present is 1.5 billion, but also for non-Muslims who are getting attracted to them because they find them safe, hygienic, wholesome, of high quality and trustworthy.

The global value for trade of halal foods and non-food products is estimated at $2.1 trillion annually while global halal trade is approximately $80 billion which is five per cent of total trade of agri-food products.

Being a Muslim country, Pakistan is in an advantageous position to secure a significant share in the halal market. But unfortunately, it has hardly any presence as yet in the global halal market, even in countries and cities where big clusters of Pakistanis are located. They can be accessed without any hassles by Pakistani firms. In fact, these firms will be welcomed there.

But Pakistan’s private sector and commerce ministry have miserably failed to capture even a small share of the global halal market because of indifference, lethargy, poor business vision and short-sightedness. Ironically, to an average Pakistani businessman halal still means slaughtering of chicken and animals and nothing more.

He is still unaware of the fact that there exists a lucrative market abroad in the name of halal and which has almost been overtaken by western food firms.

It is interesting to note that in an effort to promote halal industry in the country an organisation called the Pakistan Halal Product Development Board (PHPDB) was established or its establishment was announced on December 5, 2009 by the then minister for science and technology Azam Khan Swati. But it never saw light of the day.

On January 10, 2012, the new minister for science and technology Mir Changez Khan Jamali said, “some technical issues are delaying the issuance of a notification for establishing PHPDB.”

The board, to be linked to the Organisation of Islamic Conference and attached to the ministry of science and technology, was to help Pakistani entrepreneurs get recognition in the global halal market.

The board’s key objectives are to assist and facilitate the development of halal industry in the country, and develop halal standards for food and non-food items.