Reforming the Halal Food Economy

Maria Hussain

Because clean water is a require­ment of Islamic life, the early

Muslims took it as a duty as fard upon themselves to build huge

aqueducts that provided clean water to the people. In the same way,

Muslims today have an obligation to rework their supply network for

zabiha meat so that they can truly guarantee to the people that it

is halal and does not contain questionable by-products.

The American corporate infrastructure is neither adequate nor

responsible to ensure its citizens are fed in accordance with

Islamic guidelines. U.S. laws allow pork protein to be fed to cows,

and chicken meat to be fed to chick­ens. Fifteen percent of licensed

feed mills and thir­ty percent of unlicensed feed mills do not comply

with U.S. sterilization laws. The demand for nat­ural/organic meat

increases every year, with growing consumer education and alarm. A

CNN poll in March 2001 showed that two-thirds of Americans are

concerned about mad cow disease becoming a problem in this country.

Rasulallah (peace be upon him) prohibited eating the animal that

feeds on filth and drinking its milk (Abu Dawud). We must

restructure our food econ­omy to comply with the requirements of our

reli­gion in all its practical aspects, not merely the ritu­als, but

to meet the common, collective needs of the people. This is not

impossible, and it has to be done now.

Resolving This Crisis According to’s report, “It May

Be Zabiha, But Is It Halal?” Dr. Ahmad Sakr sug­gests the only viable

solution to the unavailability of genuinely halal meat products and

pure foods is to establish farms that are run by Muslims who will

raise livestock on plant-based feed that con­tains no hormones,

preservatives, meat, blood, or any animal by-products whatsoever.

I can think of a far more efficient way to feed the Muslims than

waiting for the sons of today’s engi­neers and taxi drivers to grow

up and become farmers. Among the People of the Book are American

farmers who are still committed to maintaining ethical farming

standards. Because of this, they are struggling to survive. We need

to identify them and enter into mutually beneficial business

agreements with them.

Creating Muslim-Driven Supply and Demand

Relying on mainstream food suppliers, it is nearly impossible to get

organic meat in the U.S., zabiha or not. The present system of

industrial food pro­cessing requires a supplier to provide thousands

of heads of cattle at a time to fill the demand of American

supermarkets. Organic farmers find it difficult to gain a foothold

in the consumer market because it is impossible for small farms to

meet that type of demand. Although organic meat is not yet available

on the retail market, concerned per­sons who are determined to eat

all-natural have the option of forming co-ops. Co-operatives were

launched in this country 150 years ago.

This is how coops work. People pool their money together to buy in

bulk and save. A few families may split the price of a cow, lamb or

sheep. You can find thousands of organic and grass-fed live­stock

farms on the Internet. Most farmers will let you use their farm to

make the zabiha. They might also process and cut up the meat after

you have slaughtered it Islamically. On average, one cow makes six

hundred pounds of packaged beef. Thus, even if you had to drive some

distance, hire a Muslim butcher, and then truck the meat back home,

it could still be worth the cost. When enough people start bypassing

the distributor and getting their meat directly from the farmer, the

meat stores will start noticing they are losing busi­ness and

eventually they will be forced to start offering organic meat.

Mainstreaming a Muslim-Managed Industry

While forming coops are one possible solution to this vexing

problem, I have even higher hopes for a voluntary upgrade of the

entire halal meat industry to halal and tayyab, before consumers are

forced to boycott halal meat vendors. Smart busi­nessmen are always

interested in new ways to generate profits, and I sincerely hope

they will jump at this opportunity to get a corner on the organic

meat market before some non-Muslim conglomerate caters to the

demand. The only thing that can make it happen is community

education. As soon as rank-and-file Muslims realize their “halal”

meat is not gen­uinely halal, they will not be able to eat it and

will demand a change.

The Muslim business community would be uniquely suited for bring?

ing quality organic meat to the population centers of the U.S. No

one else could do it as efficiently, as we already have an organized

distribution network of small halal meat stores throughout America.

It would not be that hard to switch suppliers to a traceable source

of cattle, free of preservatives, pesticides, animal feed by-

products, drugs and hormones. If the slaughterhouses saw the

advantage of buying, livestock only from organic certified farms, from
today the organic farmers would commit to ser­vicing the halal meat
industry, and with minimal bureaucratic red tape.

Islamic meat companies are not huge corporations. Our meat industry
is decentralized, meaning one halal grocery store could, in theory, buy
from a couple nearby grass-fed cattle farmers, rather than having to go
through a distributor. A larger meat distributor could contract with a
farm collective for his supply.

Family-owned farms already have a system in place where organic

farms pool their cattle to meet consumer demand. These collectives

will provide a steady supply of cattle for our smaller commer­cial

needs. Presently, an organic farm collective could probably supply

only ten head of cattle a day, but if the farmers got a sincere

commitment from the Muslims, they would be more than happy to

increase their output to feed all eight mil­lion of us.

Gary DeMoe, a Wisconsin cattle rancher I contacted, told me, “A

large and sustained market such as you are suggesting would get my

attention and favor, which means I would bend every possible effort

to supply it. Business is business.”

If all the Muslim consumers switched over to halal and tayyab

zabiha, the organic farmers would get the commercial base they need

to really start pro­ducing. The industry could go from one percent to

fifteen percent of the entire food industry virtually overnight. We

are talking about tens of billions of dollars potentially generated

by a collaborative effort between the Muslim community and the

organic farmers of America. It would be a huge blessing for the

entire economy, as well as the environment. I believe that Allah

will give us this advantage and more, if only we would start doing

things His way.

Establishing high-quality standards for halal meat should not just

be the dream of some fringe group of health food freaks and

religious fanatics. Grass-fed cows and sheep, and organic chickens

should be the standard of the halal industry. When Allah’s name

becomes associated with purity and ethical business practices, the

Muslims’ tarnished reputation will be restored. Many people, includ­

ing non-Muslims, will frequent our halal stores if the meat is

safer, tastier and healthier than what is available at the retail

supermarket. Some will drive long distances to buy organic meat.

Zabiha butchers and distributors should take courage and accept this

challenge, for Allah will make it easy for them.