UK: Row brewing over Halal meat regulation

By Sanjiv Buttoo BBC Asian Network

An organisation which licenses companies dealing in halal meat has been accused of bullying the firms it regulates.

The Halal Monitoring Committee (HMC) was set up in 2003 in Leicester, with the aim of carrying out inspections in abattoirs and meat wholesalers and to monitor butchers. In return the businesses would be given a HMC licence – and pay a monthly fee.

Some retailers have complained the HMC is too heavy-handed, uses bullying tactics to get them to join the scheme and are just in it to make money.

But the HMC said it existed to give people peace of mind over quality of food, that it wanted to protect high standards and was not bullying anyone.

Mehboob Ayub, who has a butcher’s shop in Huddersfield, alleged that HMC inspectors threatened him, tried to damage his property and told people in the local mosque not buy his meat.

“They tried to push me in my shop and argue with me, they tried to take my posters down and have been telling people in the local mosque not to buy meat from my shop,” Mr Ayub said.

“I buy my meat from a HMC-registered slaughterhouse, my wholesaler has a HMC licence, so why should I pay them £30 a week to sell the meat? They just want money.”

The HMC denies his claims, saying it does not go into mosques and “shame” retailers.

It is now operating in about 40 towns and cities in the UK with a sizeable Muslim population, employing more than 100 inspectors and monitors.

Some people have said they have no issues with the HMC. Rahail Tariq owns an Asian supermarket in Bradford and has an HMC licence.

He said: “I’ve never had a problem with them, their monitors come three times a week to inspect what I am selling and check to see if all my stock has HMC labels on them.

“If they’re not happy they will tell me why and I will put it right.”

‘Affected our business’

But another Bradford supermarket owner told a different story. Omar Younas said he had his licence taken away over a small error which he was not allowed to resolve.

“I told the HMC inspector that a mistake had been made with my suppliers and not me and that I would sort out the problem,” he said.

“They were not interested and said I would be reported to head office, who would decide.

“I spent a day trying to sort things out with the HMC but all they did was take away my licence and then demanded I pay one year’s fees up front if I wanted it back.

“Later that week one of my staff said that worshippers in his local mosque had been told not to buy our meat as our licence had been taken away, and this affected our business”.

There have been a number of complaints by Halal butcher shops but many have not spoken out publicly because they fear it would attract negative attention and possibly harm their business.

The HMC said that it had received a number of complaints but felt it was being subjected to an orchestrated campaign organised by a few individuals.

It said it only took action if a business was illegally using its trademark without adhering to its strict Halal code and maintained that no-one was forced to sell its approved meat.

Sheikh Yusuf Dudhwalla, chairman of the HMC, said: “Anyone selling our certified meat, who has our licence and is regularly monitored, is offering Muslims peace of mind when it comes to buying halal products.

“The money we charge is for our monitors to make regular visits and conduct spot checks and this way people can be secure that any premise that carries our trademark is a HMC reputable site.

“We are a registered charity, we’re not in it to make money”.

“We have to protect our high standards but we do not bully anyone nor do we go into mosques and shame any retailer, why would we?”