A growing segment of US consumers is scrutinizing animal treatment and slaughter from an Islamic lens, while halal food consumption among the nation’s fast-growing Muslim population has become a ballooning enterprise in the United States and is now estimated at over $20 billion.
The most recent US Religion Census (2010) shows that Islam was the fastest growing religion in America from 2000 to 2010, and that there were 2.6 million Muslims living in the US in 2010, up from 1 million in 2000—a 160% increase.
The vast majority of this Muslim population consumes only ‘halal’ foods (although a person’s definition of what constitutes halal may vary). Halal in Arabic simply means ‘good’ or ‘permissible’ for consumption.
As applied to animal slaughter, meat is halal if:
(1) it is not a prohibited animal (the most notable prohibition being pigs); and
(2) provided the animal has been slaughtered in accordance with Islamic principles, which includes, among other things:
(a) slaughter by a Muslim;
(b) a requirement that the animal not be sick or diseased; and
(c) minimizing pain for the animal.
This growing halal industry has been met with increased regulations and scrutiny from governments. Multiple states have enacted statutes in recent years to regulate the halal food industry and to prevent mislabeling and deceptive practices.
Illinois’ regulations—one of the most expansive in the country—are instructive of the types of regulations passed by other states.
Illinois Halal Food Act and related administrative regulations
Illinois passed the Halal Food Act in 2002. Broadly speaking, this prohibits false representations and mislabeling of products as halal. While this mandate may at first appear to be clear, interpreting compliance can be challenging because there is no uniform halal standard and the standard for what constitutes halal can vary widely based on religious outlook.
The Act also has other provisions that require strict compliance in operations. For example, if an establishment sells both unpackaged halal and non-halal food products—as is likely the case with most retail establishments—a window sign at the entrance must be posted that states in “block letters at least [four] inches in height,” something to the effect of: “Halal and Non-Halal Foods Sold Here.”
Additionally, an establishment that prepares halal food products must use slicers and other utensils reserved solely for halal food items (i.e. to prevent cross-contamination). The Act imposes various other restrictions as well.
The Illinois Department of Agriculture has also passed administrative regulations. All dealers of halal meat are required to register with the Department and post a copy of their registration form in a conspicuous area for customers. Establishments offering halal meat (whether it is a slaughterhouse, distributor, or restaurant) must also file disclosures with the Department. These businesses must maintain records evidencing sales and purchases of halal animals or food for two years.
The Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, meanwhile, makes it unlawful to falsely advertise food as halal. Failure to follow any mandates established by the Department of Agriculture can also lead to liability under the Consumer Fraud Act.
Other State Statutes Regulating Halal Food
Many other states have passed statutes similar to Illinois that may require, among other things, that:
(1) Halal signage be displayed where an establishment sells both halal and non-halal products;
(2) Companies implement a document disclosure and/or retention policy related to their suppliers and certification of halal food; and
(3) The sale of food that is falsely represented as halal is strictly prohibited (although nearly all states have general consumer fraud statutes that prohibit such conduct).
Set forth below are brief summaries of some of those states’ statutes.
California requires all sellers of halal meat or meat preparations to “indicate on [their] window signs advertising in block letters at least four inches in height “halal and nonhalal meats sold here.” This statute further prohibits any person who “with intent to defraud, sells or exposes for sale any meat or meat preparations, and falsely represents the same to be halal.”
Maryland requires that any business that sells halal and nonhalal meat at the same location must display a sign that reads “halal and nonhalal food [or meat] sold here.” Maryland further requires businesses to display a disclosure statement if they sell unpackaged food as halal. This disclosure statement must include, among other things, the basis for the business’ representation that its food is halal, “including a specification of practices relating to the preparation, handling, and sale of the food….” Such disclosure statements must be retained for a period of three years. Maryland also prohibits the “willful mark[ing]” of a food product as halal if it is not halal.
Michigan, home to the largest Muslim population, prohibits a person who, “with intent to defraud,” does any of the following:
(a) sells food by falsely representing it to be halal;
(b) falsely inscribes the word “halal” on food packaging; or
(c) falsely represents any food in any show window to be halal or, where both halal and non-halal meats are sold, fails to specify which food items are halal.
Michigan also prohibits the “willful mark[ing]” of food as halal that is not halal.
Minnesota prohibits a person from:
(a) serving or selling food products that are “falsely represented as halal”;
(b) inscribing the word “halal” on a package or container unless those products “have been prepared and maintained in compliance with the laws and customers of the Islamic religion”; and
(c) making “an oral or written statement that deceives or otherwise leads a reasonable person to believe that non-Halal food…are halal.”
A business may raise a defense that they relied, in good faith, upon a representation of a slaughterhouse, manufacturer or another entity regarding the halal status of the food product.
Texas requires any company that sells halal and non-halal meat to label the halal items as such. A person violates the statute when they “knowingly” sell meat that is not labeled appropriately. A person is further prohibited from “knowingly or intentionally” selling a food product that is represented as halal and the person knows the food is not halal or was reckless in determining its halal status.”
New Jersey requires any seller of halal food to disclose the basis upon which that representation is being made on a sign that is conspicuously placed upon the premises. A person is not subject to penalties under this section, however, if “it can be shown by a preponderance of the evidence that the person relied in good faith upon the representations of a slaughterhouse, manufacturer, processor, packer or distributor of any food represented to be Halal.”
New York requires any person who sells both halal and non-halal food to indicate ‘in window signs, in block letters at least four inches in height, ‘halal and non-halal food sold here.’ All food items must also have a halal label affixed to them when they are packaged and being sold as such. Any person who sells halal food ‘shall maintain a record of each purchase from a manufacturer or packer, which shall included, but not be limited to, a bill of sale, and retain all records with respect to the origin of such meat … for a period of two years …’
The procuder or distributor of halal food must also register with the Dept of Agriculture & Markets the name and contact information of any person certifying the food as halal.
Virginia provides that it is unlawful to label any food product as halal ‘without indicating the person or entity authorizing such designation by providing the name or symbol of the authority or providing a phone number or website to access the information.’ The statute further provides that any person ‘who knowingly violates’ this provision is liable under the statute.
Plaintiff’s attorneys will be scutinising this market
Illinois’ statutory framework for regulating the halal industry is instructive of the types of regulations passed by other states and the growing trend of food regulation. Companies selling halal products should also be mindful that they may be liable under a state’s general consumer protection statutes for selling mislabeled food, even though the state does not explicitly prohibit false labeling through a halal statute.
These regulations will likely be accompanied by scrutiny from consumers and potential plaintiffs seeking to capitalize on companies selling halal food. Companies seeking to grow, distribute or sell halal foods in the United States should seek the advice of legal counsel in navigating the increasingly complex world of halal food labeling and other statutory compliance.