USA: Halal meat practice heats national debate

Hajer Naili – Illume Magazine

The controversy over the appropriate method of slaughtering an animal while taking account of the Islamic rules and meeting consumers’ demand erupted again with a recent decision by the Al-Safa company.

Halal Advocates of America says that Al Safa changed its slaughter process for chickens without informing its customers beforehand. The certification company says that some consumers had continued to buy the Al-Safa’s products while the slaughter process has been modified.

For many years, the company has been using the term ”zabihah” on its packaging to describe the process it uses to slaughter meat. This term is understood by some to refer to a method, which employs hand slaughter by a Muslim. The reference ”zabihah” has been finally removed from the packages of chicken products.

A petition has been circulating on the Internet to decry the lack of transparency on the part of the Al-Safa company and urge the supplier to switch back to hand-slaughter zabihah.

”Al-Safa should go back to the hand slaughter halal method out of courtesy for their customers who believe in hand slaughter as halal. They should be more transparent and honest with their halal customers regarding their slaughter policy,” said Abdullah Nana of Halal Advocates of America.

Indeed, mechanical slaughter is a controversial method, which is not accepted by all Islamic schools of thought. There are many prominent scholars who hold the view that machine slaughter does not meet many of the halal requirements. While the hand slaughter halal method is universally accepted by Muslims of all schools of thought.

”The requirements for a halal slaughter include intent to slaughter, use of a sharp object, severing a combination of the four vessels of the throat – esophagus, trachea, and two jugular veins – recitation of the name of God, and that the slaughterer be a Muslim or believing Jew or Christian.” explains Abdullah Nana.

David Muller, the president of Al Safa explains that his company had used hand-slaughter ”zabihah” for 11 years but he is now facing a shortage of hand-slaughter factories after the previous slaughterhouse he was using unexpectedly shut down.

”We are looking all over North America for a hand-slaughter factory for several months and if we find a hand slaughterhouse which meet the United States Department of Agriculture criteria, we would love to switch back to hand-slaughter process,” says Muller.

Meanwhile, Al Safa uses a small hand-slaughter factory in Canada which is not enough for all its products. In order to overcome this shortage, Al Safa is temporarily
using the  mechanical slaughter process. However all their chickens are still certified Halal by Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America (IFANCA). Besides Al-Safa, Midamar, one of the major suppliers of halal processed chicken products in America, also uses mechanical slaughter process for chickens. Crescent Chickens, Nema and Carribean Crescent still proceed by hand slaughter.

Muslims in the United Kingdom had recently faced a similar controversy over meat Kentucky Fried Chicken used that the company claimed to be halal. But an Islamic scholar said it did not meet the halal requirement. KFC insisted its methods met the approval of the Halal Food Authority, a private business.