Get your halal veal at Wembley Stadium
The front page of today’s Mail on Sunday was dominated by the above story: the revelation that a number of entertainment venues, such as Royal Ascot and Wembley Stadium, and schools in the UK are serving halaal meat to their customers without telling them. The story is accompanied by pictures of people tucking into supposedly halaal food (well, the second picture seems to be of fish and chips, so that is halaal although I don’t suppose the Mail would be complaining about that), and of the posh private school, Marlborough College. As is so often the case, it seems like a lot of fuss about nothing, but it’s the second anti-Muslim front pager this weekend after the Express (Daily Spew) ran with “Muslim plot to kill Pope” yesterday; the “plot” turned out not to exist, and all those arrested were released without charge last night. (More: Sis. Maryam @ Mad and Loud.)
The Mail claim that their so-called investigation “will alarm anyone concerned about animal cruelty” because halaal meat supposedly means that which has been ritually slaughtered without the animal being stunned first. In fact, there are two halaal slaughter monitoring bodies in the UK, and only one of them insists on the animal not being stunned first (the Halaal Monitoring Committee, which is run by Indian Deobandis). The other, the Halaal Food Authority, allows stunning. The report seems to assume that any meat sold as halaal in the UK must be HMC-certified meat and must not have been from a pre-stunned animal, but this is not the case at all. A lot of New Zealand lamb is in fact halaal and is slaughtered in premises which supply the Gulf States with their meat, but the meat would not be acceptable to some Muslims in the UK as it is stunned, as religious opinion in the Gulf region tolerates stunning.
What’s all the fuss about animal welfare, anyway? Anyone who is worried about animal cruelty such that they would not buy meat from an unstunned animal shouldn’t be eating meat, as the industrialised farming process in the UK necessitates an awful lot of cruelty and wastage, such as the mass slaughter of most of the male offspring of dairy cattle. You might read about some of this here on the Vegetarian Society’s homepage (and that’s just about cattle). Perhaps, if you’re in the States, you might read Jonathan Safran Foer’s book, Eating Animals (although I don’t doubt that much of what he says about the American food industry is true over here too). If anyone thinks unstunned halaal slaughtering is cruel, consider what happens to all the thousands or millions of fish that get choked to death for our consumption every day. They don’t get an anaesthetic.
The report claims that “more than 40 million cattle, calves and sheep and more than 850 million poultry are slaughtered every year in Britain”. Where are all these calves that are slaughtered for halaal meat — last time I checked, calf meat was called veal and I’ve never come across that being eaten by Muslims, certainly not in restaurants. Most of the calves that are slaughtered die simply because they are redundant, because only cows are required for milk — dairy herds and beef herds are completely separate and different breeds are used. Only a small fraction of the cattle slaughtered for human consumption in the UK are calves. While it is permissible to eat veal in Islam (if it’s slaughtered correctly), very few Muslims actually do and it’s not part of the traditional Muslim cuisine of any of the major Muslim communities in the UK. (Until very recently, most veal was white meat from a calf which had been reared in a dark crate, a practice which was unquestionably cruel and which surely would have been ruled impermissible by Muslim scholars. That is now banned in Europe as well.)
The report also alleges that much of the halaal meat being served is served alongside pork and that not all the potentially halaal meat is in fact halaal. This is important, since Muslims are only allowed to eat meat they know for a fact is halaal, and even then, not if it’s mixed with something that is not, e.g. previously halaal meat cooked in wine. Although fish is always originally halaal, if it’s cooked in lard that isn’t halaal (as is the traditional way of cooking it in Ireland), or in oil that has also been used to cook chicken that isn’t halaal, the fish is no longer halaal. So, when Whitbread admits that 80% of the chicken it serves up in its restaurants is halaal, some of it of Turkish origin, that actually means that none of it is halaal for Muslims because they don’t know whether the particular cut of it they’re eating it halaal or not.
Clearly, the food outlets that are serving halaal meat are doing so in most cases for economic reasons, not because of any demand from Muslims. Meat sourced from Turkey is likely to be cheaper than that produced in the UK, regardless of how it’s slaughtered, perhaps because the costs of production are lower there. On top of this, most non-Muslims do not much care about whether the meat they eat is halaal or not, or pre-stunned or not — you can see this by going into pretty much any Indian restaurant in Tooting or, for that matter, any number of London’s fried chicken outlets other than KFC. Those who care about eating a particular type of meat either stick to what is certified by a given monitoring committee, or they don’t eat meat. If you care about cruelty that much, don’t eat meat.
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