Halal: what is halal meat and is it inhumane?
Millions in the UK may be eating unlabelled halal meat. Here are the facts about religious slaughter practices
REPORTS that millions of people in the UK are eating halal food “without knowing it” have reignited the debate on the ethics of religiously slaughtered meat.
Features in The Sun and the Daily Mail, allege that restaurants and shops across the UK, including Pizza Express, Tesco, KFC and Subway, have been selling halal meat to customers “without telling them”.
So how common is halal meat in the UK? And is it less humanely produced than other meat? We examine some of the most common questions around the issue of religious slaughter and how the government has reacted to the recent furore.
What is halal meat?
Halal is the Arabic word for “lawful” or “permitted”. Though it is used more broadly in the context of Islamic law, it is now more frequently associated with how meat is produced. The opposite word – haram – means “forbidden”.
How is halal meat produced?
Traditional halal meat is killed by hand and must be blessed by the butcher. The Muslim method of slaughter, known as zabiha, involves an animal having its throat, windpipe and the blood vessels around its neck slit with a surgically sharp instrument. The blood is then allowed to drain from the body. The area of religious law that details the method of slaughter also contains information on how the animal must be treated during its life.
Are the animals conscious when they are killed?
According to The Independent, between 84 and 90 per cent of animals killed for halal meat in the UK are stunned electrically before they have their throat slit. The method, known as “pre-stunned slaughter”, aims to minimise pain felt by the animal before it dies. Some Muslims think that the practice is contrary to the specifications of zabiha and prefer to eat halal meat that has not been pre-stunned.
Do the animals feel pain?
The question of whether religious slaughter is more or less humane than other forms of slaughter is a matter of debate.
Shuja Shafi and Jonathan Arkush, writing in The Guardian, say that religious slaughter is as humane as the alternatives. They argue that traditional British methods of stunning, using a captive bolt, gassing or electrocution, only manage to paralyse the animal so it cannot move, but “it is impossible to know whether the animal is feeling pain or not”.
In both Muslim and Jewish religious slaughter, the act of slitting the throat “stuns the animal”, they say, and “there is no delay between stun and subsequent death”.
The British Veterinary Association (BVA) and the RSPCA disagree with this view. The BVA says that “all animals should be effectively stunned before slaughter to improve the welfare of these animals” and the RSPCA says that killing animals without stunning them causes “unnecessary suffering”.
Should pre-stunned and non pre-stunned meat be labelled differently?
Currently it is not clear from labelling whether halal meat has come from pre-stunned slaughter or from slaughter without pre-stunning. Campaigners argue that there should be stricter rules about meat labelling so consumers know what they are buying. The industry body, Eblex, has responded by seeking views on an assurance scheme that would introduce “a level of transparency that it has been suggested is currently missing”, The Independent reports.
How has the government responded?
Last year the British government said that it would not press for changes to make the pre-stunning of animals a legal requirement, despite pressure from the RSPCA. But the government said that it wants consumers to have all the “information about the food they are buying to make their own choice”. Consequently, it will consider the results of a European Union study into the feasibility of introducing labelling on meat that specifies how the animal was killed. Legislation on meat labelling could then follow. ·