Transparent meat labelling is not easy

This is intended for the Meat Trades Journal is response to a tweet itself prompted by the halal meat discussion.

Just a thought or three but in current climate how does labelling help.
Kosher and halal are welfare and meat processes covering every aspect from farm to fork. These terms won’t be understood by non-Jews/Muslims. Much halal marketing may not be halal.

The correct terms to use for slaughter are shechita (Jewish) and zabiha or dhabiha (Islam). But true shechita/zabiha is specialist meat that people who didn’t want it would have to go of their way to find. It’s probably expensive. These terms may almost be superfluous.

The term halal, as applied to slaughter, does not have a single meaning or usage. For non-practicising and nominal Muslims the term may merely refer to the animal/bird and not the method of slaughter or subsequent processing. Thus stun slaughter is permitted and processing in non-halal kitchens is accepted. Devout Muslims would ask questions before accepting the halalness of the word.

Non-Muslim customers would need to be educated well to ensure that they knew most halal meat is stun slaughtered and is for all practical purposes produced the same way as non-halal meat – except say for chicken where the final deed is performed by man and not machine – hardly a case for not buying something labeled halal.

The term halal may not always be very informative. It would require an extensive education programme just to say it means little of significance. This is important because not meat that is certifiable halal is actually certified. We would still have the “hidden halal” problem.

There must be a simpler way. Let’s go for “stun” and “non-stun”. Easy? Well no.

Stunning is not performed for pain reduction and trauma minimisation in the final seconds of an animal’s life. It is not a smart clinical procedure. The failure rate for mis-stunning is not known. It’s better than it was but it’s not known. The European Food Standards agency has only recently (Dec 2013) designed a standard data collection tool.

Mis-stun rates in medical terminology are clinically significant. The rate is probably below 6%, a figure deemed acceptable by the global expert, Dr Temple Grandin but higher figures have been quoted. If animals are mis-stunned and are noticed they will be re-stunned. Not humane.

What, I ask, is the probability of mis-stuns going unnoticed. I doubt if anyone will ever know. Remember we are talking about high throughput activity to keep costs down. If the stun hasn’t worked fully but isn’t easily spotted there must be a chance of recovery between stun and stick or cut. What the animal would experience in this situation only God will know. I doubt that this is a high probability but we don’t know so this possibility cannot be discounted. Definitely not humane.

Well “non-stun” will crack it. Again, no. Remember this discussion has arisen because non-stun practice is promoted as a cruel procedure. This cannot be so if conducted correctly in accordance shechita/zabiha rules. The single quick cut is followed by a catastrophic drop in cerebral blood pressure so unconsciousness ensues. We know animals do not feel “pain” at the moment of the cut. We know because they don’t flinch. Yes, pain receptors will have been activated but there is a delay before the pain will be experienced. The animal will unconscious before experiencing enough discomfort to trouble it.

Shechita/zabiha does not scale up. It’s not suited to high throughput slaughter for economy of scale. True non-stun slaughter belongs to a highly specialised market. Using the term “non-stun” may therefore not achieve the desired aim.

In conclusion it seems that while consumers may want labelling for transparency the slaughter method with the biggest issues is stun-slaughter. In the term labelling won’t be simple and will surely require an extensive education programme.

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2 thoughts on “Transparent meat labelling is not easy”

  1. Even if the whole labelling issue was resolved with regard to stun or non-stun, why would I want a Muslim prayer spoken at the moment of death? I am not a Muslim who are in the minority in the UK – so why should it be that the opinion and wants of the minority appear to be more important? I completely understand the needs and wants for those who require meat to be blessed or slaughtered in a certain way, but why should I be more or less forced to adhere to others religious wants/needs? I am fed up of people resorting to “well become a vegetarian then” … why should I? I could (but won’t) respond with a similar retort.

    1. Thank you mags. You clearly see animals as a commodity. It amazes me Christians aren’t standing up for their Muslim Brothers and Sisters.

      Muslim slaughter ritual is essentially the same as the Christian ritual. In the case of chicken Christians distance themselves with a machine.

      Muslims at least say thanks and in effect ask forgiveness.

      But if animals are merely a commodity this won’t matter to you.

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