Looking out for fraudulent halal meat not so simple

Useful links informing this post.

Tweet by @behalalorg


Other tweets


This one from 2009


This report from Animal Aid


As a non-Muslim I have been prompted to ask on many occasions, “how halal is halal?” Seemingly we can ask the same of kosher.  Two of the links above refer to kosher slaughter facilities where kosher standards have not been met. In both these cases I have to suggest that the problems were in no small way due to the industrialisation of slaughter. Neither halal nor kosher can scale up easily without possible compromise.

It appears that maintaining kosher/halal practice with industrial scale food processing is not easy. Extended food chains become opaque. Consumers seemingly have to take much on trust.

If we look back to the contexts in which kosher and halal codes were written we will probably be seeing cultures may well not have eaten meat as we do on a near daily basis. Animals and birds were not intensively reared and certainly not reared solely for their meat. If we look at beef I imagine cows were kept for milk so male calves were presumably culled when they were still small. Meat was prepared locally and process were meant to be transparent.

Kosher and halal rules required “high welfare” rearing and much sacrifice/slaughter would have been local. Mostly it would have been reasonably easy to kill each animal on its own. In near modern times in Britain I picture a farmer killing very small numbers of animals on his farm to take to market once or twice a week. Animals would be processed without causing them undue stress so they were relaxed when the final dead was done.

Hygiene is another key issue. Certainly in ancient times the prophets (I guess the academics of the day) would have made connections between bad food hygiene and gastrointestinal diseases such as dysentery. Carcasses were inspected for the wholesomeness and pigs were prone to infestation (liver fluke) and their skin or hides were probably simply too dirty (calves, sheep and goats are “skinned” before cooking).

I won’t comment on the US kosher/hygiene incident but the Israeli closure of a slaughterhouse does warrant a few thoughts. Seemingly the welfare issues were exposed by Australian exporters of live animals to Israel and Muslim countries for “local” slaughter. That practice is questioned by many. For sure Australians are conscious of the need for good supervision. There is no way anyone could condone live export if animals are routinely subjected to maltreatment at slaughter. The surprise for me is that maltreatment could possibly happen in any “kosher” facility. On the other hand perhaps not.

This incident rather confirms my view that industrial scale slaughter and associated food supply chains generally are opaque.

Closer to home in 2015 Animal Aid “hit” a non-stun slaughter facility apparently for the halal market and exposed bad handling of animals. Animal Aid, in fairness, did not target the slaughterhouse specifically because it was producing non-stun meat. In its report it explained reasonably well what halal involved. The bottom line is that maltreated animals cannot be considered halal. If the carcasses of any of the animals shown found their way into the halal food chain there would have been a clear breach of trading standards.

The nj.com report points to conflicts caused by the separation of state and religion and how halal certification can be supervised.

I submit that the real issue here is that secular and religious bodies simply are not all that good at talking to one another.

In my view “good halal/kosher practice” is “good practice”. Good halal/kosher practice will stand up under the strictest of secular animal welfare and food hygiene rules. The added layer is spiritual and in part can also be applied to good secular practice.

Jewish shochet in particular are trained not to kill in anger. Not only must the animal not be stressed but neither should the shochet. In halal practice a prayer is offered as each animal is sacrificed. This prayer (often referred to a blessing) effectively thanks Our Creator for his bounty on the one hand and seeks forgiveness for taking a sacred life on the other. It is supposed to be a solemn moment.

The Animal Aid images and reports from Bowood suggest anything but solemn practice. Seemingly the sheep were not being treated well. A big issue with any industrial slaughter is that slaughterers become desensitized – possibly as a defensive measure because of the gruesome nature of the work.

I will leave my much better informed colleagues at behalal.org to develop the integrity of halal certification but suggest that the very same issues apply to secular food production. The processes are opaque and as Animal Aid has shown even RSPCA accredited facilities struggle to get it right. The truth is that we really do not know how humane secular slaughter practice is. Animal Aid suggests that all is further from perfect than we are expected to believe.

I guess that behalal.org is suggesting that Muslims may need to ask questions and go beyond a halal certificate to ensure the quality of their meat. I will close with an anecdote.

My local pizza shop is halal. On enquiry the manager could not say if the meat purchased had been derived from stun or non-stun slaughter. I was seeing opacity. Interestingly, however, he says that he has several Jewish customers. Now that I find odd. Although Muslims accept kosher meat Jews are not supposed to eat halal. I detect that these customers were not fully practising Jews and seemingly they assume that halal equates to non-stun.

Does this not confirm a need for much greater transparency across the board?







Practical Ramadan

Well I never thought that I’d be singing from the same hymn sheet as the Quilliam Foundation but today I am.

I was trying to imagine Ramadan in Scotland where summer days are quite long after discussing this with my Muslim colleagues at work. That sounds like torture to me. Here my non-Muslim thoughts.

If nothing else Islam is a pragmatic religion. Most of its core customs have a solid earthly but practical foundation – mostly promoting a healthy life style.

Ramadan appears to me to be more spiritual than most other custom – but is no less meaningful. It most certainly means very much to certainly to more pious Muslims and can be applauded. The thing is that rules governing Ramadan were written in the context of day length in and around Mecca and like I say Islam is very practical.

Quilliam apparently has said the same thing.

I am not Muslim but suggest to young Muslims that Muslim traditions must be viewed within the context, time and place where they were codified and why. We also need to appreciate that before the printing press very few people could read and write so halal codes were transmitted by word of mouth.  Rules had to be simple and in a form that was easily understood. There would been little written justification or explanation. People learned by rote – hence ritual.

I guess people toiled on the land to make the most of the daylight hours. Fasting during daylight was practical and feasting at night. The rules for Ramadan were written in the context of days of more equal length than here in the UK.

Ramadan is indeed a very special time for Muslims but please remember that a sick Muslim cannot help others but becomes reliant on them. Islam encourages a healthy lifestyle and an upright way of life but in my view “health trumps religion”. Charity is important and is emphasised at this time but the spiritual value of charity is the giving, which is compromised if you make yourself ill.

My religious background is in Methodism and I always remember the difference in the decoration of my village Anglican Church and the plain Methodist chapel across the road. The latter had a communion table and no ornate decoration and NO symbols – until a benefactor presented a brass cross. Methodists traditionally don’t drink, dance or gamble (certainly not on church premises).  There are similarities with Islam.

One of my uncles was a lay preacher.  He often proclaimed from the pulpit that “you can be so godly that you are of no earthly use”.

As Quilliam has been suggesting that Ramadan should base day length on the daylight hours in or around Mecca I was independently emailing Faith Matters with the same suggestion. It must make sense.

Think about observing Ramadan anywhere near the poles where there is near permanent daylight. You may well want to adopt Mecca daylight hours.

God is pragmatic and doesn’t expect the unreasonable. Islam is practical.

The NewVic3 and Prevent

I have to confess to not understanding the government’s direction of travel with its Prevent and other counter terrorism strategies. I must also say that in recent days I have occasionally had that cold feeling that my online activity – expressing empathy with Islam and criticising the Establishment – is being watched.  I have challenged one core pillar of our Establishment for its corporate attitude to the Islamophobia and have to wonder if it has been mindful to pass my details on. When three students were suspended by the sixth form college apparently just for computer misuse you can quickly see how disaffected young people with Islamic backgrounds are attracted to extremism. I question whether I should ever email my MP via his parliamentary email address. I can feel exclusion. And I am not Muslim.

The three students have been dubbed the NewVic3 (#NewVic3) on the social media. They attend the Newham Sixth Form College (NewVIC). Having only the media to rely on for information I gather that because of the government’s Prevent strategy college managers felt obliged to cancel a meeting. Were they right? I do not know but I do know and my recent experience seems to support an observation that secular higher education and academic institutions are genuinely not sure what to do.

Do you let students openly discuss extremism and even debate with people who have dubious views on campus, drive the discussion underground? Answers to that question must wait for a day or two.

Of more immediate concern is the suspension of the three girls just before their exams. I have form here. I work in a large organisation and one circulated something to everyone via the internal email system. I was duly admonished. Perhaps I should have known it was inappropriate behaviour but I screwed up. I was not suspended. I was informed that the action potentially clogs up the email servers. Obviously if three people perform the same action life becomes triply hard for the organisation’s IT technicians. Suspending the students email accounts would have sufficed.

Would the college have suspended other email users for a similar action completely unconnected with Prevent? Has it now created a precedent that will require to suspend anyone else, including members of staff,  who misuse the email system in the same way?

Something else may have prompted these suspensions but the college is reported to be saying the suspensions were solely as a result of computer misuse.

Others much better placed than I will know exactly what has happened here but I wonder if the current Prevent strategy is going to be applied in a one sided manner and reinforce marginalistion.

Apparently children as young as five years old can be identified as potential Islamic extremists. What about children from conservative Christian families who are taught that Muslims worship a false god, when (whether you believe literal Bible narrative or not) it is historical fact that Jews and Muslims share a common God. How can this be so?

For any doubters (whether you are Creationists or merely believe in the Big Bang) there can only have been ONE beginning. If you believe a Creator God there can be only ONE. Ask any Christian how many Gods Abraham worshiped and they will answer ONE. Now Abraham had two sons (of different mothers perhaps but there were two unless we believe in Two Abrahams, Two Noahs before that and two floods and so on) one is said to have been the “father” of the Jewish bloodline and the other the “father” of the Arab bloodline.

Now if primary school children (and their teachers) have learned that the God of Islam is not the God of Christianity they will have been inculcated with an extreme view and it may be dangerous.

I recently learned of an evangelical church, presumably within the Church England that is extremely conservative. It does not allow female preachers and is fiercely homophobic. Its congregation has grown so much that it needs to establish a second one nearby. The evangelical wing of the Christian church is flourishing where less extreme congregations are struggling.

Let us not also forget that after the vicar of St John’s in Waterloo opened his church for a Muslim prayer meeting the Bishop of Southwark very publicly admonished him.

I close by saying that if the government’s Prevent strategy is the best way forward it must be applied evenhandedly. Christian promoters of extreme anti-Muslim sentiment must be treated with equal measure as Muslim extremist preachers. I guess I have now confirmed that I am anti-Establishment.


A new dilemma for the BVA

The BVA (the British Veterinary Association) is headed by veterinary surgeons who are unashamedly advocates of banning non-stun slaughter practice. There is no evidence that non-stun slaughter creates unacceptable welfare standards. John Blackwell, the current president, works closely with the FSA (the Food Standards Agency) and the latter was compelled to conduct unannounced detailed inspections of UK slaughterhouses early in 2015 after undercover Animal Aid filming captured images of horrendous welfare practice at a non-stun facility in Bowood. The FSA reported in May. That was a very quick turnaround.

This poses John Blackwell and the BVA a dilemma and a new challenge.

It is vital that we grasp that the FSA survey set out to understand welfare in UK slaughterhouses and its inspectors (mostly veterinarians, I presume) clearly did not report that welfare in non-stun facilities was seriously worse than in stun facilities.

The FSA report can be found at the bottom of this web page:


That FSA does not make reference to “religious slaughter” in the body of the report is conspicuous. John Blackwell is adamant that non-stun slaughter is unnecessarily cruel. Animal Aid produced graphic images from a halal slaughterhouse and the FSA was therefore bound to comment forthrightly if non-stun slaughter practice is seriously more cruel than practices in stun slaughterhouses. It did not.

That John Blackwell is on a mission is not in doubt. He praised Scotland for its standards and minimal use of non-stun slaughter. Here is a report of recent comments.


“Scotland was praised for its high standards of welfare at slaughter, having very little non-stun slaughter. But the BVA President warned that there were challenges, … and that the country needed to ensure that the amount of non-stun slaughter did not rise.”

In the meantime the EU has conducted a survey on labelling meat. Here is the Farmers Weekly take on the report.


“He [John Blackwell] added: “The long-awaited release of this report gives renewed vigour to the BVA’s campaign for better consumer information on animal welfare at slaughter and the need for meat from non-stun slaughter to be clearly labelled.”

This report is actually flawed because it assumes that stun-slaughter is a guaranteed perfect “clinical” procedure. Given that the last best data collected from across the EU was in 2004 and concluded that mis-stun rates varied from 6% to 31% this assumption is not reliable. A mis-stun is cruel. I imagine that a mis-stun is eminently many times more distressing than the use of an electric goad, the use of which is strictly regulated. No one actually knows how common or rare mis-stuns are. As I understand it the FSA’s Official Veterinary Inspectors are only required to visit stun rooms once a day and their presence potentially influences operator behaviour. The Animal Aid images, even if they provide a subjective appraisal of what has happened show that stun-slaughter facilities, including those accredited by the RSPCA, show that we do not have perfect practice.

One problem with the EU survey is that most EU languages may not have a word that corresponds to our word “stun” when it is used in this context. The stun gun was introduced as better alternative to “poleaxing” or “bludgeoning” (especially of cattle).

In this context the word “stun” most closely translates to “anaesthetise” or “render unconscious” – words normally associated with the operating room in a hospital and affectionately dramatised in Holby City. In hospitals the anaesthetist makes a little scratch on the back of your hand and as they say, “you will feel a little prick”. Thus the concept of “stunning” does not conjure violent images.

What the EU report found was that, unless prompted, most people do not much thought to how their meat is produced. People seemingly aren’t bothered. No more than 2% of those questioned were Muslims or Jews. Jews were too few in number to be relevant. Of the Muslims interviewed (no more than about twenty from the UK) how many normally ask many questions when buying meat. I suspect that if 500 Muslims were questioned in the High Street a large number would report that they do not delve too closely into production practices for their meat. Many accept a halal label and many may assume “halal = non-stun”. Some halal traders do not even ask and could not tell their customers is they were asked*.

Here is the paradox for the BVA and John Blackwell.

Let’s assume that any labelling standards assumed that stun-slaughter is the default standard. That’s quite reasonable and it means that most people will not see any difference. They won’t suddenly see packs of meat labelled “non-stun” in their normal supermarket. They already know their local farmers’ market sells stunned meat. On the other hand more conscientious Muslims will ask why their meat does not carry a “non-stun” label.

Muslim food information agencies, such as behalal.org, will have a new quality mark to use when promoting good halal cuisine. The demand for non-stun meat should increase.

This will present a paradox and a real dilemma for John Blackwell and British Vets and others. MPs such as Neil Parish (http://www.neilparish.co.uk/) also want to ban non-stun slaughter but political correctness prevents them from campaigning forthrightly so they too are hoping that “non-stun” labelling will encourage secular purchasers, who outnumber Muslims, will shun the “non-stun” labels that they will probably never see as a matter of course.

How then will John Blackwell and Neil Parish develop their campaigns? In the absence of data that shows that here in the UK non-stun slaughter operators work outside unacceptable welfare standards what criteria will they use? What new pseudo-sciences will they invent or seek?

This is going to be interesting. It may require some of these activists to “come out” and admit their innate anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. That may not be a bad thing. We will then be able to start filling the chasms in their knowledge.

* I know this to be so. I use a local halal pizza shop engaged the manager. Interestingly he has a number of Jewish customers. Indeed. Jews normally would not eat halal meat and certainly would not eat meat stunned at slaughter. I suspect that kosher meat is not easily accessed so halal is a good low-priced alternative. Most secular people do not realise that most halal meat is actually derived from stunned animals so I guess these Jews make the same assumption. It’s only one anecdote but most Muslims that I know are not best informed.