Useful links informing this post.
Tweet by @behalalorg
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?