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More halal hysteria from The Mail

September 26, 2010

This is a very quick post looking at a few main points in The Mail’s latest instalment of it’s anti-halal crusade, Top supermarkets secretly sell halal: Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Waitrose, and M&S don’t tell us meat is ritually slaughtered.

Abul Taher, the journalist who wrote this piece, has included an extensive list of companies who are, according to the article, secretly selling halal meat. A fairly major piece of information is contained in the text:

[The supermarkets and fast-food outlets said they did not feel the need to tell customers, that meat is halal because the slaughter conformed to Western standards, with animals stunned before being killed.]

Right, so if it’s simply an animal welfare issue based on the belief that stunning before your animal is killed for you to eat, it doesn’t look like there is an issue.

[But the RSPCA has raised concerns about the way chicken is killed in Islamic abattoirs because the birds are stunned with a weaker electric current, which does not guarantee unconsciousness during slaughter.]

This claim appears to be based on RSPCA concerns about poultry slaughter as a whole, which can be seen in this PDF file. It reads:

[The problems involved with the stunning of poultry using electrical methods are complex but essentially can be divided into four main areas:

1. Some birds may miss the water bath because the bath is too low.

2. If the equipment is poorly designed birds may receive painful pre-stun shocks as they enter the bath.

3. The voltage and hence the current flowing through the bird’s body (from legs to head) may be insufficient to render the bird unconscious.

4. Birds passing through an automatic neck cutter may only receive a single cut to the neck to allow blood loss. Scientific evidence has shown that under these conditions it may be as long as six minutes before brain failure ensues.]

The RSPCA concerns don’t mention ‘Islamic abattoirs’, but do contain suggestions on how the last moments of life could be improved for the approximately 900 million birds slaughtered each year using the ‘humane’ method of hanging them up by their legs, dunking them in an electric shock bath, and then cutting their necks so that they bleed to death.

Going back to the article, The Mail picks out Subway for special treatment in it’s ‘investigation’. It says:

[Our enquiries have found that Subway uses some Islamically slaughtered chicken that has not been stunned]

Some?  How much? The graphic included in the article says:

[Less than five percent of all chicken is halal that has not been pre-stunned. Of the 1,521 outlets, 119 are halal.]

Around 8% of Subway outlets are halal, and less than 5% of the chicken sold by subway has been killed without pre-stunning, just to put a little perspective on the assertion that Subway uses chicken that hasn’t been pre-stunned.

[Non-Muslim religious leaders say that Christians, Hindus or Sikhs may find it offensive to eat meat slaughtered according to Islamic ritual. Jews are unlikely to be exposed to such meat because they eat kosher, or animals slaughtered according to Jewish law.]

I just want to pause a moment here, to look at kosher slaughter, since The Mail has brought it up. This article from Suite101 about the New Zealand ban on this method of slaughter says:

[The code went into effect on Friday, May 21, 2010 and specifically requires cattle and other animals to be stunned before slaughter, reportedly to ensure humane treatment. However, Jewish halachic law forbids stunning before slaughter. Rabbis maintain that the procedure can inflict a wound on the animal, which is forbidden under the laws of kashrut. Jews also oppose stunning because the effect is only temporary, and the animal can regain consciousness during the slaughter, resulting in pain and fear.

Halachic law, which is addressed in the Talmud, maintains strict oversight regarding the slaughter of livestock that is used for human consumption. Proponents of shechita also maintain that it is a more humane means of slaughter because of the technique that is used by the shochet, the trained slaughterer.]

How are animals slaughtered in a kosher way? Information from Suite101 says:

[Shechita is often incorrectly referred to as a ritual slaughter. There is actually no ritual involved in the process, other than the blessing that is said at the time of the slaughter.]

It goes on to say:

[The procedure that a shochet, or kosher slaughterer, uses to kill the animal is a highly precise and technical step and is designed to remove as much blood from the meat as possible prior to consumption.

Using a long, smooth-bladed knife that is razor sharp, the shochet severs the carotid, esophagus, trachea and jugular veins with one quick motion. The severing of the carotid forces an immediate drop in blood pressure, which renders the animal irreversibly unconscious. It also facilitates the removal of blood, as the mitzvah describes.]

If The Mail’s problem is solely animal welfare, why isn’t it also discussing kosher slaughter? The majority of halal meat is stunned before slaughter, and the ritual part, the blessing said over the animal, would appear to be the same sort of thing that happens in kosher slaughter. The main difference is that pre-stunning is forbidden according to Jewish law.

The Mail article continues with a little dash of moderation:

[All Islamically slaughtered lamb and chicken sold in British supermarkets is stunned before being killed, but is not labelled as halal. Moderate Islamic groups allow animals to be stunned before slaughter, which brings the practice in line with Western methods.]

Oh, they want it labelled. Guess what the European Parliament voted in favour of in June this year (article from MeatInfo)?

[Meat from slaughter without stunning will now be labelled as such following a vote in the European Parliament.

The rule change will affect UK halal and kosher meat suppliers where MEPs decided that meat from non-stunned animals will now have to be mentioned on the label.]

Sorted, and it didn’t even require a Mail investigation or campaign. If I wasn’t so tired, and it wasn’t so late, I would look at the rest of The Mail’s article, but I am and it is, but you can always have a look at Halal hysteria part 1 if you’re suffering from insomnia and need something to help you sleep.

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