12 January - 20 June 2016

Furore over halal meat

21 May 14

Much discussion in the media has resulted from reports that halal meat is being widely sold across the UK without being labelled as such. It emerged this month that supermarkets such as Waitrose and Morrisons, and retailers such as Pizza Express and Subway, in many cases sell only or mostly halal meat. This is usually because it is easier to do so, either because it enables them to consolidate orders from a single, halal, supplier, or because certain meat sourced from certain areas – New Zealand lamb, for instance – is slaughtered via halal methods as a matter of course.

Halal meat comes from animals which have been ritually slaughtered according to Islamic law. There are various stipulations for halal slaughter: the animal must be alive and healthy; its throat must be cut, severing the carotid artery, jugular vein, and windpipe; the blood must be drained; and a blessing must be said.

It is argued by some that because halal slaughter requires the animal to be alive when its throat is cut, it is cruel and causes unnecessary pain. For this and other reasons, many have called for greater transparency in labelling and better communication from retailers, so that concerned customers can make informed purchasing decisions. Other commentators, however, suggest that the charge of animal cruelty has been somewhat overstated, pointing to the fact that the majority of animals slaughtered for halal meat – over 80% - are pre-stunned. They argue that the animals’ unconsciousness allows the halal requirements to be met, whilst pain is prevented, making this method of slaughter no more cruel than any other.

One outcome of the current media and public interest in halal meat has been renewed discussion of whether there should be compulsory labelling of halal meat and, if not, what approach food business operators should take to inform customers of how animals have been slaughtered. The Prime Minister spoke out to say he believed this was a matter for retailers and consumer groups to come to consensus on, but that he was open to reviewing the situation if transparency did not improve.

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