Media controversy around the discovery that UK supermarkets and restaurants have been selling meat that could be classified as halal, but is not labelled as such, is deceptive and hateful, according to the Sharia Halal Board.
The certification board said headlines of UK dailies like The Sun and The Mail were “sinister” in their “clear underlying hatred” of the Muslim and Jewish population, and ultimately misleading in their assertions that meat that had not been stunned before slaughter was widely available on the market.
The discussion was sparked as it was claimed that the restaurant chain Pizza Express was using halal chicken on its pizzas, giving this information on their website or if asked only. While it was found that five major supermarkets were selling meat that could qualify as halal, but not labelled as such. Marks and Spencer, Tesco, Morrisons, Waitrose and the Co-op all said their New Zealand lamb was halal.
Yet the Sharia Halal Board said the coverage of this had been overblown and misleading, since it failed to outline that the meat was probably still stunned before slaughter, and was simply blessed as they are killed.
Mislabelling the issue
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for UK Prime Minister David Cameron told the BBC that he believed this was a case of “consumer choice and consumer information” and therefore a matter for food retailers to work on with consumers and welfare and faith groups.
A spokesperson for the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said:“We want people to have the information they need to make informed choices about the food they buy. In the first instance that is for the retailer or the food outlet to provide. We have contributed to the EU on their study into compulsory labelling of meat and will review options for the UK once it is finalised this summer.”
Senior scholar and panel member of the Sharia Halal Board, Professor Syed Ahmed Tirmizi, said the coverage of this issue had failed to give the true picture. “The most obvious truth that has been concealed from the British public is that it is very likely that all the meat in these supermarkets, restaurants or fast food chains would have been pre stunned meat or poultry.”
The board said less than 12% halal or kosher meat sold in UK is non stunned or according to ritual slaughter methods, which it said was barely enough for the niche market of Muslims and Jews, let alone for the supermarkets and food services.
"We applaud businesses such as Pizza Express, Subway, KFC and others for providing Halal meat for its Muslim consumers and non Muslims alike. We urge others to follow in their steps," it said.
It said it had taken up what it sees as Islamophobic misinformation with the Press Complaints Commission.
What’s the issue?
In an open joint letter to The Telegraph last week, Henry Grunwald, chairman of Jewish group Shechita UK, and Dr Shuja Shafi, deputy secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, asked: “If two chickens reared in exactly the same conditions are both electrocuted until they are unconscious and then one goes into an enormous machine which scalds, feathers and decapitates it, while the other goes to a Muslim who happens to be reciting a prayer, why are critics quite content with the former but up in arms about the latter?”
The Sharia Halal Board asked similar questions, adding halal products must be from an animal that is pure of any illness or disease, and well fed and treated in life. “Is this not what the British consumer would want for any animal, let alone the ones that they eat?”
In their letter however Grunwald and Shafi added it was important that consumers were informed about the method of slaughter, whether that be mechanically stunned prior to slaughter, “or any of the other approved methods”.
They said comprehensive labelling should be supported by faith communities and animal welfare groups alike. “It would offer all consumers genuine choice, whether they are motivated by animal welfare, religious observance, or even intolerance of anyone who looks or worships differently to them,” they wrote.
Earlier this month the British Veterinary Association (BVA) launched a new animal welfare campaign to end non-stun slaughter of animals, a petition backed by the likes of lobby group National Secular Society (NSS).
Stephen Evans, campaigns manager for the NSS told us it thought food retailers should be open and transparent with customers about halal status, but the main issue remained one of animal welfare.
Currently, EU slaughterhouses must stun animals before killing them, but member states reserve the right to grant exemption for religious reasons. Earlier this year Denmark wrote off its right to do this, effectively making strict non-stun halal and kosher slaughter illegal in the country.
“We have long argued for an end to this exemption, but for as long it exists, it is essential that meat from non-stun slaughter is properly labelled, enabling consumers to avoid meat from animals killed under that exemption if that's their choice,” Evans said.