The entrepreneurial spirit of one British Muslim has drawn the ire of the English Defence League (EDL) as it celebrates her cultural identity. Shazia Saleem recently launched the ready-meals business leat Foods, which makes a range of traditional British and Italian dishes that are ethically sourced and Halal friendly. Whilst the debate around Halal meat is not new or exclusive to the far-right. It should also be said that some abhor a practise they consider ‘unnecessarily cruel’ but both sides of the debate claim to have science on their side.
However, the far-right solely focus on Muslims whilst ignoring the Jewish method of Shechita. In recent years, certain tabloid newspapers are also guilty of blurring the debate around religious slaughter. In 2010, the Daily Star ran the Muslim-baiting headline, ‘Brit Kids Forced To Eat Halal School Dinners,’ but the choice was always optional.
Such a headline imposes a rigid dichotomy that implies Muslims are not British. The EDL follow this dichotomy by posting an image in response to Ms Saleem’s business:
“Nothing made from Halal slaughtered meat can be classed as traditionally British! Britain is a civilised country where the unnecessary barbaric slaughter of animals to appease an outdated superstition is simply not acceptable”
It continues to state that Halal will never be ‘British’. Some of most popular comments are deeply offensive:
“Shamefully most of the meat and poultry sold in UK supermarkets is halal. Find a good local butcher and stop funding terrorism.”
“Mulims, DON`T EVER use the term “Traditional British Food, because you animals will NEVER BE BRITISH!”
“Ban halal. Close mosques. Deport moslems.”
However, such intolerance does not follow the British tradition of meeting various religious requirements. As history demonstrates, at the turn of the 17th Century, British civil servants went to great lengths to source Halal meat for Moroccan delegates. Some years later, and there is evidence of a settled Muslim community in Britain.In parts of Europe, the debate is controversial. Denmark recently banned the religious slaughter of animals for the production of Halal and Kosher meat, despite the country not registering any slaughter without pre-stunning in the last decade.
Both religious groups remain free to import meat without pre-stunning. Yet, for many Danish Muslims, a religious decree stated that pre-stunned meat is Halal. But the malaise runs deeper, as it calls into question why a government would legislate against a non-existent problem. Such a symbolic move will only alienate the religious minorities whose faith is more than a label.
Unlike several European countries, Britain allows “non-stun” slaughter as long as it does not cause “unnecessary suffering”. However, in 2006, EU research noted that 75% of cattle, 93% of sheep and 100% of chickens slaughtered in the UK for Halal meat were pre-stunned before slaughter. Figures published by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in 2011 found a similar pattern. For British Muslims, there is dilemma about how their meat is sourced as two of the biggest halal suppliers take contrasting approaches. The Halal Food Authority (HFA) accepts a form of “non-lethal” stunning whilst the Halal Monitoring Committee (HMC) rejects stunning animals prior to slaughter.
If we want a serious debate about animal welfare, let us focus on all forms of slaughter. For example, we genetically select chickens to grow very quickly for their meat. As a result, they can reach slaughter weight in just five weeks after hatching. Such rapid weight gain can lead to heart defects.
Whilst Britain does generally maintain a high standard of livestock welfare, horror stories of mistreatment do emerge.
Un-spin the tabloid headlines and far-right rhetoric and we find that a great deal of Halal meat produced in Britain is pre-stunned. The perceived barbarity of “non-stun” slaughter remains a minority.