It is well known in the meat trade that Muslims consume halal meat. However, at times questions are asked, what is halal?
Halal is the Arabic word for “lawful” or “permitted”. Halal food is that which adheres to the Islamic law, as defined in the Quran. Arabic is the language of the Qur`an, a scripture revealed to the Holy Prophet of Islam by the Almighty Allah to be followed in its entirety by the Muslims. It’s a broad term covering what is allowed in the context of Islamic law but is often used in conjunction with the issue of how meat is dealt with. The opposite of halal is haram, which literally means “forbidden” and is used to cover pork and blood as well as meat from birds of prey and reptiles. For a meat to be certified “halal,” it cannot be a forbidden cut (such as meat from hindquarters) or animal (such as pork).
Traditional halal meat must be blessed before it is killed by the hand of a Muslim butcher. The Islamic form of slaughtering animals or poultry, dhabiha, involves killing through a cut to the jugular vein, carotid artery, and windpipe. Islam has strict laws on the proper method of slaughtering an animal. Dhabiha requires a swift, deep incision with a sharp knife on the neck that cuts the jugular vein. For a meat to be considered halal, animals must be alive and healthy at the time of slaughter and all blood is drained from the carcass. During the process, a Muslim will recite a dedication, known as “tasmiya” or “shahada”.
The area of religious law detailing the method of slaughter also contains information about how the animal must be treated during its life. It is not allowed to have been mistreated or caused any pain and must be provided with enough space to roam, clean water, food and fresh air.
Dhabiha is the prescribed method of slaughter for all meat sources, excluding fish and other sea-life, per Islamic law. This method of slaughtering animals consists of using a well-sharpened knife to make a swift, deep incision that cuts the front of the throat, the carotid artery, trachea, and jugular veins. The head of the animal is aligned with the qiblah. In addition to the direction, permitted animals should be slaughtered upon utterance of the Islamic prayer “Bismillah” in the name of God.
The slaughter must be performed by a Muslim. Blood must be drained from the veins. Additionally, an animal that has been strangled, beaten to death, killed by a fall, gored, savaged by a beast of prey (unless finished off by a human), or sacrificed on a stone altar cannot be eaten.
Majority of animals killed for halal meat in the UK are stunned electrically before their throats are slit. The method is known as “pre-stunned slaughter”. However, some Muslims think that the practice is contrary to the specifications of dhabiha and prefer to eat halal meat that has not been pre-stunned. According to the Halal Food Authority (HFA), a non-profit organization that monitors adherence to halal principles, stunning cannot be used to kill an animal. But it can be used if the animal survives and is then killed by halal methods, the HFA adds.
Supermarkets selling halal products say they stun all animals before they are slaughtered. Tesco says the only difference between the halal meat it sells and other meat is that it was blessed as it was killed.
Stunning of livestock has been mandatory in the EU since 1979, although member states can grant exemptions for religious slaughter. Some countries, including Denmark, have opted to ban non-stunning slaughter altogether. The UK government says it has no intention of banning religious slaughter. The question of whether religious slaughter is more or less humane than other forms is a matter of debate.
The British Veterinary Association calls for all animals to be effectively stunned before slaughter, while the Farm Animal Welfare Council says cutting an animal’s throat is “such a massive injury would result in very significant pain and distress in the period before insensibility supervenes”.
The RSPCA argues that killing animals without stunning them causes unnecessary suffering, while activist group PETA says the beasts fight and gasp for their last breath, struggling to stand while the blood drains from their necks.
Currently, there is no requirement for halal or kosher meat to be specifically labeled. Today, seasoned meat in the UK that is labeled as halal could be from pre-stunned slaughter or not pre-stunned slaughter. That is why campaigners are working together to get transparent rules around labeling in place, and the industry body Eblex is currently consulting on introducing an assurance scheme to introduce” a level of transparency that it has been suggested is currently missing”.
The European Parliament has approved a law change which would see compulsory labeling for all meat killed through halal slaughter without pre-stunning – but it could be years before this is implemented.
In Muslim and Muslim-majority nations, all meat is halal, all food is halal, an increasing number of non-food products, including personal care products like skin care products are being labeled halal. Everything to be purchased for human consumption and use is being dedicated to Allah. Even in non-Muslim countries, the amount of halal food, including meat, dissected and being sold and consumed is surprisingly high.
In Sunni Islam, animals slaughtered by Christians or Jews is halal, only if the slaughter is carried out y jugular insurgency and mentioned before slaughter that the purpose is of permissible consumption and the slaughter is carried out following the name of God, unless explicitly prohibited, like pork. The requirement to invoke Allah’s name is a must. Kosher meats, which are consumed by Jews, are permitted to be eaten by Muslims. This is due to the similarity between both methods of slaughter and the similar principles of kosher meat which are still observed by some Jews today. Jewish law strictly forbids the use of stunning and meats are not blessed in the same way.