The Daily Mail has claimed again that 70% of New Zealand lamb sold in the UK is halal. With just 4.8% of the country being Muslim, why is this the case?
Following up on the Sun’s story yesterday about Pizza Express chicken being “secretly” halal (the detail is listed on the website and not on the menu), the Daily Mail has reheated a 3-year-old story that “millions” are unknowingly buying the ritually slaughtered meat.
The article claims that more than “70% of all New Zealand lamb in supermarkets is from halal abattoirs”.
One of its main gripes is as follows:
51% of the lamb, 31% of chicken, and 7% of the beef slaughtered in this country – from a total of 16m animals per week – is now ‘religiously killed’, according to the FSA.
That’s far more than the Muslim community, which constitutes around five percent of Britain’s population, can possibly consume.
If that’s the case then why is so much halal meat being produced?
What is halal meat?
Firstly, we need to run through exactly what halal is. Translating as “lawful” or “permitted” in Arabic, halal is only applied to meat that is slaughtered in methods that comply with Islamic law.
The animal must be healthy before it is killed and all blood must be drained from the body – to this end the jugular vein of the animal is cut with a sharp knife. A prayer must be said as the animal is killed.
Within Islam there is some debate about how strictly these rules have to be adhered to. One of these is whether the animal is stunned prior to slaughter. Animal welfare groups such as the RSPCA believe that not doing so causes unnecessary suffering.
Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland all ban slaughter without stunning but the UK has refused pressure to follow suit.
However, only a small minority of halal abattoirs in the country slaughter without the animal being stunned beforehand. The RSPCA said it estimated that 88% of animals killed for halal meat were stunned before slaughter.
Halal meat’s prevalence in the UK
The Daily Mail is correct to say that 51% of lamb produced in this country is outsizes the 4.8% of the population that is Muslim. However, there are a couple of issues with that statistic.
Firstly, Islamic people eat a disproportionate amount of lamb. According to a 2010 report by industry body Eblex, Muslims account for 20% of lamb consumption in England.
Eblex said in 2010 that the halal meat market is a “multi-million pound contributor to the British economy”. The same Eblex study has some relatively surprising stats on Islamic halal consumers in England. The report identifies the following trend:
The attempt by some of the major supermarkets to expand into the halal market brought mixed views from the abattoirs interviewed: some think this is the inevitable future for the industry, while others feel supermarkets will not be able to gain a strong foothold in the market because Muslim consumers are wedded to using small, local, Muslim-run butcher shops.
The Islamic consumers surveyed were asked to rank a number of issues on a scale of importance between one and five, with five being the most important.
When asked about how they make sure that meat is halal, “It is important that the butcher is Muslim” scored the highest at 4.3.
More than half actively seek out halal meat butchers/suppliers while a further 15% look for halal meat butchers/suppliers complying “strictly” with halal guidelines.
The Daily Mail has established that much of the New Zealand lamb sold in some supermarkets is not labelled as such. A majority of the people Eblex asked would look for the logos to be predominantly displayed if they were going to buy it.
It’s pretty much clear that the unlabelled meat is not really for Islamic consumers so why is it there?
Why is there so much halal meat?
One possible answer is contained in the Daily Mail’s article, when it quotes a spokesman from Compassion in World Farming:
With ever-larger abattoirs now exporting meat to wider and wider markets, it has become simpler and more cost effective for many of them to subject all their animals to halal slaughter.
We also have to note yet again that the vast majority of supermarket-sold halal meat is stunned before slaughter, which complies with EU regulations.
On a commercial level it makes no sense to have halal and non-halal production lines when there is such a sizeable proportion of your consumers that care one way and few who care the other way.
Tesco said the majority of exported New Zealand lamb followed Islamic slaughter traditions because of how much was being sold in the Middle East. Expect more of this as suppliers try to reach wider and wider markets.
Originally published on www.theguardian.com/