Most Easter Lamb This Year Was Halal
Americans have a long history of rejecting coerced religion. From the Pilgrims who came for freedom of conscience to the colonists who decided that the free exercise of religion would be featured first in the Bill of Rights, the American claim to liberty has had religious freedom at its core.
That was then. Now, American shoppers seem oblivious to the fact that a strict religious code -- highly objectionable to many -- is being imposed upon the processing of American meat products.
Halal certification of American meat products has largely escaped notice. Costco is one of America's biggest lamb distributors in the United States, and all of Costco's lamb is processed according to halal standards. I interviewed the corporate buyer for Costco's meat, and he explained that Costco's halal lamb wholesale purchases are not responsive to Muslim pressure; instead, they are driven by overriding economic factors.
To Costco's credit, the big-box chain is one of the few honest outlets, and it does display the halal certification stamp on the back of shrink-wrapped packages. When most of the world's lamb is produced and processed in Australia and New Zealand -- and when most of those plants have abandoned the practice of separate slaughterhouses in favor of accommodating the uncompromising demands of halal markets -- it is easy to conclude that most of the lamb sold, even to large Western outlets, is halal-processed.
The controversial method of slaughter by slitting an animal's jugular so that death occurs by "bleeding out" is often done without first stunning the animal. Halal certification commissions have declared that cutting the jugular of an unconscious animal yields meat that is haram (unlawful or not permissible) according to sharia-based regulations. These halal oversight committees in places like Britain now forbid stunning before halal slaughter.
It is not surprising, then, that Brits were disturbed when the Farm Animal Welfare Council published a report on halal slaughter methods in 2003 declaring that "such a massive injury would result in very significant pain and distress in the period before insensibility supervenes." Some research indicates that proper methods for ritual slaughter like maintaining sharp knives and taking care to make a deep cut do alleviate animal suffering, but supervision and accountability, thus far, are just talk.
Currently a bill is pending in the U.K. to at least require honest labeling when halal processing methods are used. Recent public discussions indicate strong support for full disclosure and show that British consumers are anxious to vote with their pounds sterling when purchasing food products.
In addition to animal cruelty concerns, it is important to contemplate that every purchaser of halal products pays a surcharge for the processing concessions demanded by halal certification. In fact, an entire Islamic cottage industry has grown up around regulation of halal processing, and it is no insignificant enterprise. Clerically imposed sharia law requires that "the abattoir (agent of slaughter) involved in the process must be under the 'close and constant supervision' of an Islamic religious organisation." Also, the range of foods inspected for conformity with halal standards now includes cereals, beverages, and chocolate.
Soeren Kern reports that France's halal industry has more than doubled over the past five years and is now valued at €5.5 billion ($7 billion). The sector is now more than twice as large as that for organic foods, and industry experts expect the demand for halal to grow at more than 20% annually.
Kern also refers to a significant new study on the rise of Islam in French cities to show that halal is increasingly being used to assert a separate Muslim identity. He cites the 2,200-page report titled "Banlieue de la République" ("Suburbs of the Republic"), the result of a one-year research effort into the four Is that constitute the heart of the debate over French national identity -- Islam, immigration, identity, and insecurity -- to show that the Islamist lobby is using halal to impose aspects of sharia law on the non-Muslim majority in France and other European countries.
Societies that initially embraced ritual slaughter -- Belgium, the Netherlands, France, and the U.K. -- have learned how halal killing customs become a wedge to deepen the cultural divide. Concern for animal suffering, sanitation problems caused by mass ritual slaughtering, and institutionalization of the halal lobby have motivated pending legislative responses in all of these countries.
While much participation in the United States has been unwitting, consumers at least deserve to know when they are purchasing meat that has been halal-certified.
For many Americans, the political aspects of this imposition are significant, but the religious offense of learning that food products have already been blessed by an "allahu akbar" Islamic chant before the family even sits down to say grace is reason enough to say no to halal products.