- Supermarkets and restaurants sell halal to customers to save money
- They do it so the meat can be eaten by Muslims and non-Muslims
- More than 70% of all New Zealand lamb in supermarkets is halal
- Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Waitrose and M&S all sell it
- Nick Clegg demands better labelling, but is happy to eat halal pizza
Supermarkets and restaurant chains face being forced to label food containing halal meat as a row grew over millions of customers being left in the dark about what they are eating.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg today demanded better labelling using a designated logo, but insisted he was happy to eat a halal pizza.
MPs could use a debate on new consumer legislation next week to force a change in the law, after it emerged ore than 70 per cent of all New Zealand lamb in supermarkets is from halal abattoirs – a fact not stated on labelling.
Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Waitrose and Marks & Spencer all confirmed they sell the imported meat.
Morrisons have asked us to make clear that all Morrisons own label meat and poultry is from animals that are stunned prior to slaughter
The switch to slaughtering animals in line with Islamic ritual saves money because the end product can be eaten by Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
David Cameron refused to intervene on the issue. His spokesman said: ‘The Prime Minister’s view is that it is an issue of consumer choice and consumer information.
‘So it is a matter for retailers and restaurants to work with customers and consumer groups and representatives of faith organisations.’
But Mr Clegg said: ‘It is a question of labelling. I think there should be more information.’
The Deputy Prime Minister said he has ‘absolutely no problem with eating a pizza with halal meat on it at all.’
And Commons Leader Andrew Lansley told MPs that a debate on the Consumer Rights Bill next week could be used to address public concerns.
He said the legislation was focused ‘giving consumers not only rights but information on which they can base their purchasing decisions.’
It also emerged that all chicken served by Pizza Express is halal – something made clear only on the company’s website.
Chains including Domino’s, GBK, Nando’s, KFC, Ask and Slug & Lettuce use halal meat in some dishes, mainly chicken, and locations.
When contacted by the Mail yesterday, many of the restaurants were reluctant to discuss the issue. Only Subway and KFC overtly label halal meat products on their menus.
Sheep carcases hang on hooks awaiting distribution at a halal slaughterhouse in Birmingham (file picture)
I’D EAT HALAL PIZZA BUT I WANT TO KNOW FROM LABEL, SAYS CLEGG
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said he is a ‘great fan’ of Pizza Express
Nick Clegg today declared he would happy to eat a pizza containing halal meat.
But the Deputy Prime Minister demanded better labelling so shoppers can know what they are buying.
Speaking on his LBC 97.3 radio phone-in, Mr Clegg said it should be straightforward for manufacturers, shops and restuarants to use a logo to show halal meat has been used.
‘I think it is really about consumer information rather than some reaction to halal.
‘I personally have absolutely no problem with eating a pizza with halal meat on it at all.
‘It is a question of labelling. I think there should be more information.
‘This is something which should be relatively straightforward, it is something that is entirely traceable.’
He added that he is a ‘great fan’ of Pizza Express, but like most customers he does not ‘dwell on the website’, where the company revealed it used halal meat.
Other chains directed us towards their websites where information was included but hard to find. Subway has removed ham and bacon from almost 200 fast food outlets and switched to halal alternatives in an attempt to woo Muslim customers.
In conventional slaughterhouses, cows, sheep and chicken are stunned, usually with an electric shock, to ensure they are unconscious before their throats are cut.
This minimises suffering but in most Muslim countries halal animals are not stunned.
This technique has been condemned as cruel by experts on the Farm Animal Welfare Council, the Humane Slaughter Association and the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe. Muslim religious leaders have responded to these concerns by allowing halal animals to be stunned before they are killed.
However 19 per cent of halal sheep are not pre-stunned along with 16 per cent of cattle and 12 per cent of poultry. Jewish religious authorities deny cruelty and refuse to allow pre-stunning for kosher food.
The British Retail Consortium, which represents supermarkets, claims there is no need to label meat such as New Zealand lamb as halal if it comes from animals that are pre-stunned.
Andrew Opie, its director of food, said: ‘As the overwhelming majority of meat sold in UK supermarkets is own brand and from animals that have been stunned prior to slaughter we do not see the requirement to separately label meat based on the method of slaughter.
‘However, if the Government believes there is a need for more information on meat for those animals that have not been pre-stunned we would be happy to have further discussion in the context of animal welfare.’
But Peter Stevenson, of Compassion in World Farming, said: ‘We don’t believe that religious freedom should extend to the point of causing unnecessary suffering.
‘If you are going to have an exemption to normal rules for religious slaughter, then we believe that meat should be labelled when it gets into the wider food chain.’
The British Veterinary Association and the RSPCA want a new labelling system to spell out whether an animal has been stunned or not.
They have set up an ePetition on the Government’s website in the hope of getting 100,000 signatures to ensure a debate in Parliament.
Both stress their campaigns relate to animal welfare rather than religious beliefs.
BVA president Robin Hargreaves said: ‘We support a good life and a humane death for all animals.
‘We have long believed that slaughter without pre-stunning unnecessarily compromise animal welfare at the time of death. It affects millions of animals every year and action is long overdue.’ The RSPCA’s David Bowles said: ‘We recognise that religious belief and practices should be respected but we also believe that animals should be slaughtered in the most humane way possible.
‘Non-stun slaughter can result in the animals experiencing very significant pain and distress and that is why we feel more needs to be done to end this suffering.’
Graphic: Last month, undercover investigators secretly filmed inside a halal abattoir near Banham, Norfolk, as more than 100 sheep appeared to writhe in agony after being ritually killed
Shocking: The sheep at the Simply Halal abattoir in Banham were still fighting for their lives, even after having their throats cut, before being strung up
Maajid Nawaz, of the Quilliam Foundation – a Muslim think-tank set up to challenge extremism – said: ‘All halal meat in the UK should be pre stunned (all chicken already is), halal should not be a secret and no national chain should ban bacon. Muslims can simply not order it.’
Retailers and food chains insist that while they do not label all the halal meat they sell, it does come from animals which have been pre-stunned, which removes the concerns about cruelty.
The Hospital Caterers Association confirmed that some hospitals – a minority – may use halal meat in their prime dishes without it being labelled. Separately, halal meat from specialist suppliers is used in dishes that are requested by Muslim patients.
A number of councils and schools across the country have decided to switch to halal for all meat, even if Muslims are in the minority in the classrooms. The policy has triggered protests where parents have discovered the change.
Slice: Pizza Express has revealed all of the chicken it uses is halal, meaning it is prepared in accordance with Islamic traditions. A file image of the Leggera Pollo ad Astra on its menu is pictured
In March some primary schools in Rotherham banned all pork products from the menu and replaced other meats with halal versions.
The change was described as a ‘minor adjustment’ by the council but was condemned by some school parents.
Dr Shuja Shafi, the deputy secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, has expressed disappointment at the focus on religious slaughter and warned it could be used by the far right as a weapon to attack the Muslim community.
‘Halal is a humane method; it’s a clean, clear method and has got rules and regulations about how it’s carried out,’ he said.
‘People should be more responsible in how they tackle this. It’s going to cause confusion and will be used by elements to have a negative effect.’
A stealthy takeover of Britain’s supermarket shelves
By GUY ADAMS
Tucked away in the back room of a tatty red-brick building near Birmingham city centre, a beady-eyed chicken is turned upside down and placed in an open-ended metal cone.
A man approaches, carrying a sharp knife. Sizing up the bird, he mutters a short prayer. Then he gently takes hold of the chicken’s head, and expertly slits its throat.
Blood and the occasional feather fall to the floor. The animal appears to twitch. Roughly a minute later, it’s dead, and ready to be plucked, disembowelled, and placed inside a long refrigerated meat counter in the next-door room.
This process is repeated roughly a thousand times each day at the premises of Taj & Co, a ‘slaughter on site’ wholesaler of halal meat and poultry, which has its headquarters in the largely Muslim neighbourhood of Handsworth.
‘Permitted’: Halal foods are those that Muslims are allowed to eat or drink under Islamic Shari’ah
Customers come from far and wide to visit the green-and-white-tiled store, where a small television constantly broadcasts rolling footage from no less than six CCTV cameras overlooking the back-room abattoir.
The TV, they explain, is designed to reassure visitors that their meat has been produced according to the strictest Islamic traditions.
These rules dictate (among other things) that the animal must be alive and conscious at the moment its throat is cut, and that the slaughterman must be a person of faith who pronounces the name of Allah before wielding his knife.
‘In so many other places, you just cannot be sure what you are getting, but here the screen shows you that they don’t differ from what the Koran says,’ said 45-year-old housewife Nawaz Udin, who drove to the shop yesterday from her home in Coventry.
Asda has confirmed it stocks some branded halal and kosher meat
‘My husband is a very devout Muslim, and I like to make sure we can eat truly halal food every day.’
Taj & Co, established in 1969, is one of 17 abattoirs in the UK which kill animals only in the old-fashioned, scripturally correct way: without pre-stunning with an electric current before slaughter.
Together, these premises produce about ten per cent of our country’s halal meat, killing 600,000 cows, sheep and chickens during the course of a typical week, according to the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
The remaining 90 per cent is slaughtered via a process which is almost identical – except that the animal is given an electric shock to render it unconscious, but not dead, prior to its throat being cut.
To ensure that Muslim consumers get their preferred variety of halal meat, a range of certification and labelling systems currently help Mrs Udin and her peers purchase a product that conforms to the exact religious threshold they desire.
Meat: A sign for halal, which means ‘permitted’
Controversially, however, a very different state of affairs currently prevails for consumers who happen not to be Muslim and – either for faith-based or for ethical reasons – would prefer to avoid halal produce altogether.
In recent years, thanks to a variety of commercial factors – which we shall detail later – the number of halal abattoirs in Britain has mushroomed.
Today, they account for roughly a quarter of the country’s 352 slaughterhouses.
As a result, 51 per cent of the lamb, 31 per cent of chicken, and seven per cent of the beef slaughtered in this country – from a total of 16million animals per week – is now ‘religiously killed’, according to the FSA.
That’s far more than the Muslim community, which constitutes around five per cent of Britain’s population, can possibly consume.
Yet despite this trend, there is no formal requirement for supermarkets, restaurants and other outlets to tell customers whether the meat they are buying happens to be halal.
These relaxed labelling rules, overseen by the EU, represent a daily nightmare for consumers who find themselves wanting to avoid such products.
Take Sikhs, whose faith strictly and specifically forbids them from consuming animals which have been ‘ritually slaughtered’. They currently have no way of telling what meat or ready meals they can or cannot consume.
HOW AND WHY RELIGIONS DEMAND RITUAL SLAUGHTER OF ANIMALS
Halal slaughtering involves cutting through the large arteries in the neck with one swipe of a blade, while a Muslim butcher recites a religious verse.
All blood is then drained away since the consumption of blood is forbidden under Islamic law.
Under Islamic law, an animal must be slaughtered by having its throat cut while it is conscious.
According to the laws, in order for a meat to kosher it must come from an animal that means the kosher rules.
These are the animal must be ruminant and have split hooves. Ruminant animals chew food once and swallow, before regurgitating it and chewing again.
Animals that Jews can eat include cows, sheep, goats and deer.
They cannot eat pigs despite the fact it has split hooves because it is not a ruminant animal.
Before slaughtering, the animal must be healthy and uninjured and a sharp knife is used to slice through the main arteries and windpipe, causing a drop in blood pressure that causes the animal to lose consciousness. Jews believe this is a way of killing that shows ‘respect and compassion’ as set out in Jewish law
‘There is a proliferation of unlabelled halal meat and derived products into the food chain,’ says a spokesman for the Sikh Council.
‘Consumers are being denied the right to make an informed choice based upon their faith or other beliefs concerning meat from ritually slaughtered animals. This cannot be right and an urgent change is required.’
And then there are conservative Christians, who take particularly unkindly to products endorsed by a rival faith popping up on high-street restaurant menus. This week, for example, it emerged that the Pizza Express chain has quietly begun selling only halal chicken on its pizzas.
And earlier this month, it was revealed that the fast food chain Subway would be opening a string of ‘halal only’ stores that would sell turkey bacon instead of pork.
‘I am opposed to the Islamification of food,’ says Colin Hart, of the Christian Institute, ‘so I don’t want to buy halal, but it’s become very hard to avoid, even if you try.
‘If Muslims want to eat halal, that’s absolutely fine. But it should be clearly labelled. The problem is that, as with so many other things, the sensitivity only runs one way. People are being given the choice to choose halal. But they are not being given the choice to avoid it.’
As our research shows today, a very substantial number of the country’s restaurants, entertainment venues, and supermarkets are now selling some halal products – usually without seeing fit to inform their customers properly.
So, too, are many schools and hospitals. Indeed, a couple of years ago, the Church of England was informed that its schools may unwittingly be feeding halal meat to pupils.
‘We should be really concerned about this,’ said Alison Ruoff, a lay member of the General Synod.
‘There is a lot of fear about upsetting Muslims, but as a Christian you have to stand up for Christian values.’
Away from religious circles, the halal issue also excites animal welfare activists, who are widely opposed to the 10 per cent of Halal meat which is derived from animals killed without pre-stunning.
Two months ago, the incoming president of the British Veterinary Association, John Blackwell, called for a total ban on this method of slaughter, saying that it is ‘inhumane and causes suffering at the time of death’.
His position echoed that adopted by such campaigning organisations as the RSPCA and Compassion in World Farming (CWF).
‘As things stand, unstunned meat is getting into the wider food chain,’ says CWF. ‘And it isn’t being labelled as such. We have a real problem with that.’
At the heart of the problem, he adds, lies the growing industrialisation of the food industry (a trend which, among other things, led to last year’s horsemeat scandal).
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.
‘What increasingly happens is that at the beginning of each day, abattoirs don’t necessarily know what orders will be coming in,’ explains a CWF spokesman.
‘So they do all their killing by halal techniques. That way, if a halal order comes in they are covered. If not, they supply halal meat to a normal supplier. It looks and tastes the same, so no one is any the wiser.’
This trend is laid bare by the fact that more than 75 per cent of New Zealand lamb – much of which is exported to the Middle East – is now killed in a ‘pre-stun’ halal slaughterhouse.
Unless it is being sold to a halal wholesaler, or a Muslim country, the method of slaughter for the lamb is not disclosed at the point of sale. As a result, its highly likely that every British supermarket which sells New Zealand lamb is also selling unlabelled halal meat.
A similar manner of thinking prevails in large restaurant chains. Many choose, for example, to sell only halal chicken – but only advertise the fact on a relatively obscure corner of their website.
The companies presume, rightly, that observant Muslims will seek out the information (and therefore visit their outlets), while the majority of other consumers will be none the wiser.
Efforts to create a conspicuous labelling system have meanwhile been blocked by Left-leaning politicians who say it would discriminate against Muslims and Jews (whose shechita method of slaughter bears some similarities to halal).
In 2011, for example, the European Parliament voted down a bill to label food killed via ‘non-stun’ methods as halal.
Months later, the Conservative MP Philip Davies had a similar piece of legislation defeated by three votes in the Commons, thanks to Labour opposition led by Gerald Kaufman, the Jewish MP.
‘My bill said that halal and kosher meat should be labelled at the point of sale,’ Mr Davies recalls.
‘In my naivety, I presumed it would be non-controversial, but it was opposed by the PC brigade in the Labour Party.’
The result has been that halal has continued its quiet takeover of our high streets and our supermarket shelves.
‘As the Prime Minister said a week ago, we are a Christian country,’ adds Mr Davies.
‘People expect that the majority of meat in the country will be slaughtered in a traditional way, and that halal will be in a minority for people who want to seek it out.
‘But in many areas, it seems halal has now become the default position.’