So what if our meat is halal?
That’s what thousands of people in the UK are currently asking themselves after the recent statements by the likes of Pizza Express and Tesco use and sell halal meat without telling customers or correct labelling. It is understandable why the issue has surfaced. Britain’s Muslim population stood at 5% in 2011 and is estimated to reach 8.2% by 2030. There is, therefore, a significant demand for halal meat in both supermarkets and restaurants.
Regarding sheep, cattle and poulty, a 2012 Food Standards Agency report stated that over 90% of animals are stunned before being killed by halal methods, making the animals insensible to pain. So, disregarding the pain involved to animals (as this has been thoroughly debated elsewhere), what is the cultural debate raging over the issue?
It is perfectly within a restaurant or supermarket’s rights to sell halal meat and it is even more acceptable for customers, Muslim or not, to expect this diversity of choice when eating out or buying groceries. However, the meat should be correctly labelled. Halal meat cannot be eaten by Sikhs, who are prohibited from eating any meat killed in a ritualistic manner. Many Hindus are also opposed to this type of killing. Where do Pizza Express’s and Tesco’s recent statements leave them? Customers have the right to feel betrayed by their supermarkets and providers. The debate is not a racist one; it is not an immigration issue. In many ways it is an economic and cultural issue.
Non-halal meat should not have to be labelled as such. With the majority of UK consumers buying non-halal meat (knowingly) and British tradition not including ritualistic tradition, halal meat should be in the minority in terms of production and selling. Supermarkets will oppose this, however, because it will put the price up, discourging their halal customers. On a final note, who wants to think about how their meat was killed when they’re buying it anyway? Personally, it puts me off my food. Just like vegans, people who buy gluten-free, or people who buy organic, people who want halal meat should have to look for a label, not the other way around. It is a choice, one that should be respected, but not one that should overturn the majority. How would the UK react, for example, if you had to sort through Tesco to find cheaper, non-organic produce because some 5% of the population usually buys organic? What if restaurants only served dairy-free alternatives to cheese and milk dishes but didn’t tell anyone about the compromise on taste or cost? These issues are the same, the inclusion of religion in the halal debate should not matter.
This debate needs to be yet another step towards better labelling, increased transparency between businesses and consumers and, most importantly, making the diversity of Britain more acceptable and more tolerable.