In our diverse UK society, halal remains an ‘other’ method of slaughter.  Misunderstandings about what halal meat is and isn’t have fuelled media furores (halal ‘secretly’ being ‘snuck’ into buckets of KFC), and animal rights activism (halal methods for slaughter are ‘cruel’).

As Giles Fraser points out for the Guardian, tabloid preoccupation with animal rights should consider the way an animal has lived, not just how it was killed.  That said, The Qur'an provides clear instruction on the compassionate treatment of animals in life and in death.  The traditional method of halal slaughter – a single cut to the throat, causing instant death – is held, in Islam and Judaism, to cause minimal pain and distress to the animal.  However, like mainstream food production in the UK, 84% of certified halal meat in the UK is now “pre-stunned”, according to the RSCPA.

Do you find you’re ever asked to explain what halal is, to non-Muslim friends or colleagues?  Or even to children who as they get older tend to ask more questions?  We hope that this content can answer a few questions you might have, and provide some recipe inspiration for Eid, a time of happiness and togetherness.

So, what is halal meat? That is, what makes halal really ‘halal’?

Halal, in Qura’nic terms, refers to anything that is permissible (Arabic ‫حلال‎‎ (ḥalāl)) according to traditional Islamic law.  Anything that is allowed in daily life.  In the case of food, this is anything permitted for consumption.  Where meat is concerned, the term applies to animals that are halal, and to the permissible process of slaughter, which is referred to as zibah.  Haram is of course the word used to denote the opposite concept, that which is not allowed.

Animals must be alive in good health at the time of slaughter, which should be achieved by a single cut to the the jugular vein, carotid artery and windpipe using a sharp knife, following a recitation to God.  The spinal cord must not be severed.  The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) teaches of the unclean qualities of blood, which it is written, promote germs and disease in food.  Therefore, flowing blood is to be drained entirely from the carcass.  The slaughter must be carried out by a sane Muslim, male or female, who is licensed and knowledgeable in both hygiene and animal welfare.

What about tayyib?

We know what halal meat is, but what about tayyib? Islam places great importance on sustainable living and kindness to animals. Halal is not just about the moment of slaughter, but about the life that the animals have led.  Animals should be raised to maximum welfare.  This means they should be free to graze and not be treated with antibiotics or hormones.

Can we always trust what is marked ‘halal’ to be 100% halal?

Like non-halal manufacturers some companies in the mass food industry seek instead to save time and money.

As well as adhering to the fundamental method, ensuring butchers are practising Muslims, there are other Islamic instructions to follow – the knife must not be sharpened in the animal’s presence; the animal must not be in an uncomfortable position; the blade must be free of blemishes so not as to tear the wound – details that are vital aspects of ethics as much as law.  All ingredients in halal food products must also be halal, such as sauces and marinades.  The way to be sure you can trust what you are eating is to check that the meat is certified.  Halal Certification guarantees that halal foods are suitable for consumption in accordance with traditional Islamic law.  Products that are certified are usually marked with the familiar Arabic حلال or the letter M.

In what ways is a halal method of slaughter kind and compassionate?

We are reminded in The Qur'an that all animal species are communities, as we are.  All animals must be treated with kindness and compassion.  This is not an ethical stance that can be adopted should we chose to adopt it – it is part of religious instruction that must be followed.  There are certain aspects of the slaughter that have been laid down which protect animals from undue suffering in slaughter.  For example, as we mentioned in the last section, animals must never see another animal being killed; the knife must not be sharpened in the animal’s presence; the animal must not be in an uncomfortable position when being slaughtered; the blade must be free of blemishes so not as to tear the wound.

Killing by hand shows respect for what we are about to eat by taking direct responsibility for the death of the animal.  The prayer acknowledges our gratitude to God and to the animal about to be slaughtered, for it is another of His creatures.

Why is stunning an issue?

Current UK law requires animals to be stunned before slaughter so they don’t feel pain before death.  Exemptions are allowed, however, for religious purposes, i.e. to Muslim and Jewish communities.  However, scientific study shows that animals suffer less as a result of stunning.  Crucially, stunning can be carried out without compromising the conditions of halal.  In 2004, the Halal Food Authority stated that stunning was not against halal practice, on the basis that the animal is not dead prior to slaughter and that all flowing blood is drained.  Despite this, stunning remains a subject for debate in the Muslim community.  We, at Haloodies, believe that reversible stunning for halal is kinder, based on objective research, and that it falls in line with 100% halal meat production, based on Islamic juristic opinion.  Reversible stunning means animals are revivable and unharmed.

Is Halal meat healthy?

100% halal meat, made from free-range animals (also free from commonly-used antibiotics), is healthy. The draining of blood is believed to prevent foodborne illness.  Health food shops are pioneering halal and kosher as healthy, rating halal as among the fastest growing categories.  A recent article for Bloomberg shows that halal has become more popular among non-Muslim millennials in the UK, and the USA.  In the United States, Kosher meat enjoys a vast following beyond those from the Jewish community.  As an article in Forbes shows, only 15% of those who purchase kosher products do so for religious reasons. Of the 11.2 million Americans who purchase kosher items, most who seek out kosher products buy the items for food quality (62%), general healthfulness (51%), and food safety (34%).  This is a parallel we don’t yet see in the UK with halal, but may in the future as even more about what halal meat is comes to be understood.   Halal and kosher share fundamental similarities in terms of methods of slaughter.  A religious butcher must cut the throat of the animal with a sharp, even knife to cause instant death, and then let the blood drain from the carcass.

What are some of the differences between halal and kosher?

Halal and kosher dietary laws share some fundamentals.  Of course, pig meat is prohibited to Muslims and Jews.  It’s no surprise that gelatin must likewise come from a permissible animal in both religions.  Jewish dietary laws (kashrut) only permit the eating of mammals that chew the cud and have cloven hooves, and so some animals such as camels are halal but not kosher.  Kashrut also insists upon the separation of dairy and meat products. Both types of ritual slaughter cut the neck of the animal with a non-serrated blade with the intention of severing the main blood vessels, and both types of slaughter require draining of the animal’s blood.  Both rituals are carried out by a practising Muslim or Jew who follows the respective laws, and reads the appropriate prayer or blessing. In Judaism, the slaughter must be carried out by a specific Rabbi known as a shochet.  In halal, with the obvious exception of blood, there are no restrictions on which organs or body parts of the carcass may be eaten from a halal-slaughtered animal, whereas kashrut prohibits the eating of certain types of fat, as well as the sciatic nerve – therefore the hindquarters of a kosher animal must undergo a process called nikkur in order to be fit for consumption by Jews.  This process takes time and is costly, and because it is rarely practiced beyond Israel for those reasons, the hindquarters of kosher-slaughtered animals in the rest of the world are typically traded in the non-kosher market.

And Haloodies’ Halal Meat?

Haloodies is dedicated to that which is truly halal and tayyib.  Its cows and lambs are hand-slaughtered.  Its methods employ practising Muslims as each stage of the process.  Its animals are grazing, grass-fed animals, and its birds free-range.  Haloodies doesn’t use any antibiotic growth promoters.  All animals are reversibly stunned before slaughter to ensure maximum animal welfare. Haloodies is accredited by Halal Consultations, who provide validation and certification of authenticity of halal meat, poultry and foodstuffs in the UK.  We share the aim that Muslim consumers can easily buy halal approved meals that have been procured, processed and prepared by establishments and staff well conversant in Islamic dietary rules and the relevant EU regulations of food safety and animal welfare.  Halal Consultations also provides training and certificates in aspects of food safety, hygiene, and animal slaughtering operations.

Can you give me any more information?

Of course. Visit the Halal section of our <a href="http://www.haloodies.com/halal">website</a>, which gives you in depth information on our philosophy on stunning, and more about our poultry and livestock, for both our cooked and fresh ranges, for chicken, beef and lamb. You can find out about the Dorset halal facility where where we process and pack our fresh meat, and about our halal marinades too.  Our commitment to halal and tayyib (wholesomeness) are at the heart of everything we do.

Are there any resources you’d recommend?

You can check out this film for an in-depth look at halal meat in the UK – Halal: You Are What You Eat.

Can you share any recipes?

We found this nice selection of Eid al-Adha recipes from New York Times Cooking.  We love the Persian Cucumber Yogurt Salad with Dill, Sour Cherries and Rose Petals, and, having tried, we’re not sure there could be a better way of eating sprouts than the Brussels Sprouts with Pomegranate-Tahini Sauce.  (It’s true these little cabbages are time-consuming to peel, but if you are willing to invest, we assure you it’s worth it!  They are also packed with Vitamins C and K and B Vitamins such as folic acid and B6.)  We’d serve alongside the Charred Lamb and Eggplant with Date-Yoghurt Chutney, using Haloodies’ Diced Lamb.  You can also take the flavours of the delicious Cumin Lamb Meatballs with Tahini Yogurt Dipping Sauce but make life super-easy with our lamb meatballs.  Pile up a beautiful platter and grace it with toasted cumin seeds and mint leaves, and let everyone tuck in!

We’d love to hear what you think.

Let us know what you think. Do you think they or other halal products need clearer messaging? Do you always feel you can trust what you’re eating when ordering or buying halal?  We’d love to hear from you with any questions or comments, recipes or Eid messages.  Eid Mubarak to all!