Beyond the halal label: Eating ethically

When it comes to food, Fatimah Jackson-Best delves into a deeper meaning of halal.

Image: Photl
Image: Photl

For many Muslims the halal tradition is the only choice when it comes to buying meat. But even though that chicken on your plate came with a halal sticker on the package, do you know where it came from or the conditions it was kept in? And why should this matter?

Muslims around the world are becoming more critical of how animals are kept and slaughtered – even if they are advertised to be halal. One reason for this is that some companies that boast halal certification have been exposed for various industrial methods around their slaughtering. A prime example can be found in factories where animals are machine-slaughtered rather than hand-slaughtered, raising objections amongst Muslims. While animals killed in such a way may be technically considered halal, it is important that we also give serious thought to the ways that animals are kept, treated, fed and killed – even by halal meat suppliers.

The conditions that animals live in are important to consider. Some halal companies keep their animals in cramped conditions. Chickens, goats and cows never see the light of day and are unable to walk freely as they would under normal circumstances. Instead, they are packed into tiny spaces with hundreds and sometimes even thousands of other animals.

Ask a Chef

Chef Akber Ali, chairman of the Singapore Halal Culinary Federation, believes that sustainably halal meat tastes better and is better for us than its alternatives.‘The health of the ecosystem and the vitality of the animal create healthy and delicious meat,’ he explains. ‘Grass, sunshine, clean air and water provide a product balanced by nature that is nutrient dense.’ He adds that these nutrients include higher levels of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and betacarotene.

Chef Akber describes the taste of halal ethical meat with words such as ‘clean’, ‘delicate’ and ‘rich’. In Singapore, the former culinary advisor to the Health Promotion Board names Zac Meat & Poultry and Indoguna as two of his preferred halal meat distributors.

Unable to be cleaned or fed the normal grain and grass they would naturally consume, these animals are sometimes given growth hormones so that they grow more quickly to meet supply and demand. This is dangerous for both the animal and the human consumer since the toxins in the hormones may transfer from the animal to you.

In factories that use machines to slaughter livestock, the animals are herded and placed on a conveyor belt. In a halal factory the machine would be set up to slice the animal’s jugular vein, but the process may not involve a human being who handles it while invoking the name of Allah before it is killed. Instead, a recording is often played aloud as the machine does the work. Graphic, yes. But this is the state of some of our halal meat producers, and this is a problem.

When an animal is raised in ethical and humane conditions it is much better off and so are you. This is why many Muslims are now looking for halal meats that are also raised organically, free-range, cage-free or hand-slaughtered. These methods are all possible ways to know that your meat has been kept and slaughtered in some of the best conditions possible.

When animals are marketed as organic, this usually means that they are raised according to strict standards set within your country. Typically these standards include a diet of organic foods without chemicals, animal byproducts, growth hormones or drugs. Just like human beings, animals need good-quality foods to be at their best; their bodies do not respond well to being pumped full of chemicals. It is important that we remember that such standards are necessary for all of Allah’s creation, and that we all have the right to healthy foods that are free of toxins.

Chickens raised cage-free or free-range are allowed to walk around and naturally roam for food, allowing them to build up their muscles which makes them leaner. In turn, the meat is healthier for you since the fat content is lower and the taste is better. The free-range or cage-free method also allows animals to interact with their environment in natural ways rather than being cooped up in a windowless factory or a cage where they cannot flap their wings or have room to move.

Image: Stockvault
Image: Stockvault

Animals should also be given the right to die with dignity and in a way that inflicts minimal pain on them. The best method to ensure this is to slaughter them by hand, which is also the Sunnah of our blessed Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). If you do not have the opportunity to buy organic, cage-free or free-range meats, this is the best alternative. Many companies also take the extra step to identify that their meats are hand-slaughtered, so read the labels of your chicken carefully or ask your butcher.

As Muslims we are accustomed to eating foods that measure up to our religious standards, but we must also be willing to read beyond the halal label to consider the ethical treatment of these animals. More than a practice, eating halal is also a lifestyle and so every step of our meal must be considered thoughtfully.

Halal and Ethical Meat Brands
OBE Organic (Australia): Halal, organic, 100% grass-fed and GMO-free beef. Available in UAE, Kuwait, Egypt, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and North America.
Lilydale (Australia): Halal and free-range chicken. Available in select shops across Australia.
Diamond Valley (Australia): Halal, all-natural lamb. Available in major retail chains around the world, including Costco in the United States.
Willowbrook (UK): Halal and organic animal products including lamb, chicken, beef, eggs and honey. Delivers within the UK.
Abraham Natural Product (UK): Halal and organic meat. Delivers within the UK.
Norwich Meadows Farm (USA): Halal and organic poultry and eggs. Available in select markets in New York areas.
Baldwin Beef (USA): Halal and all-natural beef. Delivers within the US.
Blossom Pure (Canada): Halal and organic meat and deli products. Delivers to certain areas within Canada.
Pronic (Indonesia): Halal and organic chicken. Available in major retailers across Indonesia.
Az-Zain (Malaysia): Halal and organic chicken and chicken products. Available in select retailers across Malaysia.
Zac Meat & Poultry (Singapore): Halal meat and poultry. Serves Singapore and neighbouring countries.

Additional reading: Slaugh