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Halal row has little to do with animals

DISCLAIMER:

I'm a vegetarian. I'm the world's worst vegetarian - I eat fish and I eat around chicken. After reading up on methods of slaughter following this week's halal meat fuss, I'm going vegan.

Consumers, it emerged, have been fed halal meat by stealth. Supermarket chains admitted selling halal meat without labelling it as such.

It also transpired KFC outlets around the country serve halal chicken, as do Nando's restaurants and Pizza Express. Subway is also in on the swizz, having gone halal in 2007.

Suddenly carnivores everywhere are concerned about animal welfare.

Halal or haram, slaughter isn't pleasant. Animals undergo a process of stunning then sticking. Cattle, sheep and pigs are stunned with a gun that fires a metal bolt into the brain. Sheep, calves and pigs have an ­electrical current passed through their brain from a large pair of tongs. Birds are hung upside down by their legs on metal shackles and dipped into an electric bath before their throats are slit.

According to Islamic principles of slaughter, dhabihah halal, a sharp knife must be used to kill animals for food. Butchers are required to give animals water before they kill them and say a prayer. They are also under strict instructions to cause as little pain and distress as possible.

In terms of animal welfare, the RSPCA makes no distinction between pre-stunned halal meat and conventionally slaughtered meat.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) says some 88% of animals slaughtered using the halal method are pre-stunned. A total of 3% of cattle, 10% of sheep and goats and 4% of poultry were not.

The Jewish method of slaughter, Shechita, however, forbids the animal to be stunned when killing takes place.

For the consumer, choice is king. We want to know exactly what we're eating - the fat, the calories, the ­additives and preservatives. We want to know our food has been ethically sourced, fairly traded, unprocessed and locally sourced. And all at a decent price.

Yet we've moved away from shopping locally and we've forgotten how to cook from scratch.

On a commercial level, halal makes sense on an economy of scale. What's the point of halal and non-halal production lines when the minority care very much and the majority care little, especially if you, as the New Zealand-based suppliers of Tesco's meat do, are exporting to Britain and the Middle East? I'm surprised there's surprise at food outlets stocking halal.

The recycling experts, Business Waste, this week released a statement saying supermarkets have a moral duty to cut food waste, claiming some 900,000 tons of food is destroyed ­annually when it could be passed to food banks or given to, say, homeless charities.

To my mind, that is a far greater scandal.

David Cameron says he would not support government intervention in the labelling of meat as halal and non-halal. He's wrong, but so are those making that call. Meat should be labelled, yes, but only to say whether the animal was pre-stunned or not.

Unless you buy your eggs free range and your meat locally raised and organic then it's hypocrisy to complain halal might be cruel. Slaughtering isn't about eradicating cruelty, it is minimising misery at best.

And if you don't believe in Islam then does it matter whether an Islamic prayer was said over your sirloin? It makes as much difference as having a Wiccan whisper into your shellfish.

The people worried about halal meat might stop to wonder why they're suddenly so concerned about animal welfare. I'd hazard the scare stories are more designed to sow discord rather than protect beast and fowl, though that, of course, could be the happy outcome of an ignorant outcry.

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