9543Halal Food News: Ramadan in the Big Apple is just one challenge for halal food vendor
- Jul 31 2:03 AMRamadan in the Big Apple is just one challenge for halal food vendor
July 26, 2014 Updated: July 27, 2014 01:36 PM
NEW YORK // Omar Mohammed stands behind the counter of his food cart turning skewers of sizzling kebabs, the pungent smoke enveloping him as it pours off the small grill into the pulsating rush of Times Square.
On the corner of 42nd Street and Broadway, a babel of tourists stared up at the digital canyon of giant screens and flashing advertisements whose surreal lights wash out any trace of sunset, holding maps and snapping pictures.
“I like working here – all the people, the lights – it’s never dull,” says Mr Mohammed, 41, an Egyptian who has served food on this small strip of pavement real estate for three years. “It really reminds me of Port Said, where I’m from.”
He wraps the lamb kebabs in bread, adds a squirt of yogurt sauce and the requisite salad, and hands them to a waiting construction worker. He has been standing in the tropical July heat, cooking and serving food all day while observing a 16-hour Ramadan fast.
But his natural exuberance has not wilted. “Mickey, Minnie! Hi, how are you!” he calls to a pair of costumed characters working a crowd next to his cart.
There are nearly a million Muslims in New York City, many of them working-class immigrants such as Mr Mohammed, from the Middle East, South Asia and West Africa. A large proportion of the roughly 20,000 street food vendors in the city are from Egypt and Bangladesh, and work the halal food carts that have become a ubiquitous part of the Manhattan landscape.
During this summer Ramadan, the observant among them also have one of the more trying fasts, physically, and as they scratch out a living in an industry with little city oversight and a predatory “mafia”, as many of the workers describe it.
“The smoke is always coming, the weather is hot, but what can I do?” Mr Mohammed says. “At least I get skinny.” The food is not much of a temptation. He ate his fill of kebabs and hot dogs long ago.
Instead, for his iftar, one of his three teenage daughters or his wife travels an hour and a half by ferry and metro from their home on Staten Island to bring him a home-cooked Egyptian meal.
On this Friday evening, his eldest daughter, Donna, stands next to the cart, its row of bare bulbs and flashing colored lights illuminating pictures of his offerings – kebabs, knishes, hot dogs and falafel. “I think it’s the hardest job in Times Square,” says the 17-year-old aspiring doctor.
Because of his long hours, she does not get to spend much time with her father – “we barely see him” – so the trek to share an iftar meal takes on added importance.
The call to prayer sounds on his cart’s stereo speakers, and Mr Mohammed turns down the love songs by his favourite Port Said singers that he likes to play.
Donna opens the packed iftar of stuffed zucchini and eggplant, and chicken. Mr Mohammed reaches into his cooler for bottles of homemade apricot juice, and father and daughter break their fasts together.
New York’s halal food cart explosion began in the late 1990s, and can be traced back to three Egyptians who ran a hot dog stand that eventually added halal lamb and chicken over rice to cater to the many taxi drivers who stopped at nearby hotels.
The novel Middle Eastern-style lunch food quickly caught on and the idea spread citywide.
When Mr Mohammed emigrated to the United States four years ago and was looking for work, like many Egyptians before him, he ended up running a halal food cart through word of mouth.
He found someone who owned a permit and rented the cart and a space on a busy midtown pavement. Mr Mohammed soon discovered that the business was governed by unwritten rules and an exploitative cartel of permit holders, mostly Egyptians who had come in the early days, staking out turf and controlling the limited number of permits that are effectively no longer available.
The city put a cap on the number of permits in the 1980s, under pressure from real estate developers and business owners who viewed the carts as a nuisance and an eyesore. Up to 4,000 of the renewable permits were issued by then, and virtually none have been given since.
The city limited the industry, but has done little to ensure that its workers are being treated fairly, allowing an informal and often abusive system to flourish.
“There is a black market for permits because the scarcity allows people to command a very hefty price to illegally rent them out to people who want to work as vendors,” said Matthew Shapiro, an attorney at the Street Vendor Project, a political and legal advocacy group.
Two-year permits that are officially issued for US$200 (Dh734), now command up to $25,000, according to Mr Shapiro and other vendors.
The city only allows vending in certain areas, so there is a premium on space as well. Vendors at an SVP meeting claimed that a block in midtown – public property officially worth nothing and not for sale – was recently “sold” for $140,000.
Mr Mohammed quickly learned the rules of the game. Even though there is no law that gives a permit holder rights to any pavement, he and other vendors say they pay a weekly fee to the person who “owns” the area. For lucrative turf, like Times Square, he pays $300 per week along with a flat fee for renting the cart, to a young man who comes by to collect every Monday.
“If you want to work alone, you cannot, they force you to come to them and ask and they say ‘OK, go work in this place,’” he says. “If you don’t they will make problems.”
He knows because he says he once fell foul of the local cart godfather after refusing to pay $2,000 to remain in a spot he had worked for months.
“They beat someone up and sent him to the police to say ‘Omar did this’.” Mr Mohammed says he eventually settled with the man and the charges were dropped.
In between grilling kebabs and hot dogs, Mr Mohammed runs to a nearby McDonald’s to buy Donna an ice-cream cone, and lights his first cigarette. “Man! 16 hours!” a tour bus operator he knows well yells from down the street.
“Ramadan is very different here. Here you work alone, and on Eid, I don’t go to the masjid, I stay here and work,” Mr Mohammed says.
“Why? If I’m off, my spot will be sold.”
Soon, after the tourists thin out, he will turn off the grill and push his cart across 42nd Street, then down 8th Avenue to 37th, to a garage. He will clean up, get on the subway and head home for a few hours of sleep before fajr prayers and starting his day anew.
“This is life in America,” he says. “It’s a good life, but not easy.”
A bite of Halal Food
(People's Daily Online) 08:13, July 30, 2014
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Muslims worldwide observe this as a month of fasting. This annual observance is regarded as one of the Five Pillars of Islam. The month lasts 29 to 30 days based on the visual sightings of the crescent moon, according to numerous biographical accounts compiled in the hadiths.
The word Ramadan comes from the Arabic root ramiḍa or ar-ramaḍ, which means scorching heat or dryness. Fasting is fardh ("obligatory") for adult Muslims, except those who are suffering from an illness, travelling, pregnant, breastfeeding, diabetic or going through menstrual bleeding.
While fasting from dawn until sunset, Muslims refrain from consuming food, drinking liquids, smoking, and engaging in sexual relations.
Food and drink is served daily, before dawn and after sunset. Spiritual rewards thawab for fasting are also believed to be multiplied within the month of Ramadan. Fasting for Muslims during Ramadan typically includes the increased offering of salat (prayers) and recitation of the Quran.
Outrage as French politician compares dead Palestinian child to Halal meat
Jacques Renaud warned there will be 'grave consequences' over remark
His comment came as thousands prepared to protest in Paris
Security told to 'quickly intervene' if any anti-Semitic acts occur at protest
By PETER ALLEN
PUBLISHED: 20:45, 23 July 2014 | UPDATED: 08:42, 24 July 2014
An outspoken pro-Israel politician caused outrage across France today by comparing the mutilated corpse of a Palestinian child to ‘Halal meat’.
Jacques Renaud, the right wing deputy mayor affiliated to the UMP opposition, portrayed the killing of an infant in the Gaza Strip as being similar to animals being slaughtered according to Islamic ritual.
Mr Renaud's comment came as thousands prepared to take to the streets of Paris in a pro-Palestine demonstration which many fear will lead to violence.
Jewish groups have accused anti-Semites of hijacking the rallies, while thousands of Muslims taking part say they are being unfairly labelled as extremists.
Mr Renaud, 66, who is also a successful businessman, wrote on Twitter: ‘Great support to all the attacked Jews of France, we are in the 21st Century, a bit of humanity and civility would be welcome.’
A critic responded by tweeting a picture of a decapitated child, referring to the Israeli army having killed more than 200 children during its assault on Gaza.
In response to the image Mr Renaud replied: ‘It’s Halal meat, I suppose.’
Halal is Arabic for permissible, and refers to food which adheres to Islamic law, as defined in the Koran.
Halal meat is a big issue in France, where the five million plus Muslim community regularly complains about government attempts to outlaw it.
Mr Renaud is a firm supporter of Israel and regularly takes to Twitter to attack Hamas, the ruling authority in Gaza.
Stephane Piednoir, the UMP mayor of Montreuil-Juigne was on holiday so not able to respond to his assistant’s words, but a spokesman said there would be ‘grave consequences’ if the comments turned out to be true. Mr Renaud was not available for comment.
Edmonton developing a taste for halal meat
CBC News Posted: Jul 21, 2014 7:09 PM MT
Halal butchers and grocery stores in Edmonton are seeing a surge of popularity -- a sign of both a growing Muslim population in the province and a steady trend of non-Muslims seeking out the specially-prepared meat.
“It's increasing. We can see that almost everyday. People they want to try it first to see the difference. They like it and they keep buying it,” said Khalid Hajer, who owns a halal meat shop in north Edmonton.
“They come here for fresh meat. but they know it's healthy.”
Meat that is halal, which means “permissible” in Arabic, is prepared according to strict instructions laid out in the Koran. The animal must be healthy and is blessed when it is killed. The animal must be slaughtered by slitting its throat and the blood must be removed from the body.
While the restrictions are due to religious law, Hajer says half of the customers that come into his shop aren’t Muslim. Marina Mediuk has been buying halal meat for 15 years. She thinks the restrictions make the meat healthier and more humane than non-halal meat.
“To me that's also the more personal approach to slaughtering the cow, to having your meat and it's all local. At the big butcher plants it's done differently,” she said.
“We know that the chickens are fresh and the meat is fresh. And when you say your prayers it doesn't really matter what religion you are -- whether you're Muslim or not -- you take care of it. You are more spiritual about it.”
Great demand, greater scrutiny
The greater demand for halal meat has caused businesses to take notice. A report by the Alberta government shows that Muslim families in the province spend about $31 a week on halal meat -- about double the amount most Canadian households spend on meat (partially due to the price difference between halal and non-halal food.)
A product that used to only be found in specialty butchers and ethnic food stores in Alberta, halal meat has made its way to the coolers of large, chain supermarkets. Steakhouses are also increasingly offering halal meat on their menus.
With the increased popularity comes a greater scrutiny. Many are questioning the assumption that halal meat is more humane than food that is prepared other ways.
Rifaa Carter, who eats halal, says she still is careful about who has raised the meat she buys. She says that factory farms and other large meat producers can follow the letter of the restriction on halal meat, while still breaking the spirit behind them.
"The rule in Islam is not only for the meat to be slaughtered in this ritual manner. It's also about being wholesome and good. And a factory raised cow is not wholesome or good and it's not humane."
She says there are options out there for people who are interested in humanely-raised meat. Consumers should be concerned with how their meals are treated during their lifetime, and not just at the time of slaughter, she adds.
Halal food for thought The AEC will be a boon to IBF, and its young managing director is keen to stress that halal products are not restricted to Muslims only
Published: 7 Jul 2014 at 00.36 | Viewed: 2,332 | Comments: 0Newspaper section: BusinessWriter: Sarawan Tiyarojveki
Halal food is generally perceived as only for Muslims. It is basically food prepared according to strict Islamic guidelines and involves more than forbidding pork. Wirut Suppoj, managing director of IBF Halal Foods Co Ltd, is keen to stress that anyone can eat halal food.
Rebranded in March 2008 before the young executive joined the company, IBF stands for International Business Food. Its initial investment is 80 million baht.
When his father, Samart, died in 2011, Mr Wirut had to take over the company although he was studying for a master’s degree in political science at Aligarh Muslim University in India. His eldest brother looked after the family’s property business while the younger siblings were still at school.
Back then, he saw the advantages and opportunities to expand the business as IBF was the only halal food company in Thailand owned by Muslims. Mr Wirut decided to continue his father’s halal food business for both Muslims and and general consumers.
“Being a Muslim entrepreneur is my advantage because it offers credibility to Muslim consumers,” said the 31-year-old Bangkokian.
Over the past few years, IBF sales have grown 5% per year. However, the prolonged political impasse has hit sales although the company still managed to make some profit, he said.
The company projects sales of 126 million baht this year, up from 120 million baht last year. The domestic market accounts for 95% of sales and exports to his Ban Thai restaurant in Saudi Arabia make up the remainder.
Mr Wirut believes sales will grow significantly in coming years as the halal food market expands. The upcoming Asean Economic Community (AEC) will be a boon for business since Southeast Asia is home to more than 260 million Muslims.
According to the National Food Institute, 96% of Thailand’s halal food exports are shipped to Africa, Asean and the Middle East with the rest going to South and Central Asia as well as Europe.
Stats vary but there may be as many as 7 million Muslims in Thailand and the halal food market is worth around US$80 billion. It continues to have a high growth especially sales through modern trade operators.
With his belief in more dynamic growth in the near future, Mr Wirut said the company plans to build its own slaughterhouse within three years and its own farm within five years in order to ensure the quality of raw materials sourced in-house instead of buying from suppliers.
Moreover, it will take on an additional 60 employees. At present, IBF has 80 staff, half of whom are Muslims because in certain manufacturing processes only Muslims are allowed.
Mr Wirut’s goal is to reach 500 million baht in revenue with a larger number of employees. Despite the planned expansion, he wants IBF to remain a family venture and generate enough working capital without listing on the stock exchange. Yet, he does not worry about growing competition, both locally and across the border.
“Compared with entrepreneurs in Muslim countries such as Malaysia, they obviously have more credibility when it comes to halal food. However, they do not have sufficient manufacturing capacity and still need to rely on other countries to produce their food,” said Mr Wirut.
According to a 2013 report by the Export-Import Bank of Thailand, the Malaysian market has high purchasing power. This provides an opportunity for Thailand to expand its halal food business with a focus on ready-to-eat products for export to its southern neighbour.
Due to a lack of cultivatable areas in Malaysia, it has to import many raw materials. The Malaysian government supports many countries including Thailand to buy raw materials for the halal industry with zero tariffs under the Asean free trade agreement.
Realising the importance of the halal food market, Mr Wirut is trying to step up IBF’s research and development (R&D) team although it is not as big as other companies. With an annual R&D budget of 700,000-800,000 baht, the firm plans to launch new flavours of sausages and ready-to-eat products this year.
While the company’s maximum capacity is 3-4 tonnes per day, it only produces 2 tonnes per day on average based on orders. Its main clients are hotels, hospitals and airlines. IBF has two distribution centres, one in Hat Yai and the other in Yala.
Although he welcomes the AEC, Mr Wirut said that IBF will not move its production base to another country where costs are lower.
“Thailand is the kitchen of the world and raw materials are plentiful here. There’s no need to move. I’m sure that I can do more if I stay in Thailand,” he said.
Since he joined the company, Mr Wirut said he has overcome many obstacles. He started as a management trainee for three months, working side by side with his father before becoming vice-president.
“I’ve learned from every mistake and I’m determined to continue the business the same way my father did,” he said. “I think I will continue in this business until I die.”
“Haram” Cadbury Fury Extends to Indonesia
OnIslam & News Agencies
Friday, 30 May 2014 00:00
JAKARTA – Putting the reputation of the giant chocolate maker at stake, Indonesian authorities have announced they were testing products made by the British confectioner to see if they complied with Islamic standards after pork traces were found in two products in neighboring Malaysia.
"After such an incident, it is prudent to do a test on the other variants to see if they also have traces of the pig DNA," Roy Alexander Sparingga, head of Indonesia's Food and Drug Monitoring Agency, told Reuters on Friday, May 30.
“We may have the result in a few days.”
Sparingga said the tests would be done on the 10 varieties of Cadbury products that are certified in Indonesia as halal - or permissible according to Islamic law.
Those products did not include the two types of Dairy Milk chocolate that Cadbury Malaysia recalled this week after finding pork traces.
Controversy started when pig DNA traces were found in two chocolate products following tests conducted by the Health Ministry.
Reacting to the discovery, the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim) immediately suspended the products' halal certification, while Cadbury said it would recall them from stores.
Moreover, thirty non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have also urged the public to boycott all products made by Cadbury.
Seeking to calm Muslim anger, Malaysian Islamic authorities said it remained unclear if the contamination was the company's fault.
"People need to understand that we can't immediately take action against Cadbury when there's no solid evidence yet or if contamination occurred in the factory itself or if it was external factors," said Othman Mustapha, the director general of Malaysia's Department of Islamic Development, or JAKIM.
"What's happening to Cadbury now is akin to a person who's remanded and placed in lockup. They have not been found guilty so this is just a suspension," he added.
Reacting to the rising Muslim anger, Cadbury Malaysia announced it had withdrawn the two products as a precaution and that it had no reason to believe there was pork-related content in its other foods.
"We stand by our halal certification and we have the highest levels of product labeling standards," it said in a statement.
Yet, Malaysia Muslims continued their defiance to the chocolate maker, launching a boycott call for its products.
On Thursday, a Malaysian Muslim retail group said it would ask the 800 stores it represents to stop selling all products made by Cadbury, Mondelez and US food giant Kraft, which acquired Cadbury in 2010 in a $19-billion deal.
The group, along with a Muslim consumer group, called on Malaysians to boycott all those companies' products.
The religious authorities have also announced its support for withholding the halal status of the two Cadbury, adding that the company should not be punished unless the breach was proven to be intentional.
"The authorities need to do their investigation to see if the accusations are valid, and to see where the pollution happened, whether it was deliberate or accidental," Abdul Shukor Husin, the committee chairman of Malaysia's National Fatwa Council, which issues official guidance on Islamic issues, told Reuters.
"Muslim people who had consumed the product that had been certified halal but contained pig DNA should not worry about the purity of their bodies. Islam is not a rigid religion."
Islam considers pigs unclean because they are omnivorous, not discerning between meat or vegetation in their natural dietary habits unlike cows and sheep for instance, which eat only plants.
Muslims do not eat pork and consider pigs and their meat filthy and unhealthy to eat.
The concept of halal, -- meaning permissible in Arabic -- has traditionally been applied to food.
Muslims should only eat meat from livestock slaughtered by a sharp knife from their necks, and the name of Allah, the Arabic word for God, must be mentioned.
Hold the pork – this app helps Muslims in Japan find often elusive halal products
May 21, 2014at 4:01 pmby J.T. Quigley
When people think of Japanese food, sushi is likely the first thing that comes to mind. But few living outside of the country are aware of just how prevalent pork is in Japanese cooking. From the obvious fried tonkatsu cutlets and ginger-infused shogayaki, to the practically invisible ramen soup bases and domestic fast food joints that mix minced pork into their hamburger patties, pork products are hard to avoid. The popularity of pig presents a real problem for Japan’s 150,000 Muslims – not to mention the more than one million Muslim tourists who visit the country each year – as pork is forbidden in a halal diet. For practitioners of Islam, only halal (Arabic for “permissible”) products can be used or consumed. The term applies to more than just food and drink, extending to cosmetics and pharmaceuticals as well. Kyushu.Lab founder and CEO Agung Pambudi, an Indonesian native, was met with Japan’s penchant for swine and other forbidden
products after moving to Fukuoka in 2011. Pambudi, a PhD student in Kyushu University’s department of earth resources engineering, designed HalalMinds to help fellow Muslims locate and identify the sometimes elusive halal products available in Japan. The free app launched for Android on April 3 and for iOS on April 28. The main feature of HalalMinds is a barcode scanner that can be used while grocery shopping. Once an item is scanned, it is matched against the app’s database of approximately 500,000 products to determine if it is halal or not. This is especially useful for those who cannot read Japanese, as food labels often contain complex kanji characters.
The app also provides a halal restaurant locator, a “Qibla compass” that shows the correct direction to face for daily prayers, and daily Quran verses. HalalMinds has been downloaded more than 1,100 times since launching less than a month ago. At present, the app is only available in English, but additional language support may come at a later date. “I think that the majority of Muslims in Japan can speak English because most of them are coming from the Middle East, Malaysia, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and so on. However we’re thinking about other languages to add to the app,” says Pambudi. A rapidly growing yet overlooked market Pambudi, along with co-founder Dai Oshiro and head of public relations Hironori Goto, developed and launched HalalMinds without any external funding. “We spent about US$2,000 of our own money, and it’s really not enough,” he says. The trio is currently seeking investors keen for a chance to take part in what Pambudi
believes is a rapidly growing market with little to no competition: It’s difficult to move fast without external fundraising. However, we’re still going forward with funding from our own pocket because halal-focused business is a truly blue ocean opportunity from our point of view. We want to develop many other products for this niche in the near future. Without outside funding to back a marketing push, HalalMinds has up to this point relied on users to spread the word through social media – something that has also drawn the attention of potential investors. We’re communicating with some ventures, incubators, government officials, and business owners around Japan. Some of them contacted us after hearing about [HalalMinds] through various social networks.
While the current focus is on Japan, Pambudi believes that HalalMinds would be successful in other Asian markets as well. “We are preparing to expand this service to South Korea and Taiwan, since both countries have similar conditions with Japan regarding their respective Muslim populations,” he added. A recent study claims that the global halal food market is valued at US$1 trillion and estimated to grow to $10 trillion by 2030. Combined with an upward trend in foreign tourism to Japan specifically, due in large part to relaxed visa rules for Southeast Asian countries with large Muslim populations, HalalMinds is poised to capture a seemingly overlooked demographic. Editing by Paul Bischoff, photos via HalalMinds and Flickr user instantvantage
What exactly does the halal method of animal slaughter involve?
Contrary to what many assume, an estimated 88% of animals killed by halal methods in Britain are stunned before slaughter
The Guardian, Thursday 8 May 2014 21.55 BST
The debate over when meat is halal and whether it should be clearly labelled has been put back on the agenda by vets and animal welfare campaigners who want all animals slaughtered for food to be stunned before killing.
The Arabic word halal means permissible, and the rules of slaughter are based on Islamic law. The animal has to be alive and healthy, a Muslim has to perform the slaughter in the appropriate ritual manner, and the animal's throat must be cut by a sharp knife severing the carotid artery, jugular vein and windpipe in a single swipe. Blood must be drained out of the carcass.
About 40m cattle, sheep, pigs and calves and 900m poultry birds are killed in British abattoirs each year, according to a Food Standards Agency (FSA) report two years ago, and one estimate has suggested that 114m of these animals, including poultry, are killed using the halal method. The value of the market could be £2bn a year or more.
But contrary to what many assume, most animals killed by halal methods are stunned before slaughter. FSA estimates suggest that 88% of animals in the UK killed by halal methods were stunned beforehand in a way that many Muslims find religiously acceptable.
In many sheep and lambs this is by electronic stunning to the head or in poultry via a water bath electrified with enough power to make them unconscious but not to kill. Another method of stunning that involves cardiac arrest is not allowed under halal rules.
In non-halal slaughterhouses, stunned animals are shackled and hoisted above the ground where a slaughterman "sticks" them, cutting their throat or inserting a chest stick close to the heart. Cattle and some sheep and pigs are stunned by a bolt through the brain before being killed.
Many poultry are now killed using gas. But they have traditionally been shackled, hung upside down on a production line, moved through electrified water to stun them, then conveyed to a mechanical neck cutter. In halal, however, they are killed by hand.
Muslims who oppose any stunning say their method remains the most humane and point out that a number of stunning methods have been banned as being bad for animal welfare.
The Jewish method of slaughter called shechita cannot involve pre-slaughter stunning at all. Its proponents say the technique learned by practitioners over seven years of training meets the European Union's requirement for stunning in that it brings insensitivity to pain and distress. They argue that a surgically sharp instrument, twice the width of the animal's neck and known as the chalaf, is sufficient because of the speed and expertise with which is applied.
It is estimated that in total, under any method, 3% of cattle, 10% of sheep and goats and 4% of poultry slaughtered in Britain are not pre-stunned, although a proportion are stunned after the cut.
Vets say unstunned cattle take about 20 seconds (but up to 2 minutes) to lose consciousness, sheep six or seven seconds (but up to 20) and poultry seven or eight seconds, but all these times can be far longer.
Some European countries, most recently Denmark, have banned slaughter without pre-stunning. The RSPCA and British Veterinary Association are among the groups calling for an end to slaughter without pre-stunning – a move that would mean an end to religious exemptions from European and UK legislation on this element of slaughtering, and also, say campaigners, an end to unnecessary suffering.
Campaigners are urging the government to introduce clear labelling to say whether meat is slaughtered by halal methods – an issue which the European Union is already studying. Some Muslims warn that there must be an information campaign beforehand and those who are against any stunning question why, if labelling on the halal method is necessary, why is not for animals slaughtered in other ways, by captive-bolt gun, gassing, electrocution, drowning or "mis-stunning".
Denmark's ritual slaughter ban says more about human hypocrisy than animal welfare
To complain about the halal or kosher slaughter of battery chickens or factory farmed veal is a truly monstrous absurdity
Thursday 20 February 2014 08.00 GMT
"Animal welfare takes precedence over religion" declared Denmark's ministry of agriculture when a ban on ritual slaughter came into effect this week. There were immediate accusations of antisemitism and Islamophobia from Jews and Muslims, even though both communities are still free to import meat killed by their preferred methods, and even though no animals have in fact been slaughtered without pre-stunning in Denmark for the past 10 years.
These disputes may indeed cast some light on our attitudes towards outsider communities – I remember concerns about halal slaughter being expressed in Bradford in 1984 as part of an early row about Muslim integration and lack of integration. But what is really remarkable is the light that they don't cast on animal cruelty for secular reasons.
It seems to me obvious that the slaughter of animals at the end of their lives is of far less ethical importance than the way they are treated beforehand. The cruelties of factory farming extend over an animal's whole lifetime whereas the cruelty of ritual slaughter lasts minutes at most. To complain about the halal slaughter of battery chickens or factory farmed veal is a truly monstrous absurdity.
In a Danish context this is particularly obvious. The pig farming industry there, whose products are devoured by almost everyone in Europe who isn't an observant Jew of Muslim, is a monstrous engine of quotidian suffering, despite the pre-slaughter stunning. The new agriculture minister, Dan Jørgensen, has pointed out that 25,000 piglets a day die in Danish factory farms – they never even make it to the slaughterhouse; that half of the sows have open sores and 95% have their tails docked, a cruel (and under EU regulations, illegal) practice that is needed to stop them chewing and biting one another's tails in their concrete sheds.
This sort of cruelty is justified because it makes money for pig farmers, and saves it for consumers. There is no religious angle involved and few people see it as any serious ethical problem. I personally try to avoid chicken, pork and salmon in cheap food, from green motives and from a distaste for animal suffering but I am aware that this in one of the eccentricities that solvency permits.
There are two further ironies about the Danish case. The first is that the country was last week the focus of international indignation for slaughtering a giraffe, entirely humanely, and then using its corpse first to teach biology and then to feed lions, who must have had a treat. It is impossible to fault any of this behaviour on utilitarian grounds, or even, I think, on humane ones if we are going to have zoos at all. Certainly Marius the unhappy giraffe lived a short life infinitely better and more interesting than any of the six million pigs born and slaughtered in Denmark every year.
The second is that Jørgensen, who has formalised the ban on ritual slaughter (something inherited from his predecessors), is actually a notable enemy of factory farming. In a series of articles and speeches he has announced that Danish factory farming must clean up its act, and that the present situation is unendurable. He at least understands the potential hypocrisy of attacking only the cruelty around an animal's death and not that surrounding its life.
I suspect that there is some real substance behind the Muslim complaints that a ban on halal slaughter is motivated as much by the wish to cause fundamentalists suffering as to spare it to animals. But that tells us much more about human beings than about animal rights.
The first principle of serious ethical reason is surely "It isn't different when we do it" but at the same time it is an axiom of moral sentiment that it's different when other people do it.