Pi Attitude Zone: Affiliation & Cohesion

Halal Food? What Do You Mean, Exactly?

With Muslim populations growing apace in Europe and elsewhere, demand for religiously approved ‘halal’ foods has been growing sharply.  In Islamic countries sales are already huge.  A big question increasingly arises: how are governments to regulate these products?

The problem of mandating cultural and religious compliance in food is not a new one.  The USA, for instance, has been grappling for nearly a century with the issue of regulating kosher food for people of the Jewish faith.  In the early days, it was discovered that around half of all so-called “kosher” food was no such thing.  In 1915, New York made the first legal provision with a bill stipulating that food labelled fit for Jewish consumption had to be compliant with “orthodox Hebrew religious requirements”.  Over one-third of American states have since tabled  kosher-fraud prevention laws.

Today all the major producers of kosher meat adhere to the stringent “glatt kosher” standard for how, and in what condition, animals can be slaughtered for consumption.  The American kosher food industry is worth around $12 billion annually, and that fact keeps producers focused on strict compliance.

Halal food for Muslims (sharia law similarly proscribes pork meat, among other things) is a bigger market altogether.   It represents sales of something like $700 billion worldwide, and meat-producing countries like Brazil, Australia and New Zealand have been cashing in.  American producers of halal poultry have been filling bigger and bigger orders from supermarkets.  Big food firms like Nestlé have made one-fifth of their factories fully halal-compliant on a geographically selective basis.  McDonalds offers a number of halal dishes, and other fast-food restaurant chains have followed.

Yet “halal-compliant” as a formal standard is still awaiting a definition as strict as “glatt kosher”.  Methods of animal slaughter differ from place to place in the Muslim world.  Halal certification bodies in their hundreds apply broadly similar, but not identical, requirements.  Some issue certificates, others don’t bother.  A worldwide standard has yet to be applied.  The Sultanate of Brunei has proposed that its own halal mark, and the rules behind it, should be adopted as the global halal definition.  But this has yet to be ratified by many other Muslim countries and communities.

Ironically it is non-Muslim corporations who are often keenest to see a universal halal standard applied.  At the beginning of 2013, a McDonalds restaurant franchise in Dearborn, Michigan, had to pay $700,000 in settlement of a (disputed) allegation that it had falsely described its food offerings as meeting Islamic dietary laws. 

Penalties like that seem hardly kosher.  To comply with rules, you need to know what they are.

Zone: Affiliation & Cohesion Country: Middle East / Africa Product –