Halal meat: to label or not to label?

By JubileeCentre 02 Jun 2014

by Felicity Leeson, guest blogger

Halal means ‘permissible’ in Arabic and describes the process of slaughtering animals for food – the animal being alive and healthy at the time, killed by a cut to the neck, the blood drained and an Islamic blessing being recited.Mmm. Curry.

The supermarkets are saying labelling isn’t necessary – that as long as the animals are stunned before killing, the method of slaughter is irrelevant. They would like all their meat to be accessible to Muslims and don’t see the need for labelling.

On the other hand, campaigners as well as Jewish and Muslim leaders are calling for ‘comprehensive labelling’ that allows the consumer to make an informed decision.

Animal rights campaigners are more bothered about whether the animals are stunned or not, which prevents the animals from feeling pain. The government is so far not getting involved.

Should Christians eat Halal meat and if so, why does it need to be labelled?

Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, whose food markets were full of meat sacrificed to idols, ‘Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience for “The Earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”’ (1 Corinthians 10:25) This suggests Christians shouldn’t be concerned if Halal meat is labelled or not because they are free to eat any meat, irrespective of the religious circumstances surrounding the way the animals are slaughtered.

Earlier in chapter 8 of the letter, Paul explains how it is a matter of conscience – what each one believes in their own heart to be true. The reality is that an idol is ‘nothing at all in the world’ and ‘there is no God but one’ (1 Corinthians 8:4). This said, the person with a weak conscience who believes the food is defiled should not be encouraged to eat it. In fact, Paul said the stronger man should abstain from eating it in front of a weaker brother, to protect his weaker brother from idolatry. This principle of love protected the weaker believer even if the stronger one missed out on a juicy steak.

So if it comes down to whether a person’s conscience makes them feel uncomfortable, or if a Jew or Christian has religious reservations about eating Halal meat, then we need to know whether the meat is Halal or not to enable people to abstain. It’s a matter of transparency, conscience, and allowing people to choose. (Of course, similar arguments could be raised for the way animals are reared and slaughtered, or the drugs they are given, regardless of the overt religious context of these issues – if your faith speaks into every aspect of life, then everything has religious significance.)

Not declaring the truth is tantamount to lying by omission. At least Pizza Express have now been honest about their chicken being Halal.

Taking a step back we can also note the wider problem in that centralisation (instead of localisation) of supply has distanced the provider from the needs of the consumer.

The large supermarket does not know which consumer the meat is sent on to from the centralised slaughter house. The provider is not held accountable, as they should be. We as consumers want cheap meat at all costs. No wonder a bit of horse sometimes gets in! Keeping meat sourced locally, providers thereby understanding the direct needs and preferences of the local community, would solve several of these problems.

As it stands, labelling seems the fairest option.

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