Halal certification in Europe

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Halal meat is meat of animal slaughtered according to Quran and Sunnah and thus permitted for consumption by Muslims.

Halal meat market is the segment of much bigger food market, which offers goods that can be deemed as halal. In the case of meat, the qualification of halal addresses the practice of slaughter, and it is therefore comparable to other credence attributes that refer to the method of production rather than to the intrinsic characteristics of the product.

Across the EU, an increasing number of religious and commercial organizations are promoting the segmentation of the halal meat market through qualification practices[1][2] that have created an image of non-stunned meat as being of authentic halal quality.

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Across Europe, halal meat markets are experiencing a period of unprecedented growth and development, though the intensity varies from country to country. In the UK and France there has been year-on-year growth for well over a decade, while in Germany the market is just starting to develop. The growth of these markets is in some way linked to the increasing number of Muslim immigrants across Europe and to the growing consumption of meat characteristic of vertical mobility amongst second and third generation Muslims.[3][4] Halal meat and halal animal products are increasingly available in non-ethnic stores, particularly supermarket chains and fast food restaurants, and much as Jewish diners in the US are attracting large numbers of non-Jewish consumers, so the consumption of halal meat products by non-Muslims is also increasing across Europe.[5]

As the market has grown the authenticity of the halal meat sold in supermarkets and fast food restaurants has also been questioned by some Muslims, who have reacted against the practice of stunning and the use of mechanical blades (in the case of poultry) allowed in the halal standards adopted by these economic actors.

Dispute between Muslims emerge from debates about the origins of Islam, which Muslims believe are derived from two sources — the Quran and Sunnah. While the Quran provides a detailed and, for some, infallible source of information about the origins of Islam, the Sunnah provides an account based on the application of the principles established in the Qur’an through the lived experience of the prophet Mohammed, as recorded in the Hadiths. Two prescriptive sets of guidelines for halal slaughter follow from these sources, and it is the underlying discourses as they are now interpreted on which current debate and controversy about the authenticity of halal meat stands.

The first position is based on an understanding that all people of the Book share common slaughter practices and that Muslims can therefore consume meat from animals reared and slaughtered by Jews and Christians as well as by Muslims. Closely aligned with mainstream science and animal welfare/rights concerns, this position is based on EU legislation for the protection of animals at time of killing,[6] which requires all animals to be made unconscious by stunning prior to slaughter. However, this legislation is interpreted in different ways by different halal certification bodies. According to the Halal Food Authority (HFA) in the UK, poultry (chickens, turkeys and ducks) can only be immobilised prior to slaughter using electric water baths, while ovine animals (lamb, sheep and goat) can only be stunned using electric tongs. The majority of bovine animals (cattle, bull, cow and ox) in the UK are stunned with a captive-bolt pistol, but this is not permitted by the HFA because of the risk that it may kill the animal.[7]

The second position, which emerges from a derogation of the above legislation, allows EU member states to grant slaughterhouses that supply Muslim and Jewish communities an exception from the requirement to stun animals prior to slaughter in line with the religious freedoms granted by Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.[8]

While all Islamic specialists agree that halal meat must emerge from the act of slaughter, adherents of this position, common amongst Sunni Muslims, argue that the status of halal meat is linked more directly to Islam and to traditional halal practices. On this account, Muslims are only permitted to consume the meat of an animal if the method of stunning used is reversible (i.e. animals are unconscious but still alive at the time of slaughter), the animal has been blessed by a Muslim prior to slaughter and the blood is allowed to drain completely post-slaughter. If this is not the case, the meat produced is rendered Haram (forbidden) rather than Halal (permitted).[9][3] The main area of concern is with the perceived risk that instead of being made unconscious by stunning animals will suffer or be killed.

It is this controversy about the effectiveness of stunning that drives competition to define what is and is not authentic halal amongst certifying bodies.

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