Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Christmas Cheer: Hallal meat

There has been quite a bit of discussion of hallal meat being sold in supermarkets; here's a Daily Mail story from a while back, and here's a piece from an evangelical group called Christian Voice. What no one is denying, however, is that meat which is blessed by an iman as it is ritually slaughtered dominates the shelves of most supermarkets. Here's a statement from Waitrose:


This notice was first published on 20 December 2010

The priority for all of our meat is to ensure animal welfare of the highest standard; to ensure this we work closely with and are approved by the Humane Slaughter Association (HSA). Our practices are also in line with the recommendations of Compassion in World Farming and the RSPCA.

All our lamb is electrically stunned before slaughter, meaning that animals are unconscious and are not subjected to pain. UK law currently permits halal slaughter both with stunning and without. However, to maintain Red Tractor assurance scheme standards, signified by a logo on the label, (which all Waitrose Meat & Poultry achieves) all animals must be pre-stunned. New Zealand law requires all animals to be pre-stunned at slaughter.

To give our customers choice, our Duchy Originals from Waitrose lamb is not halal blessed at slaughter and, from 3 January 2011, the English, West Country & Dorset lamb sold on our service counters will also not be halal. All other Waitrose meat and poultry is non-halal.

However, we will continue to allow the halal blessing for other lamb (with the exception of Duchy Originals from Waitrose and the English, West Country & Dorset lamb sold on our service counters) so that abattoirs can sell the parts of the carcass that we don't use to other markets - this minimises food waste, keeps prices down for our customers and helps our farmers to be competitive.

As far as labelling is concerned, there is currently no UK labelling scheme for halal and we believe this is a matter where Government should lead.

Clearly Waitrose is responding to pressure, but they want to hold the line on labelling. The issue has aroused the interest of a small group of people, who from Jan 3rd will be able to avoid the hallal lamb, but Waitrose don't want to draw wider attention to the fact that perfectly ordinary-looking meat on their shelves is hallal.

Is this a problem? Christian Voice likens the meat to that offered to idols, which should be avoided - though not at all costs - according to St Paul, since, they say, 'Allah' is not the same deity as the Christian God.

On philosophical grounds I personally take a wide view of when people are referring to the same God. If two groups of people are talking about the Supreme Being, but group A has detailed views about Him which differ from those of group B, and it so happens that the real Supreme Being conforms to the description of group B, I'd say that group A is referring to the same entity as group B but has various mistaken views about Him - within pretty wide limits. For this seems to be how 'referring' happens in ordinary life: if a feminist thinks Homer was a woman, say, she is still talking about the same person ('the author of the Iliad') as the conventional scholar who thinks Homer is a man. However I'm open to persuasion on this point.

What strikes me as unavoidable is that eating meat which is ritually slaughtered and blessed by an iman is a (small) way of taking part in the Islamic religion. This may not be intentional, but if you know about it you should avoid doing it - though not at any cost - unless, of course, you think that Islam is the true religion. Because participation in a religion implies endorsement of that religion.


  1. Joseph Yarbrough2:55 pm

    Is it clear that the meat sacrificed to idols should be avoided? What is clear, i think, is that it shouldn't be sought out qua sacrificed to an idol, for that would suggest that we had the wrong view of the idol (e.g., believed in it, etc.).  But in the New Testament, while it looks like that first council at Jerusalem obliged Catholics to refrain from food sacrificed to idols as a general policy, Paul, in writing to the Corinthians, takes a more, I guess, liberal view, and says that we should refrain only if our partaking would cause scandal to a brother yet weak in the faith.

    Then where is the difference between Paul's stance towards food sacrificed to idols and the stance we should take towards meats "sacrified" to Allah? If Allah is the same as the one, true God worshipped by Catholics (and I think your thought there is a good one), we might even think that the situation has been improved from that of early Christians in ancient Europe to that of Christians in a now dying Europe: at least today we eat meat sacrificed by those with better theological understanding! ;)

    So I'd be interested to hear that case made, about how Paul's situation and the hallal/UK situation is supposed to come apart. (I'm not trying to maintain that they don't; I just thought that at first glance they looked parallel.)

    Now for all that I still think that the hallal meat should be avoided and outed publicly and labelled as such and whatever else just because the hallal sacrifice is yet another way in which Islam is conquering Europe, not (yet) by force of arms, but deviously, by exploiting the soft underbelly of multiculturalism.

  2. Joseph Shaw10:36 am

    There is a parallel with the idol-meat issue but (in my view) it certainly isn't the same issue. The parallel is simply that we are dealing with something where an agent has to worry, not about an intentional contraventional of a norm, but of a 'material' involvement in something (something which it would be bad to be involved in by intention).

    People who don't think Islam is the true religion, and that Islamic worship is the type of worship God wants them to perform, should not embrace Islam - obviously - but they should also avoid involvement in Islamic religious practices unless there is an issue of 'grave inconvenience' in avoiding it. The same goes for involvement in another's sin - scandal - which is not absolutely forbidden, if not intentional, but should be avoided if possible without grave inconvenience (it's not always possible).

  3. Joseph Yarbrough5:33 pm

    <span>I'm curious why you think that it's not the same issue, though they are parallel?  
    Incidentally, and contrary to how I've been trying to understand Paul, a very cursory search at newadvent.org turned up a number of documents which seem to indicate that long after the council at Jerusalem, food sacrificed to idols wasn't at the top of the menu at the local Catholic eatery.  For example, see Contra Faustum XXXII, number 13.  
    I guess I'd find the whole thing neater if they were the same issue (idols and hallal), but that my first glance understanding of the Corinthians passage is mistaken. Like the Contra Faustum passage, the Didache (ch. 6) suggests that Paul's words to the Corinthians have to be set in a certain context.</span>

  4. Joseph Shaw10:30 pm

    I think the issue boils down to communicatio in sacris. This was only part of the issue for St Paul, because he and the writers of the Didache etc. Thought that meat offered to idols had been offered to devils. It was not just a false religion they were in danger of involving themselves in, but devil-worship. Since I don't think the being picked out by the word 'Allah' is a demon, I don't think we have the quite the same problem.
    Maybe the way to express it is that St Paul faced a turbo-charged version of the problem of communicatio in sacris, and we face the ordinary kind!

  5. Pork-eater12:26 am

    A curious move by Waitrose. From January, they are offering some non-halal lamb but, apparently, they're not going to tell anyone about this. And why no change in their halal chicken policy?

    Refined arguments about idol meat and whether we should eat it or not aside, the supermarkets' intense desire to hush up the whole halal meat scam reveals far, far more about the truth. It's called a guilty conscience.

  6. Your name here...6:37 pm

    Since I am a Catholic now in the UK, but who was brought up in Brunei (Islam is the state religion), and all the meat (except pork) sold in the supermarkets is halal, I have never seen an issue with eating halal meat there - nor when I am on holiday in other Islamic countries where it is very likely that the meat is halal. When I invite Muslim friends over for dinner, I take care to ensure that the meat I serve them is halal.

    I have never seen a problem with it. Muslims can believe whatever they want is happening to the meat when they whisper a few words before slaughter, but I know they are wrong and that nothing has happened apart from making it acceptable to them. I say grace before meals and I know that the triune God is the source of all my material blessings including food.