Food hygiene and safety standards in the UK are pleasingly high.
Manufacturers’ products are rigorously inspected by independent auditors, and products on sale in our supermarkets can be traced right back to where they came from. But I believe this is not always so with halal food.
The word halal, meaning lawful, is most commonly associated with the production of meat and it is usually defined as the ritual slaughter of an animal for food.
But the Koran actually offers a comprehensive definition of what is halal, encompassing tayyab - food that is wholesome, clean and generally safe to be eaten.
So why is it, then, that the inspection and certification procedures for halal meat sold in some of our supermarkets are so inadequate?
I believe this is so because, whenever I have asked supermarkets to supply me with paperwork proving that the halal products they sell have been rigorously audited, they have simply shrugged their shoulders as if to say there is none. This indifference worries me. But it should also worry the retailers concerned, because any reluctance to apply similar standards to halal as to non-halal meat is a poor commercial strategy.
Recently, I visited one supermarket, which was selling fresh halal meat. There were several Muslim staff on duty in-store and I asked them whether they would be willing to take this meat home to eat it.
To my amazement, they all said no. Some said this was because the meat had come from the same source as non-halal. They knew this because the pack carried the same factory number as the non-halal meat. These people had no confidence that halal standards had been met. How many more of the UK’s 1.8 million Muslims feel the same?
There is an alternative. The UK Halal Corporation, a not-for-profit organisation, offers an independently audited standard that is comparable to the British Retail Consortium’s.
It’s an option retailers should consider - if they want a bigger slice of the UK’s halal food market.
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