Kounteya Sinha, Amit Bhattacharya & Anuradha Varma, TNN
Halal meat more tender, less cruel, say experts. Even as the UK Parliament refuses to servehalal meat at restaurants on its premises, fresh scientific opinion suggests halal is the better option. TOI investigates.
For Mohammad Salim, owner of a tiny meat shop in the Gurdwara Road Market of New Delhi’s Kotla Mubarakpur area, business is just as it’s been for the last 15 years since he moved to the capital from Agra. There seem to be more takers for mutton that Sunday morning than for the fresh batch of Rohu that’s just arrived. The practising Muslim packs half kilo curry pieces of a leg of mutton in polythene. For this seller of halal meat, the recent debate over the UK parliament rejecting demands to serve halal meat in its restaurants, on grounds of cruelty, is pointless.
“We read a kalma (Quranic verse) before the meat is cut. Lekin, marta toh murga hi hai (Finally, it’s the animal that pays the price). It’s just a question of using different methods of slaughter,” he shrugs.
Early this month, British newspapers had reported that Muslim MPs and peers were told they wouldn’t be served meat slaughtered in line with Islamic tradition – slitting the animal’s throat without first stunning it – since it was offensive to their non-Muslim colleagues.
Even as voices of dissent grow louder among furious UK parliamentarians, experts are speaking in favour of halal meat. According to fresh scientific opinion, halal – the method of slaughter that kills the animal with a deep cut across the neck – produces meat that’s more tender, stays fresh longer, and is less painful to the animal than say, the jhatka method that involves severing its head in one powerful blow.
Dr V K Modi, head of department of meat technology at the Central Food Technology Research Institute in Mysore, says the halal method is effective in draining out most of the blood from a slaughtered animal, which is vital if its meat is to be soft. “In jhatka, chances of blood clotting are higher. This could spoil the meat if it’s kept uncooked for a few days. It could also make the meat tougher to chew.”
Halal has been the traditional method of killing animals for meat. It’s only in the early 20th century that Sikhs of Punjab propagated jhatka as a ‘less painful way’ of killing the animal, although it would appear that the alternative way of slaughter was propagated more to differentiate it from the ‘Muslim way’ of killing the animal.
Halal involves a swipe with a sharp blade across the animal’s neck, severing the windpipe, jugular vein and carotid artery. Contrary to popular belief, Dr Modi, who trains butchers in the art of slaughtering at the institute’s abattoir, says evidence suggests that animals slaughtered through jhatka suffer more trauma than those killed by halal. “The less an animal struggles, the better the meat. When animals face trauma, the glycogen content in their muscles is activated, leaving the meat tough. Stored glycogen is the agent that leads to rigor mortis (or, stiffening of muscles on death),” Dr Modi says.
For the meat to be tender and juicy, the pH count in the animal should ideally be around 5.4 after slaughter. “Struggle leads to the utilisation of stored energy, making the pH count rise to as high as 7,” In halal the struggle is lesser by at least 20 per cent, claims a Delhibased nutrition expert.
Dr Modi has support from Dr Karuna Chaturvedi, consultant nutritionist at Apollo Hospitals in New Delhi. “Halal is considered healthier because after slaughter, blood is drained from the animal’s arteries, ejecting most toxins because the heart continues to pump for a few seconds after slaughter. In jhatka, not all the blood is drained, leaving the meat tougher and drier.”
Tracing the origin of jhatka, Jodh Singh, editor-in-chief of the Encyclopedia of Sikhism, says it was at the beginning of the last century that Sikh scholars compiled the faith’s Rehat Maryada, or code of conduct. “It clearly prohibits slaughtering animals through halal,” he notes. Chapter 13 of Section 6 of the Maryada mentions four taboos, including “eating the meat of an animal slaughtered the Muslim way”.
Food is a vital marker of identity, believes Sikh scholar, chair and Crawford Family professor, department of religious studies at Colby College in Maine, Prof Nikky-Guninder Kaur Singh. “Halal is prohibited in Sikhism to avoid both, the pain caused to the animal and the ritualistic dimension practised by neighbouring ‘others’.
Ironically, in most Indian abattoirs, animals are first stunned with 70 volts of electricity in the brain, leaving them unconscious. “The animal’s state of unconsciousness reduces its struggle,” says Dr Modi. However, Islamic scholar Maulana Wahiuddin Khan argues that the Islamic code of slaughter doesn’t approve of stunning. “According to Islam, the purpose of slaughtering is to release all blood from the animal’s body, leaving no room for growth of micro-organisms. When stunned, only a part of its blood is released.”
Flesh is lawful, blood, unlawful, states Islam, according to the Maulana. Stunning, in fact, puts the breaks on the blood drain due to a halt in the brain’s activity, freezing it mid-stream.
But Mohammed Noman Lateef, GM, Halal India Pvt. Ltd., an established halal certification body in India, highlights a subtle difference in detail. “We are not against stunning as long as it doesn’t kill the animal before it’s presented for slaughter.”
“By cutting the windpipe and the carotid artery, the flow of blood to the nerve in the brain that causes the sensation of pain, is stopped,” says Mufti Obaidullah Qasmi, former teacher at Darul Uloom, Deoband. “This leads to reduced pain.” The animal may appear to struggle and kick but that’s due to the contraction and relaxation of muscles deficient in blood rather than pain.
Lateef says halal is finding favour even among non-Muslims for the hygiene factor. Halal, a $2.1 trillion industry is growing at the rate of $500 million annually. “By 2015, Muslims will account for 25 per cent of the global population. Even in a country like France, there are over eight million Muslims, who love meat. Their needs cannot be ignored.”
Given India’s sizeable Muslim population, it’s not surprising that most supermarket chains prefer to offer halal meat. Sreejith Mohan, headcategory, Godrej Nature’s Basket, says halal is practically standard operating procedure. “Most slaughter houses in India have moved to the halal system, and the meat comes halal-certified.” For fast food multinational McDonalds, using halal meat in its products makes practical sense. “We respect cultural and local sensibilities,” says Amrita Pai, McDonalds spokesperson for south and west India region.
The HyperCITY chain of supermarkets that offers fresh produce, foods and grocery among other items, stock both, jhatka and halal meat. Ashutosh Chakradeo, head – buying, merchandising & supply chain, says jhatka works in the northern Indian market while it’s halal across most of the country.
In a move that’s perhaps befitting the theory of leaving food, if nothing else, out of controversy, butcher Mohammad Salim finds company in leading Sikh scholar JS Neki: “Meat in both cases is just that – meat !”