USA: Fact Check: Islamic guidelines specify how meat must be slaughtered, but some viral email claims are unsubstantiated
Times-Union readers want to know:
An email I received warns me about checking a package of meat to make sure it isn’t labeled “halal.” It says that halal is an Islamic term for how meat is processed, the butcher must face Mecca as the animal is slaughtered and say, “Allah Akbar.” The email goes on to say that halal kill plants are routinely cited for uncleanliness and that they put already-dead animals in the human consumption line. Is there such as thing as “halal meat”?
There is such a thing as halal. It is an Arabic word that means “lawful” or “allowed”; regarding food, it means that the product has conformed to Islamic dietary guidelines as indicated in the Quran.
Parts of this viral email are accurate, while others are not substantiated.
The holy book of Islam does describe a particular manner of slaughtering an animal. It specifies: “The head of an animal that is slaughtered using halal methods is aligned [with Mecca]. In addition to the direction, permitted animals should be slaughtered in the name of Allah (the Lord) and the person who is slaughtering should be a Muslim and he/she should be in a good mental condition and faith. All these steps have to be completed to render the meat edible for Muslims’ consumption.”
Jacksonville is among American cities that include growing Muslim populations, so more and more groceries and restaurants are offering halal food products. Halal Food on Beach Boulevard opened last year, and various area restaurants — such as Istanbul Grille, 5th Element and Apna Bazaar and Restaurant — serve halal meat.
Some national supermarket chains, including Costco and Walmart, have begun selling halal products as have some McDonald’s. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has included labeling of halal products produced in the U.S. since 1996, according to the USDA website.
Halal foods have become a $20 billion-a-year industry, according to an estimate from the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America in Chicago, as reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The viral email, supposedly from someone in the cattle business, is not accurate in several claims.
Although the halal guidelines say that the head of an animal being slaughtered must be aligned with Mecca and that the animals should be killed in the name of Allah, the way that this is accomplished differs with region and culture. It does not necessarily mean that the butcher has to say “Allahu Akbar.”
The email is also incorrect when it states that the main difference between kosher and halal rules is that the former are focused on processing while the latter are focused on “the spiritual component.” Both have a spiritual component, both sanction blessing the food and both lay down basic physical requirements for the sourcing and slaughter of animals and the proper handling of meats, according to David Emery, who researchers urban legends for the information website About.com.
Rules for both insist on cleanliness and wholesomeness. Unsubstantiated is the statement that halal kill plants are constantly being cited and shut down by the USDA for uncleanliness and that already-dead animals are processed.
Snopes.com and Emery researched publicly available USDA records and found no evidence that halal plants are more frequently cited or shut down than non-halal plants. A check of news archives also shows no substantial violations. In addition, Snopes.com notes, the Islamic requirements specifically prohibit the use of animals that have died before being slaughtered.
Still, it is true that the USDA has fewer inspectors and there is virtually no enforcement for those who run afoul of the law, Maria Omar, spokeswoman for the Chicago council, told the Inquirer.
Carole Fader: (904) 359-4635
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