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Britain Is Freaking Out Over Halal

Since The Sun newspaper ran its front page splash on how a British restaurant chain served only halal meat, Britons have been up in arms over animal rights. But there's something darker at play.

Since The Sun newspaper ran its halal front-page splash yesterday detailing how Pizza Express have been using halal meat as default without telling anyone, Britons have gone postal. How DARE they feed us meat that hasn't come from animals killed the BRITISH way, we cry. How DARE we tiptoe around minority groups in case they go crazy that they've not been served the right meat! At least we make sure all our chickens are dead BEFORE we kill them!


"Halal" is the Arabic word for "permitted" or "lawful" and usually pertains to the way meat is dealt with. For meat to be considered halal, the animal must be healthy before it's killed and when it is, it must be under the blessing of a slaughterman and done by hand, usually by a clean cut to the neck which severs the major arteries. All the animal's blood must be drained from the body. There is continued debate over the welfare of animals slaughtered this way, but despite the fact that most halal killings do happen after stunning in the UK, animal welfare doesn't seem to be at the forefront of either The Sun or The Daily Mail's agenda or the minds of their readers spouting their vitriol on social media.

Just for context, The Sun doesn't make a habit of running front-page stories on the shocking treatment of battery hens. This is about Islam. "But I've got real ethical concerns about halal slaughter," you say. "Why does that make me racist?" It doesn't. If your questions pertain to animal welfare in the meat industry as a whole, and not just issues that happen to involve Muslims, that's fantastic. We should all be more aware of what happens in the meat industry. We should also be more connected to the idea of death.

Those who have never once questioned the provenance and treatment of the animal they're chewing as part of their Indian takeaway or in the grease-smudged box they stumble out with from their local fried chicken shop with on a boozy Friday night, and are only now prickling with rage and emotion over the treatment of the animals they have been eating, are treading precarious ground. The hypocrisy is staggering.


The argument for rediscovering the virtue of choice is there, of course, but lest we forget: We are the same nation who was terrified and appalled that we'd been unwittingly tucking into horse not so long ago, without having ever previously raised suspicions over the origin of the meat in our cheap, carnivorous meals. It wasn't the fact that we were eating horse meat that was so worrying, either. It was whatever the fuck else was being thrown in.

If you want a conscience clearer than a Maldivian wave surrounding the concept of animal slaughter for human consumption, become a vegetarian. It's the only way. But if you are going to eat meat, don't be racist about how it has died. As Russell Brand says, this isn't about singing "Spandau Ballet" to a chicken while you cuddle it to death. Every animal must die—whether it's through being stunned, having his head chopped clean off, or having its throat slit—for us to eat it. That's how this life and death thing works.

But if you are going to eat meat, don't be racist about how it has died.

There are articles that claim that the perception of someone not wanting to eat halal meat—of someone not being Muslim—means they're automatically Islamophobic. "Strewth," their authors say. But while the thin argument questioning whether the food-related sensitivities of 4.8 percent of the British population should be prioritized over the other 95 percent can be understood to a degree, and while the concept of default halal might sit sourly with some people—the virtue of choice is important, after all—I don't think this is what all this is about. I can't imagine any Muslim I know losing their shit upon discovering that the piece of chicken they were gnawing wasn't halal. They'd probably just say "oops" and put it down politely.

The swelling controversy ignited by controversy-baiting tabloids suggests that people think chains such as Pizza Express and Subway—who are now serving halal-only meat in 185 of their UK stores—are default halal just in case they offend those "kerazy" Muslims. The reality is, these chains are probably just responding to demand. As KFC told The Guardian, "Feedback from consumers has indicated that there is significant demand for halal food… We've chosen [to serve it] in stores in areas where we expect demand for halal restaurants." A cynic would say that these chains also know that a large proportion of their clientele largely couldn't give a tinker's cuss where the meat they're serving came from. But they do now, of course.

What's happening here is food and animal rights becoming a proxy for Islam-bashing. It's getting at Muslims through their diet choices.

Of course people should know exactly what they're eating—Nando's say they ensure that when they open a new halal restaurant that there's always a non-halal one nearby—and halal meat sold in supermarkets should be clearly labelled, but it's important they know, too, that the RSPCA doesn't make a distinction between traditionally slaughtered and pre-stunned halal meat. They say consumers are entitled to "the right to choose whether or not the wish to buy meat from animals slaughtered without pre-stunning," but what these big, scary exposés by papers like The Sun fail to make clear is that, according to a 2012 Food Standards Agency report cited by the RSPCA, 97 percent of cattle, 96 percent of poultry, and 90 percent of sheep slaughtered with halal methods are in fact stunned before being killed, which makes them unaware of pain.

But of course, this isn't a quest for clarity.