Forget BSE - everyone is back on beef ...and here comes the halal Big Mac

McDONALD'S is planning a McMenu for British Muslims. It is in negotiations with a ritual slaughterhouse to serve up halal Big Macs, Quarter-Pounders and McChicken sandwiches with fries.

The burger chain - whose slogan is "That's the difference at McDonald's you'll enjoy" - has been talking to a major halal meat supplier in Manchester since the summer.

There are two million observant Muslims in Britain who cannot eat McDonald's hamburgers because the animals supplying the chain are not killed according to religious requirements. Manchester has one of the largest Muslim populations in the country.

"They are discussing the possibilities of this with the supplier," said a McDonald's spokesman. "The burgers would be served side by side but they would have to keep the halal meat very separate."

The move has been welcomed by British Muslim groups, including the Islamic Council of Europe, which says that many restaurants do not consider stocking halal food because of the extra cost.

"We don't feel discriminated against by not having halal McDonald's burgers," said Mohammed Ibrahim, of the Council. "There are alternatives, such as kebab shops. But if McDonald's is considering halal, we would welcome it."

The halal move would be a breakthrough for burger chains in Britain, which do not cater for the dietary requirements of religious groups such as Jews, Muslims and Hindus. In India, where cows are sacred, McDonald's sells lamburgers.

The different methods of slaughter (special halal butchers slit the throats of the animals) does not affect the taste, although some animal welfare groups say kosher and halal methods are cruel. But in a move to attract customers concerned by animal welfare, the fast food chain is also working to use free-range eggs.

A spokeswoman for the Consumers' Association cautiously welcomed the initiative. "If McDonald's starts catering for strict Muslims all sorts of questions would arise about food preparation," said Julie Shepherd. "They would have to win the confidence of a particular sector. The Muslims would have to trust McDonald's."