The halal hysteria is all about money, not morality

The hysteria over halal chicken has nothing to do with animal welfare. It's phoney outrage that tastes of Islamophobia

 

Share

There is something deeply bogus about the hysteria which has gripped many of the nation's meat-eaters since The Sun exposed "The Halal Secret of Pizza Express". It was not, of course, much of a secret. The core disclosure – that all the chicken served by the company is killed in ways acceptable to Muslims – was already featured on the company's website. The firm's PR people had tweeted it. And it had been reported in The Guardian six months earlier. But then "exclusive" is a relative notion in the populist press.

Halal food, here, is a proxy for airing some dubious prejudices about Islam. The dog-whistle semiotics are that halal is here used as a synonym for a cruel kind of killing in which animals are slaughtered without being pre-stunned.

The problem is that the facts tell a different story.

The RSPCA, citing a 2012 Food Standards Agency report, estimates that 97 per cent of cattle, 96 per cent of poultry and 90 per cent of sheep slaughtered under halal procedures in British abattoirs are stunned before being killed to make them insensible to pain and distress. Only a tiny minority of animals are dispatched by throat-cutting without stunning, in the manner prescribed by the most hardline Muslims and orthodox Jews.

All the halal chicken served in Pizza Express – and Nando's, KFC and Subway as well as sold in all the main British supermarkets – differs only from other chickens killed in British slaughterhouses in one respect: a blessing is said as the creature dies. This may outrage the religiously intolerant who like to use weasel terms like "sharia creep". But it has zero bearing on animal welfare. The whole hullabaloo seems more intent on causing suffering to Muslims than it is on sparing animals from pain.

It all adds an interesting dimension to what animal ethicists call the meat paradox. Most people love animals – or at any rate disapprove of harming them – but they also like eating meat. There are three classic ways of resolving this inconsistency: some people become vegetarian; some deny any moral status to animals; but most of us live with a cognitive dissonance which compartmentalises our thinking so that we can handily forget that pork is really pig and beef once wandered our fields as cattle.

Psychologists have shown how this works. They pictured 27 non-human animals – from snails and starfish, through snakes and bats, to cows and sheep, then kangaroos and chimps – and instructed volunteers to indicate which animals they felt morally obliged to show concern for. Then they showed them a photo of a cow and asked the experimenters to rate its mental capacities. Those volunteers who had been given an apple to eat before the experiment consistently rated the cow with greater empathy than those who had been given a piece of beef jerky to chew throughout the process.

We see cows as more stupid than they are. Horses, by contrast, we rate higher than they deserve, probably because we do not eat them, except unwittingly in supermarket lasagnneigh. We feel queasy at the thought of eating dog yet we salivate at the smell of bacon from a beast far cleverer than most canines. We are outraged by the idea of whaling while happily tucking into fish and chips.

This is why the current cry – endorsed by religious leaders and animal rightists alike – for improved labelling to describe how animals are slaughtered is unlikely to succeed. A waiter asking if you would like to know how the chicken was killed before he serves the Pizza Pollo ad Astra is most likely to receive the reply: "No thanks, I'd rather not think about it ever having been alive, just at the moment."

If you eat meat, animals die for you, but most of us prefer momentarily to forget that fact. Mental confusion abounds in our daily life – which is why we smoke, binge, booze and drive gas-guzzling cars despite knowing none of these is a bright idea. And when it comes to animals it seems odd that some people get far more agitated about a battery chicken's brief dying moments than they do about its long years of tortured confinement in a shoebox-sized cage.

Money, not morality, is the key determinant here. The industry strives to keep costs down by using one method of production rather than several. More than 70 per cent of all New Zealand lamb in our supermarkets is processed according to Islamic tradition because much of the rest of that nation's produce ends up in the Middle East. Muslims in the UK constitute less than 5 per cent of the population, but they eat more than 20 per cent of English lamb.

For retailers and restaurants it makes no economic sense to have two suppliers for the same type of meat. They want to meet the requirements of the 5 per cent of customers who demand halal meat for the same reason that they strive – not always very imaginatively – to accommodate vegetarians who are just 3 per cent of the population.

The logic of all this is lost on the bigots who got the halal story trending on Twitter with the hashtag #BoycottPizzaExpress. Opportunists such as the National Secular Society tried to climb on the Islamophobic bandwagon with a statement lamenting that "unsuspecting members of the public" are "routinely being duped into buying meat from religious slaughter methods".

The truth is that most of the public are happy to eat a halal curry or kebab. Even bigots, I would wager, after a night out on the booze.

Paul Vallely is visiting professor in public ethics at the University of Chester

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Syrian refugee 'Nora' with her two month-old daughter. She was one of the first Syrians to come to the UK when the Government agreed to resettle 100 people from the country  

Open letter to David Cameron on Syrian refugees: 'Several hundred people' isn't good enough

Independent Voices
Amjad Bashir said Ukip had become a 'party of ruthless self-interest'  

Could Ukip turncoat Amjad Bashir be the Churchill of his day?

Matthew Norman
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project