Halal meat study press coverage misleading and 'insulting' to Muslims, author claims

Headlines proclaim 'Muslim ignorance' causes animal suffering, but academics point out non-Muslims are just as ignorant about slaughter techniques

Ian Johnston
Science Correspondent
Tuesday 25 October 2016 16:25
Meat is one of the most prominent Halal products because animals must be killed in a certain way.
Meat is one of the most prominent Halal products because animals must be killed in a certain way.

“Animals dying in pain because of Muslim ignorance over stunning,” the headline screamed. “Halal-slaughtered animals are 'dying in agony' because of 'Muslim ignorance' over pre-slaughter stunning, say experts,” another cried.

But the experts in question never actually used the term “Muslim ignorance”, described its use as "insulting" and criticised the newspapers involved for suggesting they held that view.

Academics from Bristol University’s school of veterinary sciences had carried out a survey of attitudes towards stunning animals prior to slaughter among Islamic scholars and ordinary Muslims.

The results were “very encouraging”, one of the researchers told The Independent. Some 95 per cent of the scholars would consider stunning of animals in accordance with Halal practices if it could be shown not to actually kill the animal. To be halal, an animal must be handled sympathetically prior to and during slaughter and must be alive when it is bled to death.

But, writing about the survey in the journal Meat Science, the researchers had added: “The lack of understanding of stunning among some scholars has resulted in the issuance of confusing fatwas on the suitability of stunned meat for consumption by Muslims.

“There is an urgent need for these scholars to be given theoretical and practical education on stunning and other modern slaughter techniques such as mechanical slaughter.

“This will help them make informed decisions about the suitability of these techniques for Halal production.”

This, according to an article in The Times and a follow-up in The Daily Mail, was evidence that “Muslim ignorance” meant animals were dying needlessly painful deaths.

One academic involved in the research, who did not want to be named partly because of concerns his reputation had been damaged by the newspaper coverage, told The Independent the use of the term was “insulting to Muslims” and gave a misleading impression of their work.

He said while they had been looking specifically at what Muslims knew about slaughter techniques in the study, their findings about the level of knowledge would probably be reflected among the general population.

“If you did a similar survey of a non-Muslim population, you would come up with a very similar result,” the academic said.

“I don’t think it’s a fair comparison to say they are ignorant because they don’t know [about slaughter techniques]. It’s not an area they would necessarily know about.

“From our point of view, we certainly never used the term ‘ignorance’ and we wouldn’t in that context.

“If we are seen as a university to be suggesting the Muslim population or Muslim scholars are ignorant, that doesn’t really bode well for a good relationship.”

Some Muslim scholars believe the handling of the animals killed in the Halal way makes it less cruel than the industrial-scale slaughter houses used by the mainstream industry, where there have been reports of mistreatment of animals.

However, there have also been cases of mistreatment of animals at Halal slaughterhouses.

The Times did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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