BBC News Magazine

Page last updated at 13:00 GMT, Wednesday, 20 May 2009 14:00 UK

When is halal meat not halal meat?

The Magazine answers...

Fast food chain KFC is trialling halal meat in certain restaurants, but some Muslims say it hasn't been killed in the correct Islamic way. Catrin Nye asks when is halal meat not halal meat?

It may claim its food is "finger lickin' good", but until recently strict Muslims might have seen a problem with it.

Slaughtered chicken

Now fast food chain Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) is trialling halal meat - meaning it has been killed in accordance with Islamic dietary laws - in eight of its UK restaurants. But the trial has sparked a debate over what is and what isn't halal, with some Muslims boycotting the restaurants because they say the meat has not been killed correctly.

The issue is whether meat can be halal if it has been slaughtered using mechanical methods.

Traditionally, halal meat is killed by hand and must be blessed by the person doing the job. But some Muslims say a mechanised form is also now acceptable.

Halal is the description of food and drink Muslims are allowed to consume under Islamic dietary laws defined in the Koran and in the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. Classifying of halal food can only be carried out by a Muslim expert in the laws.

The meat is traditionally prepared by slaughtering the animal with a quick cut to the throat with a sharp knife to allow all blood to drain out, the idea being that the meat is cleaner. The slaughterman is required to say the traditional proclamation of faith in one god as the animal is killed.

When it has been slaughtered using mechanical methods
Halal Food Authority says this is acceptable
Halal Monitoring Committee says it should be done by hand

At present two separate organisations regulate the halal food industry in the UK. The Halal Food Authority (HFA) says using machines is OK, as long as the meat is still blessed. It argues that advances in technology mean methods have to change and though a machine does the killing, the meat is still blessed by a Muslim slaughterman.

But the Halal Monitoring Committee (HMC) says animals should be slaughtered by hand and using a machine is not halal and not permissible. It argues mechanisation contradicts a fundamental principle of halal - that the person who slaughters the animal is the same person who recites the words over it.

Call for single body

"Halal is a very sacred part of a Muslim's diet and many Muslims do not even know what they are eating when it's certified as halal in this way," says Yunus Dudhwala, chairman of the HMC.

"I think the majority would be very upset to find out that it's been mechanically killed."

KFC says it is following the guidance offered by what it considers a reputable adviser.

"We are working with the Halal Food Authority, one of the most widely recognised bodies in the UK and overseas, who have audited and approved our halal suppliers, distribution and our trial store environments," says a spokesperson for the company.

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The debate has prompted calls for a single body to regulate the halal food industry which has a clear set of guidelines on animal slaughter.

"The onus is not on individuals to identify each and every item that they eat, if the seller says it's halal that's enough," says Ajmal Masroor, an Imam and spokesman for the Islamic Society of Britain. He neither approves nor disapproves of either certification process and therefore does not endorse or reject KFC's methods.

You can hear more on Asian Network Reports at 1230 and 1800 BST on the BBC Asian Network on DAB digital radio or online via the BBC iPlayer.

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