One issue that continues to be raised regularly by consumers surrounds the production and supply of Halal chicken. Questions raised with the ACMF include where can I buy Halal chicken? where can I buy non-Halal chicken? why do chicken producers supply it? why don’t they produce or supply it? and, what does the production of Halal chicken entail?
There’s certainly a lot of confusion out there amongst consumers (and often a lot of emotion behind it), but also a lot of misconceptions about what Halal chicken means, how it is produced and what it means in terms of bird welfare, price and many other aspects.
I hope to be able to provide a bit more clarity in this blog about what Halal chicken in Australia really means.
What is Halal Chicken?
Halal food is food which adheres to Islamic law, and is therefore acceptable for Muslims to eat. Halal food laws specify not only what types of foods and beverages are allowed to be eaten, but also how the food is prepared.
Therefore, Halal chicken has been processed and prepared according to Islamic law.
In practice, in Australia this means the following:
• a prayer is spoken at the commencement of slaughtering in the processing plant;
• the person supervising the slaughtering process must be of Muslim faith; and
• the processing plant has to be accredited by the local Muslim cleric.
If you actually went to a Halal accredited processing plant and witnessed the processing of chickens, you would not be able to distinguish it from what happens in a non-Halal plant. All birds are stunned prior to slaughter. For bird welfare and product quality reasons, all plants need to have at least one person supervising the slaughtering process, whether Halal or not, so staffing levels are identical whether producing Halal chicken or not.
Oh yes! And by the way, the way that the chickens are farmed and managed prior to their arrival at the processing plant is no different from any other chicken.
What’s Halal certification?
As inferred above, companies who want to be able to label all or some of their chicken as Halal pay a fee to have their processing plant accredited by their local Muslim certification body, and they may also be subjected to and pay for periodic audits to ensure that they are complying with the certification requirements.
Accreditation guarantees to those wanting to buy Halal chicken that nothing in the product has any forbidden ingredients and that the birds have been slaughtered according to Halal principles.
Is all of the product coming out of an Halal accredited processing plant labelled and sold as Halal?
Not necessarily. There are some processing plants that only produce and market Halal chicken. There are other processing plants that do not have a Halal market and so do not therefore need Halal certification. However, many processing plants will supply the Halal market as a small component of their overall market. Because the logistics of processing the chickens is the same for both Halal and non-Halal products and there is not an overall additional cost involved, approved plants may process a whole day’s birds observing the Halal requirements, with only some of the product being required to be Halal certified and labelled as such.
Some common misconceptions:
1. The Halal slaughter process is somehow ‘cruel’
This misconception seems to stem from an incorrect belief that chickens killed in Halal in Australia have not been stunned prior to slaughter. This misconception has possibly arisen because the procedures for Halal slaughter can vary from place to place due to differing interpretations of the Koran, and Halal slaughter in overseas abattoirs may not always include stunning. However, in Australia it in all cases does.
All Halal slaughter of chickens in Australia includes prior stunning.
The stunning process doesn’t kill the birds; it is a process used to render the chickens instantaneously unconscious and insensible to pain prior to them being killed. Perhaps not a subject many people want to hear about, but the birds are actually slaughtered by severing of the blood vessels in their necks, so that they die from blood loss (exsanguination). However, the stunning process ensures that they do not regain consciousness prior to their actual death by exsanguination.
2. All consumers of chicken meat end up paying more because of the costs of Halal accreditation, even if they don’t want Halal chicken themselves
To meet the Halal accreditation requirements imposes minimal additional costs on chicken processors. For a start, chicken processors have to have someone supervising the killing process – so there are no additional staff involved. For a plant which has both an Halal and non-Halal market, to change staff and segregate product based just on the minimal requirements involved just wouldn’t make commercial sense – it is simply more efficient to apply the practices required across the whole production run than to change staff / practices and segregate product.
In reality, processing plants are subject to or participate in a range of certification and auditing programs covering a range of product attributes such as bird welfare and product safety or quality. Some of these are required by different customers or the various market sectors they supply. The bigger the plant, generally the more diverse the market it serves and the greater the number of certification and auditing programs it will need to adhere to. In most cases it is more cost effective to simply run the practices required by the each program across the entire production run, so that all product qualifies to be labelled and marketed as complying with the requirements of a range of different customers or market segments, even though not all products will actually be labelled as complying with each program.
Being able to access an expanded market in this way means that the processor is able to spread its plant fixed and operating costs over more chickens processed. This means that any relatively minor costs involved in complying with a program (such as Halal certification fees) are more than compensated for by the additional market that can be serviced. Consequently, in the case of Halal accredited chicken, neither the Muslim customer buying certified Halal products nor the customer buying product that is not certified Halal is paying any more for chicken meat.
What to do if you are wanting to source Halal chicken meat
If you are wanting to buy guaranteed Halal chicken meat, simply check that the product you are buying is labelled as Halal, or ask the shop where you are buying from to confirm that the product you wish to purchase has come from a Halal accredited processing plant. There are also some websites that provide information on where Halal meat is sold and butcher shops in areas with a high Muslim population often advertise their meat, including chicken, as being Halal.
What to do if you are wanting to source chicken meat from a plant which is non-Halal
While I personally can see no reason not to buy chicken meat that has been supplied from a processing plant that also supplies Halal chicken meat, I understand that there are some consumers who have a different view. If that’s the case, then I suggest you ask your chicken retailer to check whether their supplier plants are Halal accredited.
For more information on Halal from an Australian perspective, check out the range of FAQs on this subject on the ACMF website: http://www.chicken.org.au/page.php?id=150