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Halal Meat Market in UK

28 March 2013

A single global standard for Halal meat production could help to cut through some of the confusion surrounding traceability and authentication according to a new report from the Englsih Bef and Lamb Executive.

Executive Summary

The following Executive Summary seeks to capture the main elements of the findings from the research undertaken for this project. All of the statements are based on the responses given by those interviewed and represent their views and perceptions rather than what may in fact be the case.

The Muslim communities in the UK are estimated at around 2 million people – about 3% of the population. Muslims account for about 20% of lamb consumption in this country and a small but increasing amount of beef. The Halal meat market therefore is a multi-million pound contributor to the British economy.

Halal meat consumption is an important feature of life across Muslim communities in the UK with 90% indicating that they consume Halal meat. More than 8 out of 10 Muslims tend to consume meat regularly with almost 6 out of 10 indicating that they eat meat most of the time. There are no discernible generational differences.

Generally, around 9 in 10 respondents were satisfied with the availability of Halal meat from suppliers in England suggesting that their Halal requirements are currently being adequately met.

Muslims buy Halal meat mostly from Halal butchers and other specialist outlets. Although awareness of supermarket Halal offerings is high, loyalty towards specialist butchers outweighs the convenience of one-stop shopping for most Halal meat purchases.

Consumers perceive that Halal butchers have the advantage of:

  • Trust – because they trust a fellow Muslim’s word regarding whether or not a product is Halal
  • Customer service – in terms of bespoke cutting of meat and chicken to a customer’s exact requirements, home delivery and cooking advice
  • Range of cuts available
  • Price, especially when buying in bulk

Meat is almost always bought fresh (the exception being frozen Halal items aimed at children and other frozen convenience foods such as burgers, chicken nuggets and samosas).

This is driven by cultural norms: Muslim consumers prefer to buy meat fresh, wash it and freeze it in their own portion bags. They also harbour suspicions about the possible age and poor quality of shop-frozen meat.

Purchase patterns show around 70% who buy chicken, 60% lamb, 50% mutton and 28% beef; frequency of purchase ranges from once a week – 72% of consumers – to the 25% who shopped for meat several times a week.

It is a common practice to buy meat and chicken in bulk across all Muslim communities.

In this research, meat consumption was highest among Somali men and women and younger Middle Eastern men, who were eating meat-based meals at least three times a week. Typically, however, consumers were alternating between meat and chicken meals; thus, most ate red meat 2-3 times a week. Men tended to be the main meat eaters in their households.

Although mutton is purchased across all ethnic groups, the South Asian groups (Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi) display purchase frequency patterns that are markedly different from African, Turkish and Middle Eastern communities. Lamb purchase is a feature across all ethnic groups with regular purchase. Beef purchase is most frequently the domain of African, Turkish and Middle East respondents as contrasted with those from the Indian sub Continent (India, Pakistan and Bangladesh).

Muslims overwhelmingly do not consider Halal as being a redundant concept. For many consumers, particularly those from the South Asian community, it is very important to eat only meat and chicken that is Halal.

However, some consumers do eat non-Halal meat and chicken from time to time. In this research, the Turkish Cypriot women and younger Middle Eastern men were most likely to do so, while some Somalis, Turkish men and younger Pakistani men had done so occasionally (usually when Halal meat was not available).

There is strong evidence of continuity of Halal consumption across generations and across ethnicities, and compliance is high with the exception of those of Turkish origin, where adherence patterns are less strong.

The consumers who took part in the research perceived that the following is required for meat to be Halal:

  • The animal must be slaughtered by a Muslim
  • The animal must be blessed during the slaughtering process
  • The blood of the animal must fully drain out
  • The animal must be killed by a sharp cut across the throat

However, beyond this, interpretations of Halal meat slaughter varied.

The majority of respondents were familiar with and recognise some or most attributes of Halal meat slaughter procedures. ‘Prayer offered at time using a sharp knife’ (65%) and ‘animal slaughtered in relation to Shariah Law’ (62%) were the two most commonly cited views of Halal meat.

Interestingly, when prompted through a showcard, respondents did not focus just on traditional interpretations of Halal; they realised that Halal slaughter was also characterised by a range of methods that reflected the demands of modern society. For example, 20% suggested that the ‘animal is stunned.’ Almost 40% suggested ‘mechanical knife slaughter’, and almost 50% of responses mentioned ‘prayer offer by tape.’ This contrasted with around 40% responses pertaining to ‘Knife slaughter across the throat made in person’.

A number of abattoir operators interviewed suggested some form of differentiation within the Halal meat sector might be applied. For example, product could be labelled according to the principles of Islamic law relating to Halal and indicating a hierarchy where the product concerned adhered to mandatory/required acts or permissible acts or allowable acts. Such tiering could facilitate pricing differentials as well.

Despite expressing varied interpretations of Halal meat slaughter, over 6 out of 10 Muslims expressed that ‘if a person of Muslim faith says it is Halal, it is Halal’ for the recipient. This suggests that the apparent complexities associated with determining Halal meat slaughter may well be secondary to the simple declaration of a Muslim.

Stunning versus non-stunning is an important consideration in determining Halal meat status. In exploring attitudes towards stunning, it was evident that stunning was not deemed to be appropriate by a large number of respondents. Around 50% of responses related to ‘other animals in proximity to slaughter’ rendering the process unlawful, whilst almost 50% of responses related to the fact that ‘if the animal was stunned’ the meat would be unacceptable.

However in practice, there was evidence that uncertainty exists within the Muslim community as to what technically constitutes the Halal slaughter process. Again, in practice, the word of the butcher is considered to be important. More than one-third of respondents (36%) believed they purchased only non-stunned meat from their current supplier with a further third (31%) indicated they did not know whether their supplier provided non-stunned meat. This uncertainty does not prevent stunned meat purchase, however.

Whilst over half the sample (55%) had a strong preference to see a logo certifying Halal status, 80% of these would be happy to take the butcher’s word to confirm Halal.

Indeed, the influence of butchers in confirming Halal status is evidenced with over nine respondents in 10 expressing satisfaction with their butcher in meeting their Halal meat requirements. Analysis of the key drivers of both high satisfaction and high importance revealed the perceived relevance of cleanliness of shop, good quality meat, Halal sign and assurance, good price and wide range of meat.

The majority of the abattoir owners interviewed stun their animals before slaughter; only two do not. Most were against non-stunning for animal welfare reasons. Apart from this, there was little variation in the slaughtering process across the abattoirs. For example, all have a Muslim slaughterman, all reported that prayers are recited in person by the slaughterer and that animals are left to bleed out.

Halal butchers were more aware of the pros and cons of stunning than consumers, but were not entirely clear on whether or not the meat they sell is stunned or non-stunned. It emerged that a substantial number of them have never visited the slaughterhouse where they source their meat and several butchers claiming to sell non-stunned meat were buying from abattoirs who reported that they stun their animals.

Among the minority of consumers aware of the stun versus non-stun issue, there were concerns about whether or not stunning is Halal. The religious issues were more of a worry than the animal welfare issues. However, some perceived that stunning is painful and therefore cruel to animals (a view shared by some of the butchers).

Around half of the abattoirs in the sample and the vast majority of butchers were not members of any Halal assurance schemes. A key barrier was cost, but many also objected in principle with the way the various certification bodies operate.

There was a relatively low level of community awareness of Halal Food Authority (HFA) (37%) and Halal Monitoring Committee (HMC) (32%) certification bodies, despite the stated importance of Halal confirmation signs.

The HMC appeared to have more credibility because some were aware that the HFA accepts that animals may be stunned before slaughter. However, there was little in-depth knowledge of either of these bodies in terms of what each organisation stands for, how they work and who runs them.

None of the consumers appeared to check for certification in their usual Halal butcher shop since they had an inherent trust in the word of a fellow Muslim and (generally) a long standing relationship with the butcher they used. However, they said they would seek reassurance if purchasing from a non-Halal (mainstream) store by looking for Halal certificates, detailed on-pack labelling and the presence of Muslim staff.

Looking forward, some of the abattoir owners suggested that one alternative might be ‘post stick stunning’ as a way of bridging the gap between Halal requirements and animal welfare concerns. This means stunning animals immediately after their throat is cut in order to reduce any perceived suffering.

Abattoir owners interviewed would also like to see the development of a single, global Halal standard as a means of helping the industry to progress.

Further Reading

You can view the full report by clicking here.

February 2013

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