Why halal meat generates so much controversy in Europe

  • A regional government in Austria recently proposed that people buying halal or kosher meat should have to register with authorities. There have been periodic “scares” in Britain over customers being sold unlabeled halal meat. Until a constitutional court overturned it, Poland imposed a ban on halal and kosher slaughter. The party platform of the far-right Alternative for Germany includes a similar provision.
  • For meat to be classified as halal — meaning, broadly, permissible according to Islam — the animal in question must be slaughtered in a certain way: with a sharp incision to the front of the throat, and with a blessing.
  • It is similar to kosher slaughter practices that comply with Jewish dietary law, although the two religions have different rules about what parts of an animal may be eaten.
  • In Europe, there has been a movement — enshrined in European Union law — to require that animals be stunned before they are killed, so that they are unconscious and do not feel pain or distress. Exceptions can be granted, however, for religious practice. And critics charge that halal slaughter causes unnecessary suffering at the time of death.
  • Defenders note that many animals slaughtered according to halal practice in Europe — including more than 84 percent of halal slaughter in Britain — are, in fact, pre-stunned, which is widely considered acceptable if done in a way that an animal can be returned to normal consciousness. (By contrast, kosher slaughter prohibits stunning.)
  • But perhaps most of all, halal has been a source of controversy in Western Europe because, for some, the designation is synonymous with cultural self-segregation and “Islamization.” This is especially the case in France, a staunchly secular society, where dietary restrictions that come from religious dictates are often seen as undermining the ties that bind all citizens.

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