Eid Mubarak everyone. Hope you all have a great day and in celebration here is my article published at Elan about the exploitative factory-farming of animals and why more and more Muslims are choosing organic meat.
When Halal Isn’t Enough
By ARWA ABURAWA
November 23, 2009
Eid al-Adha is almost here and Muslims across the world are preparing to commemorate Prophet Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son Ismael by doing what we do best: eating lots and lots of meat.
At the heart of this celebration however, especially in the West, is the controversial issue of what makes our meat halal or permissible. Is an animal that has been raised in conditions so extreme that they have been called concentration camps halal to eat? Is it halal that they are fed animal waste and pumped with steroids and antibiotics just to keep them alive? A growing number of concerned and environmentally-conscious Muslims are coming to the conclusion that they couldn’t possibly be halal and are turning to organic, zabiha meat instead.
Scholars have been divided on the issue of what makes meat halal for centuries, with the bulk of the current debate focusing on aspects of slaughter and the role of stunning. For organizations such as Green Zabiha based in Sterling, Virginia and Abraham Natural Produce in the UK- which both sell organic zabiha halal meat – this misses this point. “Halal isn’t just the point of slaughter,” explains Ali Carr of Abraham Natural Produce. “It starts from the conception of the animal and making sure it’s healthy, happy and living at one with the environment.” He goes on to explain that the main barrier to achieving this is the intensive farming of animals (or factory-farming) which is widespread in the meat industry and whose main objective is getting an animal from birth to slaughter in the quickest time possible and at the lowest cost.
Animals are crammed into tiny spaces, fed processed animal by-products and manipulated to grow quicker so that they can be slaughtered at an early age. They are fed everything from ground up chicken manure to chicken and pork waste products which the United States Department of Agriculture has determined are allowable food sources. “Another thing with intensive farming is that animals get ill. For example chickens grow with deformed legs as they can’t move and so they are fed on the floor until they are big enough to be taken to the abattoir. I mean, you have to ask yourself, is that halal?” adds Carr.
Many farmers also deal with disease-prone animals by adding antibiotics and medication to their feeds which not only compromises the nutritional value of the meat but also carries unquantifiable health implications for us as the consumer. Yasir Syeed, whose company Green Zabiha grew out of his effort to provide better meat for his family, insists that if we all woke up tomorrow and there were no factory farms the world would be a better place. “To think that US beef is not allowed to be exported into the European Union due to the amount of chemicals in it is shocking, and let’s not forget the environmental implications of factory farming.”
To feed the huge numbers of animals, pesticides and herbicides are used to grow their food rapidly and the livestock also ‘emit’ methane which actually warms the planet 20 times faster than CO2. In response to these practices, both Green Zabiha and ANP only supply meat from animals raised in organic farms where they are allowed to wander in pastures and eat long grass like nature intended. They both also personally visit the farms to make sure that animals are being treated well and meet their standards.
“I want a cow to be able to act like a cow and for a chicken to run around scratching the dirt and eating bugs,” explains Syeed. “That way the meat we eat will nourish us not only physically but also spiritually.” Indeed, Syeed’s work is motivated by a belief that the food we eat not only affects us physically but also spiritually and allowing animals to live in better harmony with their nature enables us to live in better harmony with everything around us. “I am not trying to judge people and tell them what is halal or haram but I believe that if you are eating tortured animals, there will be some ramifications spiritually.” Hence the company’s tagline ‘A blessing in every bite’.
Abandoning factory farmed animals does however reduce the amount of meat being produced and so yes, we might have to eat less meat in the future but Syeed and Carr argue that it would taste better, be more nutritious and ultimately more halal. Even so, reactions to organic halal meat amongst the Muslim community has been mixed and Syeed found that whilst some Muslims were supportive others were very dubious about the concept. “They are like ‘Come on guys, what’s all this about?’ so I just mention some of the stuff that goes on and what they feed animals and people are shocked like there is no way that this would be allowed to happen.”
But sadly it does happen and the non-organic halal industry will probably continue to exist, regardless of rising awareness of the questionable practices of factory farms, as some people only care about one aspect of their meat: the price.
Now that is food for thought.