Much has been said about the halal way of slaughter and its impact on the food supply chain in particular and the economy in general. Let us look at the issue from the health perspective first and try to deduce some tangibles.
Halal means anything that is allowed according to Sharia law in Islamic jurisprudence. And thus halal is slowly spreading to every aspect of the life of our nation, even to everyday products like soaps, cosmetics, drugs, books, groceries, etc.
Even hospitals and airports are adopting halal certifications. And this, when 85 per cent of Indians have no connection to Sharia law.
Halal has become code for sale and purchase to and from a particular community, either directly or indirectly, thus laying the grounds for economic apartheid. It also creates a parallel certification system with doubtful legal sanctity or accountability to the law of the land.
Coming to the health aspects of halal, let’s divide it into two areas: the meat trade and the rest of it.
Halal meat involves a very specific form of slaughter and packaging which consists of the following conditions:
- The animal must be facing the Kaaba, the holy place for Muslims
- The slaughter must be done by a Muslim only
- Kalma must be recited during the slaughter
- Most importantly, only the carotid artery and the trachea of the animal must be slit and the animal ‘must’ bleed to death.
The media space has been flooded with literature that this form of slaughter is healthier since all blood is pumped out by the dying animal’s heart. It is also claimed that, for the same reason, halal meat is tastier and has a longer shelf life. However, there is no scientific study to back these claims.
Let us attempt to look at this from a purely medical perspective.
Let’s also compare the ‘dharmik’ way of slaughter with halal, known as jhatka, to gain more clarity on this issue.
Jhatka comprises beheading the animal in a single stroke. This is in tune with Hindu and Sikh scriptures and the commands of our gurus, especially Sri Guru Gobind Singhji Maharaj.
There is another form of slaughter advocated by animal rights activists, where the animal is stunned mechanically or electrically and then beheaded by a single stroke. It is called single slice humane slaughter (SSHS) and is widely used in the Western world.
There are three medical aspects of the slaughtering technique, which we must consider when we compare halal with jhatka.
First, the claim that halal leads to cleansing of blood from the body makes little sense because though blood is known to be a good culture medium of bacteria, there is no evidence that fresh blood is harmful to the body.
What we eat as meat has blood enmeshed in it anyway.
Besides, blood has a tendency to clot when exposed to air, so clotting around the carotids would anyway block them, hampering the exit of blood.
This looks like a lame argument to support halal unless we can back it with scientific data .
Secondly, when an animal is cut open but is still alive to feel the pain because her spinal cord is intact, the body releases stress hormones, adrenaline and noradrenaline, both of which are known to be bad for the human heart.
Jhatka slaughter doesn’t cause this because of the rapidity of death that ensues decapitation.
We might need studies in populations consuming halal and jhatka to actually find a difference in cardiac diseases if we have to arrive at an informed judgement, but empirically jhatka seems superior as a means of slaughter on this account.
Thirdly, halal is a cruel form of slaughter, where the animal is cut and left to bleed to death.
Cruelty triggers a complex chain of emotional and biochemical reactions in the animal’s body, some of which are known and some unknown to us. Cruelty also impacts the slaughterer adversely as it hardens the psyche and takes away compassion.
Shifting away from meat, what are the other implications of halal food in our day to day life?
Halal proponents say that alcohol, or anything derived from pigs, is haram, or banned.
A huge number of drugs like cough syrups need alcohol as a base and concentrated spirit is the best skin disinfectant known.
Are we to understand that due to religious beliefs, time-tested drug compositions and compounds that shield us from bacteria and viruses are to be re-researched and re-introduced into our health services?
What is the surety of finding alternatives to alcohol, besides the billions of dollars and man-hours which will be lost in such an endeavour?
The usage of products derived from pigs is prohibited, according to the non-negotiable caveats of halal. As against this, the pig is genetically the closest animal to man and holds the key to revolutionise treatments for various human ailments like diabetes, Parkinson’s, burns and contractures, among other things.
Until just a few years ago, pig pancreas was the only source of insulin capable of being produced on an industrial scale and it helped save millions of lives. Pig skin is also used as an alternative to human skin in surgery of burns and contractures.
Can we even conceive of the loss of human lives and ensuing morbidity that can stem from abandoning research on an area with a massive potential such as pig derivatives?
American pharma companies were forced to remove pork gelatine as a covering for capsules and replaced with beef gelatine, costing billions of dollars.
The economic demerit, and perhaps the most dangerous aspect of halal, lies in how it works towards indirect control over the global supply chain.
Needless to say, this practice is religiously discriminatory. This is because the norms imposed by an unyielding community forces manufacturers and others to move towards the halal standard, especially if those who don’t care for halal do not object.
A case in point is that the meat supply in five-star hotels and airlines, including Air India, is largely controlled by halal-certified vendors. The increasing monopolisation of parts of the global food chain leaves us vulnerable economically.
Halal certifications have no legal or scientific basis but they have completely intruded into our food supply chain.
Halal certifications are an imposition on businesses and inflict huge costs on them. The halal market is now said to run into billions of dollars.
When companies like Amul, Patanjali, Cadbury, Bikaji, KFC, McDonald’s, Air India, and Indian Railways yield to halal pressure, we need to sit up and take note of this supply chain hijack.
The intolerant minority always wins, said Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his book Skin in The Game.
Halal survives because an intransigent minority refuses to yield.
The corporate world and even mighty state governments have either capitulated or feign ignorance of this pressure. Opposition to halal is often decried as Islamophobia, when what is being objected to is the infliction of non-scientific standards on others.
To sum up, this is what is at stake:
Halal meat has not been shown to be superior to jhatka meat scientifically. In fact, jhatka may be safer. Jhatka is the closest to humane slaughter.
Jhatka is religiously sanctioned for dharmiks and largely free from adulteration. Halal is about directly or indirectly capturing the food supply chain. Halal indirectly contributes to religious hegemony and impacts free choice. Halal can seriously jeopardise beneficial medical research.
Halal is an illegal imposition and a parallel food certification and supply system without checks and balances. Halal money is often unaccounted for, and some of this may be ending up in the wrong hands, including terrorists. Halal denies a fair playing field to competitors in the food business.
Note: The writer is a qualified medical professional, who wants to remain anonymous.