Two different countries in Europe. Two food products. Same fear-mongering tactics about Muslims. The objects of these political manoeuvres: meat and cheese.
|Focus on the sliced beef|
Some background information on this polemic: Sometime in 2010, Uitgesproken EO, an evangelical (read: Christian) broadcasting organisation did a feature on halal food in NL. They filmed interviews of people on the street, asking them questions like "What do you think of the involvement of ritual slaughter (read: Muslim) in your food without your knowledge?" and their shocked responses.
It turns out that Friesland Campina, a major producer of dairy products in NL, is using rennet from halal-butchered calves to make their cheese. Rennet contains several enzymes used to coagulate milk into curds and whey. These enzymes can also be derived from plant or microbial sources. A comprehensive explanation here.
The reason for their use of halal rennet? One reason is profit -- there's simply more demand for halal lactose for use in halal baby milk products than there is supply -- possibly driven by the 1 million Muslims in NL or the 53 million in Europe.
Muslims who read this might think, that's good news! I don't have to worry about eating Dutch cheese! And these non-Muslims shouldn't worry because they are following the right path, without even making the effort to do so!
But let's put aside this attitude of Muslim superiority for a minute. Let's consider for a minute that others have other paths, which they consider every bit as legitimate as we do our own. I can understand why they would be freaking out:
1. 'Halal' could refer to unethical slaughter practices.
Contrary to popular belief, a halal-certified butchery may still stun their animals before slaughter. In an ideal world, we would all ensure that our actions match our words. This means that all livestock and poultry raised for food would be treated well, given enough space to run around, no antibiotics or growth hormones, given food and drink before slaughter, and would be slaughtered by a pious Muslim, with a sharp knife, pronouncing God's name while facing Mecca, without letting the animal see the knife or other animals being slaughtered.
In reality, there are many practices that deviate from this ideal, e.g. using a speaker for God's name, stunning the animal before slaughter, hanging chickens upside down from a conveyor belt where they can all see each other, etc. In summary, a halal certificate may not necessarily include all of the above ideal conditions, and there is no way to know unless you visit the slaughterhouse yourself.
2. Non-religious or non-Muslims don't want their food slaughtered in the name of God.
In an ideal world, Jews, Christians and Muslims all theoretically and practically worship the one and the same God, and so all their food would be good to eat. Remember Qur'an verses 2:173, 5:3, 6:145, 16:115? Food dedicated to something other than God is for us, not permissible. This blogger has the same reasoning about unknowingly eating halal food (although he says it with a bit more vitriol). I also know a Sikh who avoids halal food for the same reason.
I understand. However, this incident has been used as an example of "creeping shari'a", the Islamisation of Europe, or the slow but steady "economic jihad" of Mozlems all over the world. Calling these food "secretly" halal just compounds fear about Mozlems!
It's interesting what halal food can be equated with. In the words of this Dutch blogger, eating halal food = stoning an 11 year-old girl in Sudan, putting women into blue burqas in Afghanistan, throwing a gay Yemeni off a building (could you possibly add more violent and backward stereotypes to the list?), therefore unknowingly eating halal food = agreeing with the abovementioned cruel practices happening in Muslim-majority countries (Hey, I don't agree with these practices either, and I condemn those who do!).
Over in France, Marine Le Pen from the far-right National Front Party fires up her (non-Muslim) voters with a similar idea of creeping Islamisation of Europe by claiming that all meat in Paris is, in fact, halal. O Marine, je suis venue, j'ai vu, et c'est pas vrai. The only halal meat one can find in Paris is still mostly in the Lebanese and Turkish kebab and shawarma shops, sorry!
Although I remember that Carrefour (back in 2006), just like Albert Heijn, sells clearly-marked halal certified meat in its larger supermarkets.
|Here you find 100% halal meat! @ Albert Heijn The Hague|
Where do we go from here? By all means, mark the meat as halal so that consumers can make informed choices, but there is no need to be equating halal with shari'a (because shari'a is so much more!) and the restrictive laws and practices of some sorry Muslim-ruled countries. There's also no need to use this halal issue to increase prejudice against immigrants of Moroccan, Algerian, and Turkish origins to Europe.