Naved Syed is a member of the halal steering group of the English Beef and Lamb Executive (EBLEX) and advises a number of major companies on halal topics.
He pointed out that Australia and New Zealand have developed strong export sales of halal meat to the Middle East, but in contrast the UK supplies only a tiny fraction of the market.
The reason that Middle Eastern buyers are reluctant to engage with the UK market, he said, is because there is not an agreed halal standard that is implemented across the UK industry.
But he added that there was no reason this could not happen. As long ago as February 2003, the FSA issued guidelines that had been agreed by Muslim leaders and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
But only one government body, the Prison Service, had implemented the guidelines. Trading Standards and Environmental Health departments across the country are still not using them, even though they were reissued to them in September 2010, said Syed.
Instead, said Syed, they are relying on halal certification bodies, which set their own standards, and in some cases contradict the FSA guidelines.
“We have the guidelines. They cost a lot of money. If Muslim scholars have agreed these guidelines and the government has agreed them, why aren’t we working to them?
“Unless we adopt these guidelines we are restricting this country’s exports to the Middle East. We want our political leaders to open our export market from the UK.”
“As soon as the guidelines are accepted, we will have a £1bn business opened up overnight to the Middle East. If Australia and New Zealand can export to the Middle East, why can’t the UK do it? The Middle East is the biggest market for halal and it has not been tapped.”
He said there was a common misconception that stunning of animals before slaughter was a problem, but the FSA guidelines allowed this. “The extremists keep arguing about stunning and non stunning but we have moved forward on that.”
He said that animal welfare regulations in both Australia
and New Zealand required animals to be stunned prior to slaughter, and this did not hamper their exports.
However, he said the acceptance of machine killing by some UK halal certifiers was a problem. “There is very little arguing about stunning or non-stunning, but what Muslims won’t get over is machine killing. They just won’t accept it and none of the Middle East countries are doing it.”
He said the FSA guidelines stipulated that the slaughter man must have a sharp knife, that he must sever the jugular veins and carotid arteries as well as the oesophagus and trachea, but not the spinal cord, and that he must pray over each animal.
But Syed said that with automated poultry lines, with killing rates of up to 20,000 chickens an hour, there was a circular blade rather than a sharp knife, there was no opportunity to pray over each bird, and machines averaged decapitation in 3-5% of cases.
Peter Hardwick, EBLEX head of trade development, said: “EBLEX represents the beef and lamb sector and is not in a position to comment on poultry. The beef and sheep processing sector supports the FSA guidelines. However, we do not believe that this is the main obstacle in relation to exports to the Middle East.
“We agree entirely that not having one certificate or assurance scheme for Halal does present us with challenges in some export markets. Having such a scheme in place would be beneficial and we are happy to work closely with the Halal sector to achieve this, along similar lines to New Zealand and Australia.
He added: “There are great opportunities to export to the Middle East and we are working hard to develop them."
To read why Syed claims KFC Fried Chicken’s halal meals may not be truly halal, click here.
To read why halal meat firms have welcomed recent raids by police and Trading Standards officers, click here.
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Meanwhile, the Food and Drink Federation confirmed today (September 28) that UK food and drink exports rose by 2.2% to reach £5.9bn in the first six months of this year. To read more, click here.