Halal Meat in U.S. Supermarkets

Woman buying packet of Meat at Grocery Store
Hisham Ibrahim/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty Images

A viral message circulating since 2011 warns American consumers not to purchase halal-certified meat sold in Costco or other U.S. supermarkets, claiming it's processed in plants "notorious" for "filth and uncleanliness" and unfit to eat. There is no factual basis for these claims.

  • Description: Forwarded email/viral text
  • Circulating since August 2011
  • Status: Mostly false (details below)
  • Example: Forwarded email text contributed by Peggy K., Sep. 7, 2011

    Fwd: Halal Meat in US Supermarkets

    SOMETHING TO BE AWARE OF!!!!!!

    "The other day I wrote about Costco stocking their meat counters with "Halal" meat." So yesterday I shopped for groceries at my local Walmart. As usual, I bought a bag of frozen chicken breasts, but this time I checked to make sure the meat was not labeled "Halal". Here’s why.

    Halal is the Islamic term that basically means the meat is lawful to eat for a devout Muslim. What makes it lawful or acceptable is that the meat has been processed in a very specific way. Unlike kosher food, where the physical processing of the meat is the focus, for Islam it is the spiritual component that makes the meat lawful.

    For lawful (halal) meat in Islam, the animal must be killed while the butcher faces Mecca, and either the butcher cries "Allah Akbar" or a tape plays the words over a loud speaker.

    Ann Barnhardt, is a cattle commodities broker, has more about "Halal."

    NEVER buy meat that is marked as "Halal".

    I am in the cattle business, and believe me when I tell you that Halal kill plants are CONSTANTLY being cited and shut down by the USDA for horrific, infractions. Most of these plants are in Michigan and upstate New York.

    One of the things that halal kill plants are notorious for is putting already-dead animals in the human consumption line. They will go pick up a dead cow off of a farm or ranch and instead of putting it in their rendering tank where the resulting "tankage" is worth pennies on the dollar as pet food or industrial products, they will shackle the dead animal on the normal kill line and process it as human food which is the highest-dollar product.

    Since Islam teaches dishonesty (taqiyyah) and no regard for one’s neighbor, this kind of sickening behavior is standard.

    Halal plants are also notorious for general citations for filth and uncleanliness. I have toured normal cattle slaughter plants, and guys, you could eat off of the floor. Everything is white and men walk around with water hoses and steam guns constantly keeping everything in a state of spotlessness.

    Halal plants are filthy. A lot of Halal meat is also labeled as "organic".

    Again, don’t be fooled into thinking that "halal" means "better". It isn’t. I would never, ever knowingly eat halal meat purely from a food safety perspective.

    Analysis

    Though it purports to convey authoritative information about the production and quality of halal meats sold in the United States, this text misstates crucial facts and makes a boatload of unsupported allegations.

    It's true that meat products carrying the halal certification label are becoming more common in U.S. supermarkets, particularly in cities with large Muslim populations such as New York, Los Angeles, and Detroit.

    Among the national grocery chains offering halal products in select stores are Costco, Wal-Mart, and Safeway.

    Misrepresenting Halal

    It's also true that Islamic dietary rules include a requirement to utter the name of Allah when an animal is slaughtered, but there's much more to halal than that. The email is incorrect when it states that the main difference between kosher and halal rules is that the former are focused on processing while the latter are focused on "the spiritual component." Both sets of laws have a spiritual component, and both lay down basic physical requirements for the sourcing and slaughter of animals and the proper handling of meats.

    The Arabic word halal means "permitted" or "allowed." According to our Islam expert, Muslims are allowed to eat "what is 'good' (Qur'an 2.168) — that is, what is pure, clean, wholesome, nourishing, and pleasing to the taste. In general, everything is allowed (halal) except what has been specifically forbidden."

    Here's an abbreviated list of foods that are prohibited (haram):

    • dead meat (i.e. carcass of an already-dead animal)
    • blood
    • the flesh of swine (pork)
    • intoxicating drinks
    • the meat of an animal that has been sacrificed to idols
    • the meat of an animal that died from strangulation or blunt force
    • the meat from which wild animals have already eaten

    Note that not only does the forwarded email omit all mention of these specific requirements, it actually goes on to claim, without evidence, that halal slaughterhouses are "notorious" for doing something expressly forbidden in Islam: butchering animals that were already dead when brought to the slaughterhouse.

    Misrepresenting Islam

    The message further claims that, "Since Islam teaches dishonesty (taqiyyah) and no regard for one’s neighbor, this kind of sickening behavior is standard," which is a complete misrepresentation of the Islamic teaching, not to mention a slur commonly found on anti-Muslim websites.

    While the definition of taquiyyah does entail deception of a kind, it cannot be equated with ordinary dishonesty and in fact, has no place in this discussion at all.

    As defined by Encyclopedia Britannica, taquiyyah is the practice of "concealing one's belief and foregoing ordinary religious duties when under threat of death or injury," which is a very specific form of deception condoned only under very specific circumstances. It is not a universal license to lie.

    Sanitation

    Lastly, the email claims, again without evidence, that halal plants are "notorious for general citations for filth and uncleanliness" and "CONSTANTLY being cited and shut down by the USDA for horrific infractions."

    To the contrary, I've found nothing in the public record to indicate that halal meat processing plants are generally less sanitary or more often cited for health infractions than standard or kosher meat processing plants across the U.S., nor is there any reason to expect, based on Islamic dietary laws alone, that halal plants would produce inferior or less wholesome products than non-halal plants. All meat processors in the United States are required to meet the same USDA/FSIS sanitation standards.

    Sources and Further Reading