There was a fowl smell in the air last week. It was caused by the slaughter of chickens; only it wasn’t. It was the rotten stink of hypocrisy and prejudice masquerading as the people’s right to know.
‘The outcry by some people in the media about halal meat is laughable when looked at rationally, but that is not how these issues are looked at’
The halal hysteria wasn’t anything to do with animal welfare or food labeling. It was a media-created moral panic and as such it told us much about the state of diversity in modern Britain.
This was not about animal welfare: the supermarkets and restaurants using halal meat confirmed the animals were stunned before having their throats cut. In which case they is little difference between this and methods used by other abattoirs that involve stunning the animal before electrocuting it, or firing a bolt through its brain.
But people need to know what they are eating and how it was slaughtered. Most of us don’t care to investigate too deeply into the methods of killing the animals we are happy to eat, as long as it was done humanely. If our objections were about the killing of animals for meat we would be vegetarians. Clearly to Muslims and other religious groups the method of slaughter is important, but to most of us it is not something we are very interested in.
Pressing emotional buttons
So what do the newspaper headlines and radio phone-ins tell us about diversity in this country? First, they confirm that we are becoming a more diverse country. At present, black and minority ethnic groups make up about 15 per cent of the population and the latest population trends predict this will rise to 20-30 per cent in the next 50 years.
‘As a country we may be becoming more diverse but we are not entirely comfortable with the idea’
While 15 percent can seem like a small percentage, it is not evenly distributed so in some cities it will be much higher and in some rural areas it will be much lower. The food industry has realised the marketing implications of this, which is why KFC, Nando’s and Pizza Express use halal meet in their restaurants in major cities: they want to broaden their customer base. Likewise hospitals and schools also use halal meet, so that everyone can eat the same meals.
The outcry by some people in the media that we are being secretly given “ritually slaughtered meat” is laughable when looked at rationally, but that is not how these issues are looked at. What the reaction to the use of halal meat shows is that as a country we may be becoming more diverse but we are not entirely comfortable with the idea. This is something the NHS needs to address, as it is required to provide a service to the whole community.