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Murky business behind the "Halal" label in France by Chris Kutschera

Sacrificer           Chris Kutschera
Sacrifice code       wfor0372
Sacrifice date       25 march 2009

Murky business behind the "Halal" label in France.

by Chris Kutschera

Chris Kutschera reports on the halal meat scandal

Nobody knows exactly how many Muslims live in France, but according
to various estimates, they number about four million - out of a total
population of 60 million. If all are good Muslims and eat
only "halal" meat the meat of animals that have been ritually
slaughtered - it means that halal meat could account for at least 10
% to 15%, of the French national market.

In the north eastern Parisian districts where immigrants are
concentrated, such as boulevards Belleville, Menilmontant and
Villette, almost all the butcher shops carry signs such as "Halal but
chery" and "Muslim butchery". Abandoned by their traditional
customers who now buy 80% of their meat in large department stores,
French butchers are selling their shops to Muslim immigrants.

Most Muslim religious leaders and French experts agree that no more
than 5% to 10% of the meat sold as "halal" in France is really
halal. "Between 90% and 95% of the meat sold in Muslim butcher shops
is not halal," said a spokesman from the Ministry of Agriculture. "A
butcher buys one sheep that has been slaughtered ritually by a Muslim
cleric, and displays it prominently in the window, with its blue and
green stamps. But all the other meat that is sold in the shop comes
from, the wholesale market at Rungis, near Paris and is definitely
not halal."

Larbi Kechat, the rector of the Ad Dawa mosque, known as the
Stalingrad mosque, one of the biggest in Paris, agrees that a "very
large percentage of shops sell meat that is not really halal. Because
everybody knows now that Islam brings money. These people want to
grow rich at any cost."

Paradoxically, the problem of the false halal meat in a country which
is both secular and Christian by an outstanding majority, has become
a national issue. Firstly, because like all labels, "halal" falls
under French law, which prohibits the cheating of the consumer and
the selling of a product that is not what it claims to be. Secondly,
because huge amounts of money are involved. And thirdly, because this
problem touches the sensitive issue of the organisation of the Muslim
community in France.

To qualify as halal the meat must come from an animal that is
not "haram" - or forbidden - for example, pig. It must also come from
an animal slaughtered by a Muslim, who cuts the throat of the animal
so that it bleeds to death, faced towards Mecca. The slaughterer must
also offer the prayer "Bismilla Rahim wa Allah Akbar" (In the name of
Allah, Allah is great).

In all European countries and in France in particular, the killing of
animals for meat consumption is regulated by many laws and decrees
that aim at protecting the consumer - and his health and the animal
from suffering.

Normally, animals are killed by a mechanical or an electric shock.
But special dispensations are granted to slaughterhouses that cater
for the Jewish and Muslim communities. This raises technical
problems: since the animal dies by bleeding, it slows down the
production of the slaughterhouse - 25 cattle are killed each hour,
for example, instead of 30. When it comes to chickens, two men can
slaughter ritually between 1,000 and 2,000 chickens each hour,
instead of 6,000 when it is done automatically.

In 1980 a decree was passed ruling that animals can be ritually
slaughtered only by people "qualified b y registered religious
organisations", and that such organisations must be "registered by
the Ministry of Agriculture". To keep checks on the slaughterers and
the meat a new profession was born - that of "controller".

These controllers ensure that the animal is killed ritually, and
authentication stamps are placed on various parts of the carcass, as
a guarantee. All these organisations have one thing in common: they
charge the slaughterhouse for this control. It can be a yearly fee of
up to FF36,000, a daily tax of around FF800, a tax per animal or per
kilo. In turn, the slaughterhouse passes the charge on to the
butcher, who charges the consumer.

In just a few years, numerous organisations of controllers have been
set up and competition between them is stiff. Besides the French
internal market, there is another market, halal meat for export to
North Africa and the Middle East, which amounts to about 200,000 tons
of meat and 200,000 tons of chicken, according to estimates made by
the Ministry of Agriculture. Again various organisations of
controllers check the meat is ritually slaughtered and get paid for
doing so.

French officials and Muslim leaders agree that most of these
organisations are working more for the money than for the welfare of
the Muslim community.

One in particular has been the subject of controversy. According to
most observers, the organisation is doing serious work, inspecting
the slaughterhouses as well as the butchers shops, to make sure that
they sell only halal meat. But there are also a number of rumours.
According to various sources, the organisation also takes money,
under the table, both from the slaughterhouses and from the butchers

Khalil Merroun, the Moroccan-born rector of the Islamic Centre of
Evry, does not hesitate to condemn "controllers" who threaten the
butchers, saying: "If you do not take our meat, we will tell the
people your meat is not halal." In less diplomatic words,
FrenchInterior Ministry officials speak of a "racket."

These organisations of controllers are also actively trying to get
into the export market. SOCOPA, the leading French exporter, is
exporting 110,000 tons of meat a year, and about half of it is halal.
BIRET International is exporting a little less than 15,000 tons of
meat a year, and ARCADIE about 7,500. France is also exporting large
amounts of chicken to North Africa and the Middle East, some 200,000
tons a year, of which 100,000 tons are exported by a single company,
DOUX, from Brittany. Obviously, it is a juicy market for

Not content with French assurances, Iran imposes its own strict
guidelines on French meat exports. Contracts for the Islamic republic
are negotiated directly with the French government, which directs
Iranian importers to recommended meat exporters. Iran then sends a
large team to France including a veterinarian, several officials
working for IMO (Iran Meat organisation) and an Imam. The Imam visits
the slaughterhouse, tests the slaughterers, and checks the whole
process at every stage. The end halal certificates carry three
different signatures.

At the other end of the spectrum, Algeria, Egypt and Tunisia are
satisfied with importing meat provided it carries the stamp "halal".
According to persistent rumours, clever Algerian businessmen based in
Marseilles import boat loads of meat from Argentina, and re-export it
straight to North Africa after a local Imam puts the stamp "halal" on
the documents in return for a generous stipend.

It was to clarify this unhealthy situation that the French government
issued a decree acknowledging the Big Mosque of Paris as the only
organisation qualified to nominate slaughterers and to control their

All the other Muslim organisations in France were furious and,
denouncing the Big Mosque's "hegemony", announced they would boycott
the product. The uproar was such that the French Minister of Interior
postponed the implementation of the decree, which has never been
heard of since. More than 1,300 Muslim associations are registered in
France, with no less than 48 in the city of Marseille. All have their
own opinions on the matter, all are aware that ultimately it is the
man in the street who is being forced to pay the price of the bribery
and corruption.

"The only way is to force all those who are fighting is to sit around
a table and talk," says Larbi Kechat, rector of the Ad Dawa mosque of
Paris. "It is high time to establish priorities and to allocate
tasks, to solve the problem of halal meat and to organise an
authentic Islamic teaching." But many believe the war has only begun.


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