The organic food industry has come a long way in the past decade. Large numbers of people are turning to this more ethical, healthy and natural alternative to the heavily processed products currently widely available. Whether it is meat, vegetables or any other food product, the organic trend is here to stay. Surprisingly, Muslims have been relatively slow to adopt a more organic approach to the food they eat, even though organic principles sit quite comfortably within the Islamic world view. Nowhere is this more applicable than in the meat we eat.
There is actually nothing new or groundbreaking about organic farming or breeding. In fact it is the exact opposite. It is about cultivating our food in a way that is simple, natural and honest. It is based on a low input/low output agricultural system, one which our ancestors used for generations before the advent of large-scale mechanised farming methods and the widespread use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides. Its approach is based on maintaining a sound and well-balanced eco-system and living in harmony with nature. The organic system is the purest practical way to minimise chemicals in food, and environmental impact, combined with the highest standards of animal welfare.
What is Organic Meat?
In short the basic elements of organic meat production are:
1. It complies to world-wide legally defined standards.
2. There is a registered trail for each animal so that any given piece of meat can be traced back to the farm it was reared on.
3. It operates to the very highest levels of animal welfare.
4. No drugs, growth promoters, animal offal or any other additives are given to animals.
5. Animal feed must be grown to organic standards.
6. Artificial fertilisers, pesticides or chemicals cannot be used on feed crops or grass.
7. Genetically Modified Organisms are banned.
What you get with an organic animal is a guarantee that 1) the meat is chemical free and 2) that is has been raised in accordance with strict welfare guidelines.
Striving for what is halal and tayyib
Muslims have been commanded in the Qur’an to eat from what is ‘halal and tayyib’. Although there are endless debates of what consititutes halal meat, few of us ever question the way animals are treated prior to the basmallah. I feel that Muslims need to question the methods of intensive farming and mass slaughter, both of which make few, if any, concessions to the welfare of the animals involved. Perhaps we have become obsessed with the slogan of “halal” and have forgotten the importance of “tayyib” (meaning good, pure, natural).
As a general rule, animals are exploited. If one were to see the conditions they are born, bred and die in it would horrify anyone with a good heart. Chickens lead miserable lives in huge sheds, sharing their space and air with thousands of others. They do nothing but feed and get fat as fast as possible, ready to make their way to supermarkets selling them as “Value” meat or to a Chicken Cottage on the high street. Larger animals face similar problems. Lambs are pumped full of steroids to make sure they don’t die, ewes with hormones so they give birth out of season and both feed on grass treated with insecticides. Cattle are sometimes born and bred in sheds; they never see daylight or eat a blade of grass.
Perhaps we as Muslims need to start asking ourselves whether this is ‘tayyib’. Is this something we are truly happy eating? Do we want to eat meat from animals that fed on other animals or strong chemicals? That led a miserable life and a stressful end? Does this method of farming sit with the ethos and spirit of Islam and the idea of “rahmah” and kindness to animals? These are questions for us all to consider…
These are some of the reasons why some Muslims are turning to meat that is halal and organic. Not only does this guarantee that your meat fulfils the criteria laid down in the Shari’ah, it also guarantee animal welfare, good standards and clean meat. In addition, the fact that the industry is heavily regulated means you know what you are getting. Anywhere you see the organic logo you can rest assured it is organic. For Muslims, finding both organic and halal can be hard due to certain regulations (like what?) but where they do, if the company is a certified business they can be guaranteed that a regulatory body such as the Soil Association has inspected the company, its slaughter procedures, hygiene and more.
Halal is not only about someone saying ‘Bismillah’ when slaughtering an animal. It is so much more. The sooner Muslims start to realise this, the sooner we can start bringing about positive change in our diets, in our own halal industry, and in our society.