Why halal will be critical for UK meat market

Customers who buy halal meat in the UK and Europe are becoming increasingly important to lamb producers.

The fall of domestic lamb retail sales by one-third in the 10 years to 2011 would have been greater but for the growing Muslim community, where consumption of mutton and lamb is higher than the UK average.

A recent AHDB Beef & Lamb halal seminar heard that despite making up just 4.6% of the population, UK Muslims accounted for 24% of lamb and 16% of domestic mutton consumption in 2011, and AHDB Beef & Lamb predict this to have grown since then.

While the UK population has increased by 3% since 2011, conservative estimates indicate the Muslim population to have risen by 5.6% in the same period to more than three million people, helping to slow the rate of national decline in sheepmeat sales. 

See also: Halal sheep demand offers UK farmers opportunities

A total of 94% of first-generation UK Muslims eat only halal meat, but this figure declines to 90% and 81% for the second and third generations respectively, according to a 2011 AHDB Beef & Lamb study.

With a disproportionately young Muslim population in the UK – 33% are younger than 15 – compared with a national average of 19% – the reliability of halal demand could wane when the next generation become household shoppers.

The report said this presented an opportunity, but also raised the question whether these consumers would continue to buy halal British lamb or switch to other sources of protein such as poultry.

Export potential

France and Germany have Europe’s two largest Muslim populations, accounting for about 10 million people, which presents huge export opportunities for UK halal products.

The two nations accounted for 66.5% of total UK sheepmeat exports of 69,797t in the first 11 months of 2016.

With both nations’ Muslim communities burgeoning, partly because of the refugee crisis, export demand for halal lamb is expected to increase across the Continent.

The debate  

One of the biggest issues within the Islamic community is whether stun or non-stun techniques should be adopted as standard practice for halal slaughtering.

While the European Convention for the Protection of Animals for Slaughter generally requires EU countries to stun animals before slaughter, it allows exemptions for individual countries under the European Convention on Human Rights’ freedom of religion clause.

The lack of any centralised global Islamic governing body to provide guidance has left the definition of halal open to interpretation among the many sects of the religion.


A 2015 Food Standards Agency (FSA) survey measuring animal welfare in abattoirs showed that despite non-stun slaughter at halal abattoirs being in the minority, it was a growing practice.

The survey showed the vast majority of halal slaughtering includes stunning – just 2% of cattle, 15% of sheep and goats and 3% of poultry were not stunned prior to slaughter.

However, this represented a 31% increase for cattle and 56% rise for sheep and goats on the same survey two years before.

Muslim consumers are often left in the dark as to whether some methods of pre-slaughter stunning qualify as genuine halal, and consequently often demand non-stunned slaughter as their only means of guaranteeing they avoid committing haram (doing something that is forbidden under Islamic law).

For those who do accept stunning at slaughter – approximately three-quarters of UK Muslims – for the meat to be considered halal it must be proven that any stunning does not kill the animal before it is slaughtered.

The Halal Food Authority, a UK not-for-profit organisation that has a halal standard accreditation, does permit pre-slaughter stunning. However, this stipulates the procedure must only stun and not kill the animal or bird – also known as a recoverable stun.

The issue is exacerbated by the inability of the government and its agencies to demonstrate this “recoverable stun” to Muslim consumers.

Animal welfare law prevents animals being stunned unless they are to be slaughtered immediately afterwards to prevent unnecessary cruelty.

Welfare confusion

A 2010 AHDB Beef & Lamb assessment of the halal sector found there was a large degree of confusion among Muslim focus groups.

Of those asked, most believed stunning was haram, that non-stunning was the correct method of halal slaughter and believed non-stunning was the least cruel method of slaughter for animals.

Organisations such as the Halal Monitoring Committee argue that when religious slaughter is practised properly it minimises animal suffering, unlike stunning in abattoirs, which it claims frequently fails.

This level of stun failure should be no higher than 5% of total slaughtering, according to Temple Grandin, a world-renowned authority on animal welfare.

However, the British Veterinary Association (BVA) and other bodies including the Humane Slaughter Association (HSA) and the RSPCA contest the view that stunning is worse for animal welfare.

“Scientific evidence demonstrates that slaughter without pre-stunning compromises animal welfare,” said then BVA president Robin Hargreaves in 2014.

“Our principle is that all animals should be effectively stunned before they are slaughtered.”

Halal future

The government is assessing a number of recommendations from the All Party Parliamentary Group for Beef and Lamb that was published in 2014.

Some of the proposals include the ability for abattoirs to demonstrate post-stun recovery, making public the statistics of instances of mis-stunning as well as mandatory stun/non-stun labelling for religious slaughter products.

Global halal standards

  • Germany: Slaughterers must justify that the number of animals they slaughter are to satisfy the needs of a specific religious community before they are awarded a license.
  • Denmark: Banned all non-stun ritual slaughter in 2014 (as did Poland in 2013)
  • New Zealand: 95% of all lamb exports are halal slaughtered. All animals slaughtered in the halal method are stunned before slaughter.  
  • Australia: All animals must be stunned before slaughter. For those exempt on religious slaughter grounds post-slaughter stunning is required.
  • France: Animals must receive a post cut stun if they have not lost consciousness within 90 seconds following a cut being made.
  • Netherlands: All animals must be stunned if they have not lost consciousness in 40 seconds.