A Cherwell investigation into the origin of meat produce at Oxford has revealed that up to 17 colleges may have been serving exclusively halal meat to their students, without being aware of the fact.
A Freedom of Information request to the University showed that Field Fresh Farms, who supply many undergraduate colleges, including St Catherine’s and Brasenose, were providing meat products slaughtered using the halal method “as standard” up until June of last year.
The catering firm were unaware that the abattoir which supplied them with their meat had switched to killing all its animals using the Islamic method of slaughter.
Simon Warren, the General Manager of Field Fresh Farms, told Cherwell that the company had had problems with the Mutch Meat Abattoir in Witney. He said, “We had consistent issues with slaughter procedure at Mutch Meat.
“There were blood spots in the meat, which I understand from butchers means that the animals were distressed prior to being killed.”
This produce was then sold on to Oxford colleges, which means that it is almost certain to have been consumed in dining halls.
Halal dietary requirements in Islam include the prescribed method of ritual slaughter of livestock. The animal is killed by a swift, deep incision with a sharp knife across the neck, severing through the windpipe and jugular veins, but leaving the spinal cord intact. The animal then bleeds to death.
There is widespread debate over whether the halal method of slaughter causes undue suffering to animals. European animal welfare regulations currently require all farm animals to be stunned before they are killed, but religious methods of slaughter such as halal for Muslims or shechita for Jews (a similar process) are exempt.
The Farm Animals Welfare Council, a government committee, has recently researched slaughter methods. Its findings concluded that in halal slaughter, “such a massive injury results in very significant pain and distress” and recommended that “slaughter without pre-stunning is unacceptable and that the Government should repeal the current exemption.”
The news that students may have been consuming halal meat for months without knowing about it caused concern among some.
One second year Medicine student at Brasenose, one of the colleges supplied by Field Fresh Farms, said, “I don’t like the idea that we have been eating halal meat without knowing.
“I don’t object to it on principle because it’s part of the Muslim religion and that’s fair enough, but we should have been told so that we could make an informed choice. Some people might not want to eat halal meat for ethical reasons, and they should be given the option not to.”
Field Farm Fresh still supply Oxford colleges, but recently switched suppliers to a company which uses non-halal killing methods.
When asked whether they thought that consumers had a right to know whether the meat processed by Mutch Meat had been slaughtered in a non-traditional and possibly crueller manner, a spokesperson declined to comment.
James Bennett, Chair of the University’s Domestic Bursar Committee and Bursar at St Catherine’s, noted that Field Farm Fresh are just one of many catering companies used by the University. Since purchasing decisions are made at the discretion of individual colleges, it is very difficult to determine whether meat served in college dining halls not labelled as halal is still produced in this method.
Colin Dalton, of David John butchers in the Covered Market, said, “Non-halal meat is definitely more humane, because the animal is stunned before death and is therefore not afraid.
“We occasionally order in and sell halal meat when it is requested by a customer, but we would never sell it to people without telling them it was halal. People have the right to choose.
“We used to supply meat to all the colleges ourselves, but it’s all central now. It comes down to money, and I think making everything halal is a symptom of that.”
Cherwell understands that a number of large abattoirs in Britain have started killing all their livestock using halal methods in recent years, because it enables them to supply the Muslim market and save on the costs of using two different methods.
Not all students were upset by the news, however. Emma Ferguson, a second year Modern Languages student at St Catherine’s, said, “I think it’s a good thing; it doesn’t affect anyone negatively. I can’t think of any reason why anyone would mind.”
Alistair Harden, Vice-President of the Oxford University Animal Ethics Society, commented, “The issue of halal methods of slaughter is divisive, and there is no consensus on how much suffering it causes.
“However, as far as slaughter is concerned, there is simply no right answer from an ethical point of view.
“As practiced today, no method has humane treatment of the animal at heart, and modern stunning methods often go wrong and inflict unimaginable pain.”