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What’s Halal the Fuss About?

Many humanists and atheists are vegetarian or vegan. My own personal anedata suggest we’ve got a much larger proportion for veggies/vegans than the general population. Even where not full vegetarians, humanists tend to be interested in the life of the animals that we’re eating: we want them to have lived reasonably well, and sustainably, without adversely impacting on future generations. Or at least, that’s what we say when we’re asked about it. I can’t claim to have ever seriously quibbled about the provenance of a sausage sandwich when I’ve a hangover, even if I try to buy ethically in the cold light of day.

Anyway, let’s talk about non-stunned meat. There are a lot of myths about stunning, so let’s start with some simple definitions.

Halal meat: Halal meat is, unsurprisingly, meat from an animal killed in a halal-compliant fashion. For the Halal Food Authortity (HFA)- the group who certify Halal food in the UK- this means killing the animal while a prayer is recited. It also means using a certain method of slaughter, and hanging the animal long enough for the blood to drain. According to the HFA, stunning is permitted, as long as the method does not kill the animal. There is some debate within Islam about stunning, however. Certain fatwas (“legal” or official interpretations of the Qur’an) say that no stunning at all is permissible. The UK Food Standards Agency figures from 2011 suggest 84% of cattle, 81% of sheep and 88% of chickens slaughtered for halal meat were stunned before they died.

Why is there so much halal on the market these days? It seems like I see it everywhere I go! That’s because, in order for a slaughterhouse to produce any halal meat (as certified by HFA), the whole slaughterhouse needs to be operating in a halal-compliant fashion, in order to avoid cross-contamination. Therefore, in order to market to Muslims and non-Muslims alike, slaughterhouse owners have been converting the whole process to halal-compliant. There’s nothing “conspiratorial” about it- just plain old fashioned capitalism at work!

Kosher meat: Kosher killing requires that the animal not be stunned. It is killed in a similar fashion to halal, and the blood is drained. For the hindquarters of the animal to be kosher, they must be porged (stripped of veins, fat and sinew), and because of the expense of this process, the hindquarters of commercially killed kosher animals often end up in the non-kosher market.

Jhatka meat: You might not have heard of this one, but Jhatka meat is from an animal slaughtered by a single-striked beheading. It is favoured by Sikhs and some Hindus. While commonly available in India, it is sometimes on offer in the UK.

But why is this an AHS issue, I hear you cry?

Because in 2010, Mike Paynter, Richy Thompson and Dom Wirdnam conducted a FOI survey of UK universities, to find out how many were providing non-stunned meat to their students, and how many were labelling it as such. An abridged version of their report and its findings is available here and the full version is available on request from the Campaigns officer (campaigns@ahsstudents.org.uk). In short, 30 universities responded that they did serve non-stunned meat. Another 15 were “maybe”s, where not enough info was given to determine whether the meat was stunned or non-stunned halal. Of the 45 that potentially sold non-stunned meat (where not enough information was given to know definitively) 5 had no labelling, and 25 mentioned only “halal” with no further details. Only Birmingham City University replied that yes, it was stated “on the packaging” the meat had not been stunned.

Yes, you read that right. Out of 154 institutions surveyed, with 45 potentially serving non-stunned meat, only one labelled it adequately.

This is a problem. It’s a problem for students who want to know what they’re eating, whether they’re Muslim or not Muslim. The AHS promotes choice for everyone, and that’s why we’re in favour of, wait for it, CLEARER LABELLING ON PACKAGING!

It’s worth noting that this is not a sneaky attempt to marginalise the needs of religious students: last year (May 2014), the government hinted that it was considering legislating for clearer labelling, and it was greeted with approval by both Muslim and Jewish leaders. Unfortunately, it was subsequently shelved.

So, what can you do?

Firstly, if you’re planning on doing something, get in touch with me! campaigns@ahsstudents.org.uk. Consider taking a look at the results of the survey, or contacting your university or students union directly with a FOI request (See our guidance on FOI requests here). Once you’ve got the facts to hand, it’s time for some good old fashioned lobbying. Write to your university, your SU, your student newspapers. Make people aware of what they’re eating. Consider teaming up with Isocs or Jsocs, or with animal welfare groups on campus.

Happy campaigning!

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AHS Newsletter

15th March 15

Matthew Power talks bread’n’cheddar; Sheffield brings the Jam

In this week’s correspondence: for the benefit of wannabe-AHS-Treasurers Matthew Power explains how to excel in the role; Sylvia Broeckx discusses the logistics of organising a transcontinental, regionally based Freethought Convention and I remind you all of the events to watch out for in March. We’ve the Young Humanists launch, the AHS Convention and a contest to win a free ticket to the BHA Conference (that’s £89 worth of ticket, FYI). Also, it’s Mothering Sunday! Here’s a little moral advice from Mr. T for you all to enjoy. Keep it real, yo.

Yours motheringly,

Luke Dabin

Communications Officer
communications@ahsstudents.org.uk


 

What’s the funniest, silliest or most illogical question you’ve been asked about being a Humanist?

At the AHS and Young Humanists, we’re running an incredibly silly competition to find the top ten worst questions you’ve been asked while talking about Humanism or Atheism. We’re looking for questions that are blatantly absurd, ridiculous and, of course, funny – the kind of thing that would instantly get your face to meet your palm. Whether it’s something you’ve been asked by a friend, family member or a complete stranger while out there promoting Humanism, we want to know!

The 10 best entrants (judged by representatives from Young Humanists, the AHS, and the BHA) will win a free ticket to the upcoming BHA Conference. Each ticket is worth £89 for students and more than £99 for non-students, so it’s not to be sniffed at, and definitely worth winning! Also, we’ll display the best questions at the AHS Convention.

Get your questions to us by 20th March! Entrants should be 18-35, or a current University student. You can enter more than one silly question, but we’ll only give you one free ticket if you get into the top 10. Good luck!

Spotlight on: Happening to be a Treasurer

The AHS is looking for a new treasurer! This role will be allocated at the AHS Convention on the 29th of March: any interested parties should email their manifestos to the executive at president@ahsstudents.org.uk as soon as possible. Info on what manifestos should contain can be found on the super secret AHS committee members Facebook page: ask your committee for guidance. Here’s a little more information about the role from a former custodian of the almighty dolla, Mathew Power.

Q. What made you think you’d be suited for the role of Treasurer?
I think all the executive positions share the same core skills. Those who can take the initiative and are passionate about helping lead the AHS will find themselves well suited to the role. Naturally, a head for numbers is a requirement but that doesn’t mean that only maths students can apply. When I ran for treasurer, I felt I could be a good organiser and enabler. Having been involved with running my Uni’s Atheist Society for a couple of years, it felt like a natural progression of something I already knew I could do.

Q. How does the treasurer help individual societies?
One of the key roles of the treasurer is to be leading the different grants schemes the AHS runs. This includes the grants for running events, as well as travel grants to AHS events, and also prizes that we award. Being available to dispense advice on how to apply is crucial. Over longer term, the treasurer should always be taking very active interest in how the AHS fundraisers to meet its needs. The better we can raise funds, the more we can support societies and thus fulfil the aims of the AHS.

Q. How many hours a week did you spend on treasurer-ing? Treasuring? That stuff you do with the money.
It varied greatly. On average around 6 hours a week, although that did go up when working towards events like the Convention.

Q. Hypothetical question: is there room to embezzle?
Ha! No. The treasurer needs to report quarterly to the board and annually to the Caucus at the AGM. It’s very necessary to keep on top things and make sure the AHS is working within it’s annual budget.

Q. What did you get out of the experience? Any prized skills or memorable moments?
The position is immensely rewarding. I always got the biggest kick out of running the big events, which was two great AGMs and two Conventions. People gave very kind feedback and showed their enjoyment. It’s also a position that involves a lot of responsibility and requires you to figure a lot out for yourself. Those are the kind of soft skills that employers find highly valuable that a degree can’t necessarily give you. A big highlight would have to be when we got AC Grayling at the Convention in 2013.

Q. What is your favourite coin (and why)?
That’s a tough question Luke! Perhaps if I can give you a piece of coin trivia instead, that Sterling coins together form a shield design, which I think is pretty cool. (Editor’s note: it absolutely is cool)

Matthew Power was the Treasurer for the National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies. If you have questions regarding how that went or how you can take up the mantle, email him here!

Level unlocked: Convention Organiser

A guide to doing something wonderful, by Sylvia Broeckx

Last July, as the newly elected president of the University of Sheffield Secular & Atheist Society I decided to attend the AHS’ AGM in Liverpool. Among the many interesting ideas that floated around that weekend, the prospect of organising a regional convention really caught my attention.

However, as our society that was pretty much on death’s door and had a non-committed committee, this idea would probably turn off anyone but the most enthusiastic and ambitious of people. So count me in!

After a successful series of events in the first few weeks of the academic year and armed with a new committee, it was time to set the plans in motion for a convention.

Step 1: Check with the Students’ Union what our options are. Answer: “Whatever you want to do is fine by us, just keep us up to date. Also, don’t forget to apply for our grants.” Okay then: let’s dream big. Instead of just holding a half day or full day convention, why not make it a weekend? We decided on a social event for Friday evening, guest speakers and a dinner on Saturday, workshops and seminars on Sunday.

Step 2: Set a date. We decided on February: early on in the semester and not too close to the AHS Convention. A weekend. 13th-15th February. We already imagined a fun superstition bash on Friday the 13th. But then some hardened romantics discouraged us from holding a convention on Valentine’s day. The week after it is! We confirmed our first speaker, who came back to us two weeks later to say he couldn’t make that weekend due to another commitment.

[Editor’s note: guess the expletive!]

Third time’s the charm: the weekend of 27 February to 1 March.

Step 3: Decide on a theme. We wanted a convention with talks that were somewhat connected. Apostasy, blasphemy, free speech… these were topics that kept coming up and seemed relevant, so that’s what we went for.

Step 4: Set a budget. At this stage, with only one speaker confirmed, we hardly knew what our expenses would be, but we did know where we’d be able to get funds. Between the Union’s grant, our society’s bank balance and the promise of an AHS grant, we already had some idea of what we could play with. We also decided to try and get ourselves some sponsorship. A friendly email, which included several sponsorship levels, was sent to dozens of companies and organisations. Most of them never even bothered to respond to us. In the end, we had 4 sponsors, this pretty much doubled our budget and didn’t even take into account ticket sales.

Step 5: Get ourselves some more interesting speakers. We thought it would be important to have a convention that wasn’t full of old white men on the podium, however interesting they may be. With one speaker in the bag, I set out to find others. As I’ve been friends with David Fitzgerald for a few years, I casually asked him if he’d be interested in giving a talk providing we’d somehow get enough sponsorship to fly him over from San Francisco. As it became clear the cost would be too high, I didn’t pursue it any further.

Until, one evening, I get a message from David asking if we’re still organising a convention and if we’d be interested in having him if he paid for his own plane ticket, we would just pay for his expenses in the UK. Why yes! Yes we would be very interested. Moral of the story is aim high + don’t ask, don’t get. That was two speakers. We researched other potential speakers, sent out friendly emails and less than two weeks later we had a full roster. Easy!

Step 6: Venues. The main venue to arrange was the Saturday. Unfortunately, as this was going to be an event that was open to the public, we couldn’t get a free venue from the university. Lecture theatres came with a significant price tag and porter charges on top of that. Ouch. But then, the university has a couple of really nice halls, which are surprisingly good value for money and no porter charges…

Mappin Hall it is! We decided to keep the Sunday workshop there too, out of convenience. That left us with finding a venue for the Friday and Saturday social. For Saturday we wanted a nice 3 course dinner, with the option of some entertainment, at a student-friendly price. It took me a while to find a place which didn’t have expensive room rates and I lucked out with a nice little cafe in an ideal location. The Friday evening venue was more of a miss than a hit. The pub we chose was a bit too loud and not very conducive to good conversation. Sorry.

Step 7: All the little stuff, aka sleepless nights. Marketing, chasing speakers for info, designing posters and programme booklets, setting ticket prices, selling tickets (Eventbrite, the Union’s ticket system, …?), arranging refreshments and food for speakers and volunteers, finding a free photographer, updating budgets, collating info packs for speakers, confirming attendees and volunteers, getting lanyards, figuring out the social media, putting the schedule together, liaising with the Union, dealing with the weirdos who screamed class warfare when there weren’t concessions for OAPs… All of this while still doing a degree and having a job, whoop-dee-doo.

With the wise words of Wesley Wyndham-Pryce in the back of my head I was ready. “Remember the three key words for any Slayer Convention Organiser: Preparation… preparation… preparation.”

(“That’s one word three times.”)
[Editor’s note: it is a good word]

Step 8: 9.45pm Thursday, less than 24 hours before the start of the convention. An email from Maryam Namazie arrived, saying she couldn’t make it due to illness. She had a replacement, Amal Farah, lined up but at a significantly higher cost (last minute train ticket and childcare). This would eat through our contingency budget and then some. Frantic phone calls to other committee members, messages to anyone we could think of who would be able to help us with an alternative. By 11pm we hadn’t managed to find a cheaper suitable replacement. We needed to make a decision fast: do we blow our budget on a guaranteed quality speaker or do we wait and keep searching? I picked the former, chose security as I needed to be able to sleep. This turned out to be the right decision.

From there on, it was pretty much plain sailing. A few little hiccups, hot water urns turning up late and a volunteer not turning up at all were the worst things that happened, which probably went unnoticed.

Attendance was a little lower than what we had hoped, but we had a fine and interested crowd. The speakers were all more than great and everything ran on schedule. I managed to convince Andrew Copson to show up on Sunday morning at 10.30am instead of his scheduled time of 11.30am (you will respect my authority, Andrew Copson). We still managed to come in on budget and our attendees were generous in giving us kind words.

All in all, I’m pretty happy with how the first ever Sheffield Freethought Convention turned out. Now I just hope it won’t be the last.

Sylvia Broeckx is the President of Sheffield Secular and Atheist Society, Regional Officer for Yorkshire and the Humber, Director of Hug an Atheist and general overachiever. Sheffield’s convention was amazing and we should all be very jealous.

You can see more photos of this amazing convention at https://www.flickr.com/photos/131877355@N05/sets/72157650870630307/


Book your tickets.

Friday: Mixer Social, Young Humanists Launch
Saturday: Speaker/panel sessions, evening entertainment
Sunday: Workshops for society members

Student tickets are just £15 for all 3 days, and travel grants are available for journey costs over £25. All information you ever could want is on the website, which you can access by clicking the above banner. Join the Facebook group here! At the time of writing we have over 50 attendees; you don’t want to be the only society that didn’t represent.
.

Update: If you’d like to help out on the day as a runner, please register your interest by emailing president@ahsstudents.org.uk before March 10th! That’s TOMORROW, you eager beavers.

See also:
Speakers
Schedule
Tickets & Travel Grants

Venues & Accessibility


The UK’s grandest and greatest Humanist gathering

Check the Convention webpage by clicking the banner above for information about the amazing speakers and to book tickets. If the student rate (which is generously discounted!) is a little too steep at the moment, you can pay in installments too! Alternatively, check out the competition above for a chance to get your tickets for .


Guest Article: What’s Halal the Fuss About?

Many humanists and atheists are vegetarian or vegan. My own personal anedata suggest we’ve got a much larger proportion for veggies/vegans than the general population. Even where not full vegetarians, humanists tend to be interested in the life of the animals that we’re eating: we want them to have lived reasonably well, and sustainably, without adversely impacting on future generations. Or at least, that’s what we say when we’re asked about it. I can’t claim to have ever seriously quibbled about the provenance of a sausage sandwich when I’ve a hangover, even if I try to buy ethically in the cold light of day.

Anyway, let’s talk about non-stunned meat. There are a lot of myths about stunning, so let’s start with some simple definitions.

Halal meat: Halal meat is, unsurprisingly, meat from an animal killed in a halal-compliant fashion. For the Halal Food Authortity (HFA)- the group who certify Halal food in the UK- this means killing the animal while a prayer is recited. It also means using a certain method of slaughter, and hanging the animal long enough for the blood to drain. According to the HFA, stunning is permitted, as long as the method does not kill the animal. There is some debate within Islam about stunning, however. Certain fatwas (“legal” or official interpretations of the Qur’an) say that no stunning at all is permissible. The UK Food Standards Agency figures from 2011 suggest 84% of cattle, 81% of sheep and 88% of chickens slaughtered for halal meat were stunned before they died. Why is there so much halal on the market these days? It seems like I see it everywhere I go! That’s because, in order for a slaughterhouse to produce any halal meat (as certified by HFA), the whole slaughterhouse needs to be operating in a halal-compliant fashion, in order to avoid cross-contamination. Therefore, in order to market to Muslims and non-Muslims alike, slaughterhouse owners have been converting the whole process to halal-compliant. There’s nothing “conspiratorial” about it- just plain old fashioned capitalism at work!

Kosher meat: Kosher killing requires that the animal not be stunned. It is killed in a similar fashion to halal, and the blood is drained. For the hindquarters of the animal to be kosher, they must be porged (stripped of veins, fat and sinew), and because of the expense of this process, the hindquarters of commercially killed kosher animals often end up in the non-kosher market.

Jhatka meat: You might not have heard of this one, but Jhatka meat is from an animal slaughtered by a single-striked beheading. It is favoured by Sikhs and some Hindus. While commonly available in India, it is sometimes on offer in the UK.

But why is this an AHS issue, I hear you cry?

Because in 2010, Mike Paynter, Richy Thompson and Dom Wirdnam conducted a FOI survey of UK universities, to find out how many were providing non-stunned meat to their students, and how many were labelling it as such. An abridged version of their report and its findings is available here and the full version is available on request from the Campaigns officer (campaigns@ahsstudents.org.uk). In short, 30 universities responded that they did serve non-stunned meat. Another 15 were “maybe”s, where not enough info was given to determine whether the meat was stunned or non-stunned halal. Of the 45 that potentially sold non-stunned meat (where not enough information was given to know definitively) 5 had no labelling, and 25 mentioned only “halal” with no further details. Only Birmingham City University replied that yes, it was stated “on the packaging” the meat had not been stunned.
Yes, you read that right. Out of 154 institutions surveyed, with 45 potentially serving non-stunned meat, only one labelled it adequately.

This is a problem. It’s a problem for students who want to know what they’re eating, whether they’re Muslim or not Muslim. The AHS promotes choice for everyone, and that’s why we’re in favour of, wait for it, CLEARER LABELLING ON PACKAGING!

It’s worth noting that this is not a sneaky attempt to marginalise the needs of religious students: last year (May 2014), the government hinted that it was considering legislating for clearer labelling, and it was greeted with approval by both Muslim and Jewish leaders. Unfortunately, it was subsequently shelved.

So, what can you do?

Firstly, if you’re planning on doing something, get in touch with me!  Consider taking a look at the results of the survey, or contacting your university or students union directly with a FOI request (See our guidance on FOI requests here). Once you’ve got the facts to hand, it’s time for some good old fashioned lobbying. Write to your university, your SU, your student newspapers. Make people aware of what they’re eating. Consider teaming up with Isocs or Jsocs, or with animal welfare groups on campus.

Happy campaigning!
campaigns@ahsstudents.org.uk

Caitlin Greenwood is the current Campaigns Officer for the National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies.

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