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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

1st March 15

Are your University caterers STUNNING?

I’m not sure about mine. As a postgraduate student I subsist on venison, jarlsberg, shiraz and the wails of youths. But as Caitlin Greenwood writes below, 44 Universities in the UK are selling potentially unstunned halal meat. If you care about the difference that makes (and you should, because animals can suffer and are typically nicer than most people), read her article and find out how your society can add to the campaign for national transparency when it comes to halal sourcing.

Also below: an interview with Hari Parekh about the ongoing success story that is Northampton AHS. The role of officers for the National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies is to support our member societies, so news like this absolutely makes our week. Please do send us your success stories, no matter how big small!

Yours goutily,

Luke Dabin

Communications Officer
communications@ahsstudents.org.uk


Book your tickets.

Friday: Mixer Social
Saturday: The Young Humanists Launch, speaker/panel sessions, evening entertainment
Sunday: Workshops for society members on the Sunday.

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!

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! Hope to see you there.


 

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.


 

Spotlight on: University of Northampton


Andrew Copson and Hari Parekh at last year’s Big Debate

So first question: why start an AHS society?
Due to the lack of non-religious societies at the university, I established the Northampton AHS society two years ago.

How has the journey been so far?

When I established the society two years ago, we had eleven members and no credibility around campus. As a society, in comparison to the established Christian Union and Islamic Society, we were the underdogs being at the bottom of the society matrix. The society matrix is the way the university hierarchically ranks societies and the higher the society, the more funding the society receives. Our society, unfortunately was at the bottom of the pile to begin with. People criticised the name of our society, the aims and the principles and we had to constantly defend the rights to have a non-faith based society at the campus. Our society had no money and was not in a position to hold events or invite guest speakers or actively engage with debate and discussion at the university. 
Since then, the society has invited various guest speakers such as Graham Smith from Republic, Rory (the amazing) Fenton, organised the Big Debate in partnership with the Islamic society and sat on the panel with Andrew Copson, and Atheism, in Africa? with Lola Tinubu and Leo Igwe. The society has flourished with more than fifty official members, weekly ‘Think & Drink’ sessions and is currently the only student society at the top of the society matrix.

That’s pretty meteoric! Has enthusiasm been easy to inspire?
Weekly ‘Think & Drink’ sessions at the Students’ Union has been critical in keeping member enthusiasm up! Alcohol, drinks and regular thought provoking sessions have created a constant member base. Furthermore, the continuous events and guest speakers at the university has kept our members motivated. What other factors have contributed to NAHS’s growth?
Regular advertisement and promotion at the university, regular events and guest speakers, presence on social media and having fun. Having fun and enjoying running the society is probably the best bit!

You’ve been pretty active in the AHS community this year. Has being a member society been useful over the last 2 years?
During the first year of establishing the society, we weren’t affiliated with the AHS and struggled to maintain a presence at the university. Contacting Rory and Ruth at the time was essential as they were really supportive and helpful during the first year of establishing the society. Meeting like-minded people during the AHS Convention in 2014 was significant for me: it affirmed that having the society at the university was crucial, and that the uphill struggle would be worth it.

AHS societies sometimes get a lot of flak from other groups on campus (naming no names). How’re your relationships with other student societies at Northampton?
Steady is a good word. We began as underdogs, which meant that the other religious societies probably underestimated us. Nevertheless, having risen to the top of the society matrix has possibly provided the society with more respect than before. Furthermore, as the society is vocal through constant articles in the SU Newsletter and on social media, other student societies on campus have begun to acknowledge the society than they used to before. 

What sort of skills has running an AHS society inculcated in you? Would you recommend others have a go?

Establishing this society within a hostile environment at this university has not been easy and has been an uphill struggle. However, this struggle has instilled a commitment to ensure that the society functions to engage debates and discussions at the university. Furthermore, working with my committee to liaise and delegate work and information has been key to making this happen.
I would definitely recommend it to others, as establishing and running an AHS society has been a great experience!

Hari Parekh is founder and current President of Northampton Atheist, Humanistic and Secularist Society.


 

The AHS Executive are looking for societies to host the AHS’s Annual General Meeting

There are obvious benefits for hosting. First, as you will spend the weekend directing people, managing rooms and bookings, and being involved in most of the AGM’s proceedings, it looks great if you want to run for President of the AHS. Your society will also be put on a pedestal for all to see how impressive it is. The AGM is a fantastic opportunity to show case your society to the rest of the AHS.The deadline for applications is: Friday 6th MarchThe AHS Executive will require successful applicants to arrange regular meetings with the Executive in order to plan the weekend. Please be wary that hosting the AGM is a stressful activity and it will require all of your committee to help. Please bear these things in mind before applying.

Email to Martin Smith for more information at secretary@ahsstudents.org.uk

 

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