Oxford students appear largely unfazed by the revelation that some colleges have been serving halal meat without informing students.
An investigation carried out by student journalists at the Birmingham Tab last week found that out of the 35 Oxbridge colleges who responded to the survey, only two did not serve halal meat in any form. In particular, Lady Margaret Hall and Somerville College were found to be serving halal meat without labelling.
The investigation involved sending Freedom of Information requests to 126 universities, with only 25 responding. The study found that nationwide, nearly half of the universities that responded are serving halal meat without making students aware.
‘Halal’ refers to objects permissible by Islamic law, extending not only to food and drink but also to other matters of daily life. For meat to be halal, the animal must be killed using a sharp knife to make a swift, deep incision that cuts from the front of the throat, the carotid artery, windpipe, and jugular veins, whilst the slaughter is accompanied by a prayer.
European animal welfare regulations currently require all farm animals to be stunned before they are killed, but religious methods of slaughter such as halal or shechita (a similar process for the preparation of Jewish meat) are exempt. However, the Halal Food Authority permits stunning the animal before slaughter, and statistics show that 88% of Britain’s halal meat comes from animals that have been stunned.
The findings come in the wake of a media furore after it was discovered last month that unlabelled halal meat had been served in supermarkets and restaurants.
The response from Oxford students, however, has been far more subdued.
A spokesperson for Oxford Students for Animals told Cherwell, “[We] object to any methods of slaughter which cause needless suffering for animals, but we find the focus on halal strikingly narrow-minded. People would do well to reflect on the vast suffering almost all animals raised for food experience, regardless of whether they count as halal or not.”
Likewise, a first year Magdalen PPEist commented, “It does surprise me that some colleges are serving halal meat without informing students”, but added, “it would not bother me if I found out my college was doing the same.”
He continued, “Most animals slaughtered for halal meat are pre-stunned so there aren’t strong ethical objections to colleges doing this. The only real problem here, if there is one, is that students who do only eat halal meat would not know that it’s available at their college.”
In a statement to Cherwell, a spokesperson for Oxford University Islamic Society commented, “We don’t think there is any harm in making a case for clearer labeling so that consumers can make an informed choice according to their own personal preference.”
Commenting on the recent media coverage of unmarked halal meat, they continued, “We think that there is a possibility that the whole media attention has something to do with Islamophobia. The terminology used, such as ‘stealthy takeover’, ‘Islamification of food’, seems to suggest that this has something to do with a fear of the other.”
They added, “We are not saying that we should shut down any debate on how animals can be slaughtered in a more humane fashion. A debate that raises public awareness of these issues is sorely needed.
“But we get the nagging feeling that some participants in this debate are not concerned with animal rights.”
An anonymous vegetarian remarked, “I think there are a lot of double standards within the halal meat debate; people are far too ready to criticise specific, in this case religious, practices, without looking at the problematic nature of the meat industry as a whole. You’re eating dead things either way, and the pedantics of how it died are largely irrelevant.”
However, another student told Cherwell, “We have the right to know exactly where the meat that is served in colleges comes from. Then it is up to the individual to choose whether or not to eat it, according to their views.
“I think it is really important that colleges admit to serving it. Personally, if I knew that the meat being served was halal, I would avoid eating it, as I do not want to in any way support this cruelty towards animals.”
The University declined to comment.