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Meat Producers Wise to Wait on Halal Market Entry

The halal and kosher markets are full of opportunities for food companies, so come on in, says a new report by Packaged Facts. Not only will religious Muslims and Jews be interested in products meeting their respective religious standards, the report said, but other consumers with an interest in ethical food issues may trust these products as well.

In the U.S., kosher is much more well-known than halal. The word halal means permissible according to Islam, and the word can be applied to all sorts of products and behaviors, not just food. Both Costco and Wal-Mart offer halal foods, at least in certain markets, and a lot of fast food restaurants, including Domino's and KFC, have 100 percent halal outlets in certain neighborhoods. And the number of independent halal restaurants is mushrooming across the country in response to the growing number of Muslim immigrants.

For meat producers, however, it can get complicated. While kosher rules are well-established, the Muslim community is still working on universal standards for halal products, and there's a lot of disagreement.

Tyson Foods is the only major company I know of that produces halal meat, but there are some problems there. "NOTE TO READER: Tyson has no halal factories," one halal blog stated. "Every chicken slaughtered at Tyson is slaughtered by machine." Some observant Muslims are okay with animals being killed by machine, as long as they are slaughtered in the proper manner, but others insist that anything other than hand-slaughtered meat (often labeled "zabiha") is unacceptable.

There have also been reports that Tyson "plays recordings of Muslim prayers while the chickens are being slaughtered," which for many is not an acceptable way of meeting the requirement that the meat be blessed.

That might be one of the reasons that, despite demand growth, most halal meat in the U.S. comes from Muslim-owned companies that deal exclusively in halal products (though there are also quite a few Jewish-owned companies that have expanded into the halal market, since many of the requirements are similar).

In fact, I found an article from 1999 saying basically the same thing as the recent study -- the halal market is a great opportunity, come on in. And yet, ten years later, at least among the bigger companies, there still aren't any takers.

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