Halal choice needed for schools

Halal campaigners have backed school parents rights to choose the meat their children eat following a row in Reading.

The parents of primary school-children in Reading who found the meat served at four schools was halal have found an unlikely source of support: the Islamic campaigning organisation, the Halal Monitoring Committee (HMC).

Controversy erupted when parents were sent a letter explaining all meat at the schools is slaughtered according to halal methods, and had been for several years without the knowledge of the parents.

HMC spokesman, Muhammad Shaakir, said non-Muslim children at the schools in Reading should not have to eat halal meat: "I can sympathise with them [the parents]. I think there should be a choice," he said.

Govenors meetings were called in December and some parents, writing on internet message boards, were angry. One wrote: "I will withdraw my daughter from her school if this is true. The horrendous slaughter of the animals and the suffering they endure is abhorrent!"

But others argued against extreme reactions: "Does it matter whether the meat is halal or not? Surely healthier school meals, irrespective of which slaughtering methods are used, should be the main concern."

Halal requires animals to be killed with a single cut to the throat and although the issue of stunning is debated between different Muslim groups, in the UK often animals are not stunned before slaughter.

A spokesperson for Reading Borough Council said, "other options are available and ... we are increasing options at the four schools by offering fish each day.

"The decision to provide halal meat at the four primary schools was taken several years ago, as it was felt this was an appropriate choice for the multicultural communities they serve."

The HMC argues that Islamic law requires animals to be slaughtered fully conscious, so the heart can pump as much blood out of the animal as possible when the throat is cut. It also says stunning animals is more cruel than not stunning them.

Shaakir said there is confusion over the welfare standards of halal meat and questioned what method is best for animals. "In the case of cattle and sheep, one method [of stunning] is a captive bolt, which is like a pneumatic gun which fires a bolt through the skull of the animal and into the brain. Is that humane?" he said.