For millions of Muslims, the holy month of Ramadan marks a time for ritual fasting during the day and, often, a large meal with friends and family after sundown.
For those buying and selling ritually approved halal meat, it's a time to pay close attention to ensure the food the observant are eating is exactly that.
It's harder than it sounds. Not only is it difficult to regulate, but some critics raise questions about whether the doctrine of church-state separation means governments should even get involved. That means policing is sometimes up to the meat sellers themselves as demand for halal products grows in the U.S. along with the Muslim population.
Gul Muhammad, who opened a halal meat shop in New Jersey in the United States this year, said he visits farms and slaughterhouses himself to make sure the animals are being slaughtered according to the religious standards generally adhered to by the world's estimated 1.6 billion Muslims.
"I think we're all responsible for what we eat. We can't just say that guy is selling me halal and it's up to him," said Muhammad, who says a meat supplier once offered to sell him "50/50 meat" — half halal and half not.
Observant Muslims aren't supposed to eat pork or drink alcohol, but there is a range of opinions on what is considered halal; for instance, some Muslims are OK eating poultry killed by machines, and some aren't.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture inspects products made from ritually slaughtered animals — both halal and kosher food that meets standards of Jewish law — but leaves decisions on whether the ritual is acceptable to religious organizations that certify meat as halal.
There is also a growing group of Muslims who value how animals are treated before they are killed as much as how they are killed.
Hamzah Wald Maqbul, of the nonprofit Halal Advocates, said that the intricacies of halal and separation of church and state make it difficult for the government to fully prosecute fraud.
New Jersey adopted the Halal Food Consumer Protection Act in 2000, requiring halal food sellers to disclose information, including whether they sell both halal and non-halal food.
Nine states now have similar laws, including New York, which requires halal establishments and certifiers register with the state.
In November 2011, a supermarket chain in Anaheim, California, paid $527,000 after it sold regular meat as halal, and a wholesaler in England was fined nearly $100,000 last year after investigators caught the company putting the halal label on chicken that was traced to a supplier that did not sell halal meat.
Last year, the owners of a halal beef supplier in Iowa were charged with selling $4.9 million in beef that prosecutors said did not follow the halal practices it promised. A manager pleaded guilty to directing workers at the Midamar Corp. to repackage beef products from a slaughterhouse that wasn't approved for export to Malaysia and Indonesia.
The company has denied wrongdoing. Islamic Services of America, which certified halal beef for Midamar, said the U.S. government can't enforce religious slaughter protocols.
In 2011 South African Muslims reacted with outrage to allegations that a leading meat importer, Cape Town-based Orion Cold Storage, labelled pork as halal.
Currently the National Independent Halaal Trust of South Africa which aspires to the highest Halaal standards as prescribed by the Sharia (Islamic Law) and offers professional service to Muslim consumers, warns on its website that BOM Russians and Supplies in Komatipoort, Pmumalanga are not NIHT certified and that the company is fraudulently using the NIHT Halaal logo on their products.
The South African National Halaal Authority also lists producers, retail outlets, supermarkets, products and restaurants that either abuse the Halaal certification or sell products that are carry the Halal logo, but aren't. Find them here.
Acting on privileged information they unearthed evidence of an importer/distributor carrying out the following fraudulent activities.
They warn against:
1. Importation of Irish and Belgian pork products and re-labelling them as Halaal sheep/veal products.
2. Importation of Australian Kangaroo meat and re-labelling it as Halaal beef trimmings.
3. Importation of Canadian dairy powder for animal feed and re-labelling it as Halaal skim milk powder.
4. Importation of non Halaal Spanish poultry products and re-labelling them as Halaal.
Here is a list of MJCHT certified Halal vendors in South Africa and a list of Halal products here.
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