Allowing Canada’s Muslim and Jewish communities to slaughter livestock according to centuries-old dietary rules is a reasonable accommodation of religious minorities. The practice harms no one. And those who object can buy non-halal or non-kosher poultry and beef.
The controversy over halal meat in Quebec has less to do with legitimate concerns about animal cruelty, then, and more to do with intolerance toward Muslims and Jews.
The Parti Québécois is claiming that ritual slaughter goes against Quebec values and is inhumane. The traditional practice involves blessing the animal, and killing it swiftly with a razor-shape knife while the animal is still conscious. If critics of the practice could show that animals are made to suffer more than those slaughtered by the usual methods, then the objections would have merit.
However, a spokesperson for Olymel, a meat company with plants in Quebec, Ontario and Alberta, has clarified that all the chickens in its abattoirs are stunned first, which mitigates their suffering. The only difference between halal and non-halal is that an imam blesses the chickens before slaughter. All of Olymel’s products are processed under the required federal food and safety regulations.
The polemic, then, is really just another manifestation of identity politics, similar to the controversy in France, where halal meat has become the unlikely focus of the presidential campaign. A public television documentary on slaughterhouses claimed that Parisians are unknowingly eating halal meat, prompting Marine Le Pen, leader of the right-wing National Front, to reframe the issue as an attack on France’s national identity. She has described halal meat as being “unsafe” for consumption and un-French.
In Quebec, there are similar discriminatory undertones, with the opposition demanding to know how many companies in the province produce halal meat. Former politician Mario Dumont said on his television program that Quebeckers were unwittingly eating halal chicken because producers can save money if they make all their meat halal.
It is reasonable to expect companies to label their products properly. But it is equally reasonable to expect French-speaking Quebeckers to try to find common ground – if not a common dish – with recently arrived immigrants, and resist the temptation to succumb to the politics of exclusion.