Searching the internet for locations that sell these “down under” imports reveals that the largest retailer of Australian halal lamb in the United States is Costco Wholesale. Costco is the largest membership warehouse club chain in the United States, and third largest retailer in the United States. Costco specializes in selling products at wholesale prices, in bulk volume, primarily marketed to large families and small businesses.
The lamb is supplied by Australian Lamb Company Inc., a halal certified supplier which appears on the “Halal Approved Abattoir List” maintained by The Australian Quarantine Inspection Service (AQIS). The lamb arrives prepackaged in the Kirkland Signature vacuum sealed packs which have the Australian Halal Stamp. As long as it is sold in this packaging the product is guaranteed top quality and certified halal by the AQIS. However, with some cuts of meat this seal is broken and the meat is cut and repackaged in the Costco Warehouse. When this happens the product looses its certification because other non halal meats, including pork, are processed using the same knives and machines in the Costco facility.
Generally speaking all lamb legs and racks of lamb are sold in the original packaging with the Australian Halal Stamp intact. Lamb chops and other cuts which are potentially contaminated are displayed in foam meat trays. The best rule to go by is to look for the halal mark on the packaging.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about this development in the American halal meat market is a statement from Rob Plefkoff, a spokesman from Costco Wholesale Corporation. He said that Costco is now aware that they are selling halal lamb, but that it was not a conscious choice. In fact, they were unaware of it until they began receiving inquiries from halal consumers. Since then Costco has sent representatives to tour the procedures in Australia, and has ensured that the halal products are properly labeled, which they weren’t before.
I consider this a strong indication of the influence wielded by proactive shoppers. The possibility exists that many American groceries don’t know that they already sell halal lamb. For example, I went into the meat department of my local Safeway just to see. There, among their other products, I found Diamond Valley brand lamb shanks, imported from Australia with the Australian Halal Stamp right on the package. In all likelihood Safeway is just as unaware that they are carrying halal lamb as Costco was.
A full list of the US retailers that sell lamb imported from Australia can be found at www.australian-lamb.com/where-to-buy-lamb. The list includes over 30 retailers including Safeway, Food4Less, Ralph’s and other fairly major chains that may already carry certified halal products and not even know it. With just a little inquiry from curious halal consumers many of these could be made aware that this market exists, and whole new markets for halal meat could be opened up.