As the Muslim community in America grows, through immigration, procreation or conversion, the market demand for halal products inevitably grows as well. Most halal consumers are already familiar with their local ethnic markets, but increasingly we are seeing halal certified products appear in mainstream non Muslim markets. The market for halal meat in America is still in the earliest stages of development. In 2000 we saw McDonald’s roll out a line of halal chicken McNuggets in Dearborn MI. In 2009 we saw Kentucky Fried Chicken offer halal chicken in Brooklyn NY. We’ve seen the initial successes of Al Safa Halal, now available in many grocery stores including Albertson’s. Since its inception in 1999 Al Safa has become America’s most publicized producer of frozen halal meat products, although Al Safa is actually head quartered in Canada. According to 2006 estimates from the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) the halal food industry in the United States is about $16 billion a year, and growing 25 to 30 percent a year.
An interesting thing about the halal market in American is how much meat, specifically lamb, doesn’t come from America, or even Canada, but is raised, slaughtered and certified “down under” in New Zealand and Australia. The temperate climate of that region makes it perfect for the raising of livestock. Consistently mild weather allows the grasses used to feed livestock to grow eight to twelve months out of the year. Further, the wide open pastures allow for natural rotational grazing instead of the use of feedlots. As a result agriculture and livestock remain one of the regions chief exports.
Unlike North America, the halal meat industry has been firmly established in both countries for quite some time.
There are two cooperative organizations in New Zealand that provide halal certification. The Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand (FIANZ) was formed in 1979 as the collaborative effort of numerous Islamic organizations to establish a unified voice for the New Zealand Muslim community. The New Zealand Islamic Meat Management (NZIMM) was established in 1981 specifically as a certifying organization. These organizations cooperate with New Zealand’s meat exporters to guarantee a quality product that has achieved international recognition. The animals are free range and organic. There is no genetically modified grass, nor genetically modified sheep. They are certified slaughtered in accordance with Islamic dietary procedures, and free from non halal contamination.
New Zealand producers have been exporting to Iran and Saudi Arabia since the 1980s and today large quantities of halal meat are exported throughout the Middle East, Europe, Asia, South Africa and yes, North America. In fact about 90 percent of New Zealand’s meat exports are certified halal. The far reaching success of this industry has made New Zealand the world’s largest exporter of halal lamb. They produce approximately 427,000 metric tons per year.
Australia is also a world leader in the production of halal lamb, exporting approximately 62,000 metric tons annually. Because so many of the countries they export to are Muslim majority countries, most Australian exporters choose to produce only halal lamb so that they can meet demand for both halal and non halal markets without maintaining separate facilities. The difference is that in Australia the government itself oversees the certification process. In 1983 The Australian Quarantine Inspection Service (AQIS), the Australian Government’s equivalent to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), created the Australian Government Supervised Muslim Slaughter (AGSMS) program. This agency cooperates with a number of recognized Islamic Organizations to both register Muslim slaughterers and inspect all processing facilities to ensure that the meat they export has been slaughtered and handled in accordance with halal standards.
Both Australian and New Zealand halal authorities agree that halal animals must be slaughtered by credentialed Muslims, that the animal must be oriented toward Mecca, that the requisite prayer must be recited over the animal, and that the animal must be killed by the single movement of a very sharp knife. The technical requirements of this cut are that the animal is alive and healthy when it is made, and that the jugular veins are cut without severing the spinal cord, leading to death from loss of blood. Both ensure that all halal meat is kept completely separate from non halal products and that all additives or ingredients used in any meat products are also halal.