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Halal storm triggers meat sale backtrack

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Halal storm triggers meat sale backtrack
Typical Austrian meat platter. Probably not Halal. Photo: Paul Gillingwater
17:56 CET+01:00
A test sale of Halal meat in the Spar supermarket chain caused a storm of Islamophobia, leading to cancelation of the pilot after only two weeks.

With the recent significant increase in Muslim refugees arriving in the central European country, the Austrian operation of the Dutch Spar supermarket chain decided to offer meat prepared according to Islamic guidelines, following the Halal certification.

Unfortunately, Spar's customers in Vienna showed they were not ready for such a cultural change, and resorted to verbally harassing Spar staff in stores, as well as posting anti-Muslim comments in online forums.

According to Spar spokeswoman Nicole Berkman, protection of its employees' safety was of great importance, citing security concerns for ending the trial.

Additionally, animal rights activists argued that the Halal method of ritual animal slaughter -- which shares many aspects of Kosher meat production -- was unnecessarily cruel, with animals suffering more when butchers follow the Islamic tradition.

"We will not put up with Muslim rubbish in our country. This is our culture and it must not become subordinated to a barbaric ideological minority," one user wrote on Spar‘s Facebook page.

"As a local retailer for all population groups in Austria, we are saddened and shocked about the tone of the discussions, but we are drawing the consequences," Spar said in an online message.

The term Halal translates as "lawful" or "permitted" in Arabic. It is usually only applied to meat that is slaughtered in methods that comply with Islamic law. 

The animal must be healthy before it is killed and all blood must be drained from the body - to this end the jugular vein of the animal is cut with a sharp knife. A prayer must be said as the animal is killed.

Within Islam there is some debate about how strictly these rules have to be adhered to. One of these is whether the animal is stunned prior to slaughter. Animal welfare groups such as the RSPCA believe that not doing so causes unnecessary suffering.

Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland all ban slaughter without stunning but the UK has refused pressure to follow suit.  Austrian meat is generally stunned before being slaughtered.

New Zealand is one of the largest exporters of Halal meat, with an estimated 70 percent of lamb from that country receiving Halal certification.

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