Anyone who hasn’t been sleeping under a rock now knows the practice of halal certification is a highly sophisticated, spectacularly lucrative, international extortion racket.
But every weekday evening at 8 o’clock for 38 years a halal slaughterman has arrived at a Victorian abattoirs. I don’t know his name, he refused to tell me. “So, can I make an educated guess and call you Mohammed?” I asked. “Yeah sure, but it’s not right.”
I had received a message from ‘Mohammed’, so I had sent him my private phone number and received a call a week later. I cannot verify any of what Mohammed had to say, I can only relate what he has said to me.
He refused to give me the name of the abattoirs and I have deleted the expletives, of which there were plenty.
He retired from his job as a licensed halal slaughterman earlier this year, he has lived in Australia since he was a boy and speaks fluent Aussie strine.
‘Mohammed’ rambled on about his family, how few days he had taken off at work and how good he was at his job, before I finally asked, “So what was it you wanted to tell me?”
“Look”, he said, “I don’t want you to get me wrong, I’m proud of my work, but do you know what halal slaughter is?” “I think so”, I replied, and went on to explain what I thought it was:
“The animal must face Mecca, it must have its throat cut while it’s conscious, it must not be stunned so as to allow the heart to expunge the maximum amount of blood and therefore the more terrified it is the better, how am I going?”
“Pretty close”, he said, “but there’s so much more to it and there’s so much bullshit flying around right now, the Mecca thing is crap, we are restricted to wherever the machines and equipment are already facing because it’s all bolted to the floor.
"But really, the whole thing is a bit of a joke.”
“The animals are stunned, right?” I asked. “That’s what I’m trying to say”, he snapped, “If they are stunned it’s not halal is it! Why would the abattoirs bother advertising for halal licensed guys if they were going to stun them?
"Anyone can stun them but to kill them halal is an art, you not only have to be licensed but you need the skill. Abattoirs aren’t going to pay extra for a halal guy and then tell him to stun the things, that’s what I’m trying to say! Stunning is all bullshit mate.”
“So you’re saying there is no stunning, not at all?” “No, some of the abattoirs do it, but it certainly won’t be halal. We will stun them too but only if we get notice that meat inspectors are turning up, or someone’s sniffing around with a camera”, he said. “As soon as they leave we go back to doing our job.
“Stunning is stupid and pointless because half the time it kills them anyway and if they’re just unconscious they won’t gush enough blood and if they’re dead you'll be lucky to get any blood out of them. The animal needs to be conscious and it needs to know that it’s being killed.”
“Okay, so do the halal certifiers check that you’re doing everything the right way?” I asked.
“No, if we are halal licensed they don’t need to, we never see them. Most of our stuff gets exported anyway and I can tell just from looking at the meat if the animal has only been stunned, it’s got too much blood in it, so I reckon the buyers can tell too.
“A lot of the mosque guys say stunning is okay, but they’re lying, it’s not! They know it’s not!”
I was starting to understand why ‘Mohammed’ wanted to talk. His ‘highly skilled’ profession had been sullied by all this talk of stunning, and he was pretty bloody angry.
“So your halal slaughtered meat goes to your Australian domestic market too. Are they aware that it is halal slaughtered?”, I asked. “Only if someone marks it hahal. We did, but if it’s re-packed or sold under a different name, I don’t know what happens.
"But what’s the problem with that? It’s better meat anyway!”
“Are you a practising Muslim?”, I asked him. “I used to be”, he said. “But there’s too much bullshit flying around for me.” “You don’t pray?” “Sometimes... most of my family are into it ‘tho.”
“Okay so tell me how this halal slaughtering is carried out.”
“Well it’s nothing like that crazy Indonesian way where they slash their tendons and things, it’s actually quite orderly. They are led into a crush with their head clamped so their throat is exposed and stretched. They know exactly what’s happening to them because they’ve been watching the others.
“This is where the skill comes in. I used to use a knife the length of my forearm with a razor’s edge I would sharpen once every three or so slaughters. You must sever the trachea, the jugular and the oesophagus and carotid arteries all in one stroke.
"I always left the spinal cord intact if possible to avoid any paralysis. There’s a lot of skill in that and you can tell if you've done it correctly by the rate of the blood flow.
“The important thing is for the heart to remain beating for as strong and for as long as possible. When you slaughter halal, all the blood is drained from the flesh.
"Stunning clots the blood and half of it remains in the flesh and it eventually turns black. That’s not halal and it shouldn’t be sold as halal.”
“So you don’t rotate them in the crush to invert them first?” “No”, he explained, “we didn’t use rotating crushes, they just slid out underneath when it was finished.”
“So how many of you licensed blokes are in Australia?” I asked. “Only about 20 or so, but there are hundreds of cowboys out there who say they are.”
“What can you tell me about the certifiers?”, I asked. “Not much”, he said, “they just do their job I suppose, but I can tell you not one of them would know how to halal slaughter anything. They just look after the money side.”
The rest of our conversation revolved around ‘Mohammed’s’ frustration at recent publicity where stunning has been promoted by Muslim clerics as an acceptable form of slaughter. In his words, "They are liars!"
He felt it was dismissive, almost contemptuous, of what he called his highly skilled profession.
Interesting. I’d never thought of it that way.