January 13, 2019

Halal Food: Conception, Misconceptions and Certification

Halal means permissible in the Islamic religion and it defines what is appropriate for Muslims in their day-to-day activities. Foods that are forbidden include certain animals, alcohol and other intoxicants, blood meal, and meals prepared in ways that negate the tenets of halal.  Most foods are halal except otherwise stated. This article intends to expand our horizon about halal food and resolve some of the misconceptions. It is interesting that many cultures practice food processing methods that resemble the steps in halal even though it is hidden. There are similarities among halal, kosher, and foods that are non-taboo or culturally appropriate in certain cultures.

Halal Akawie cheese, Middle Eastern white brine cheese at Ammar Halal Meats
A percentage of halal

When we started our research about asymmetric information in the halal food market, we thought it will be a straightforward process. We learned that some people consume halal because it is expected of them, but they don’t know the benefits. Others consume presumed halal food without necessarily ascertaining whether the production is consistently halal. It is also important to emphasize that most people are unaware of the health benefits of halal food and the halal requirement that livestock are treated humanely. This assumes that those who produce the halal food follow the stipulated standards. Globally, people try as much as possible to be inclusive by making sure their food is halal. This is an indication of the relevance of the minority rule. The Mutooro people and other sub-groups in Uganda have very few Muslims but they usually invite a Muslim to say a prayer before an animal is slaughtered. This is expected to make ceremonies such as weddings, burials and birthdays inclusive. There is a misconception here because an animal slaughtered by people of the book, Jews, Christians and Muslims, are acceptable as halal (Quran chapter 5, v5; Regenstein, 2003). But since most people are unaware it is better to get a Muslim to slaughter the animal in a humane way.  Commercial meats, especially beef, are slaughtered by Muslims, for example, in Uganda, Kenya, and Nigeria. (It’s a family business and people are taught how to slaughter animals at a very tender age. The process is partly cultural partly halal).

Moreover, the Maasai people ensure that the blood of a slaughtered animal is well drained (consistent with kosher and halal) before they start the skinning, but they drink the blood or process it as seen with the Oromos of East Africa. Blood is not permissible under the tenets of halal. An indication that animals raised on blood meal and slaughter house waste are not halal. It is also interesting that the Ijebu people of western Nigeria will make sure that the animal faces the east before it is slaughtered. They go a step further by adding salt to the throat of the slaughtered to ensure that the animal’s blood is well drained – a step that makes the process closer to kosher in terms of removal of blood. It doesn’t matter what they believe, the common knowledge is that meat processed in this manner tastes better and shelf life is extended.

The standards posited under halal are not entirely peculiar to halal. Some of the standards are like kosher and other cultural taboos worldwide. For example, there is an adage  by the Yorubas of Nigeria and West Africa which states that “Aki ipa igun, a ki i je igun, a ki i fi igun bori” – (one does not kill the vulture; one does not eat the vulture; one does not offer the vulture as a sacrifice to one's head). In the Yoruba culture, vultures are not acceptable as an edible meat. They are also forbidden under the Islamic jurisprudence.

Some misconceptions

There are many health benefits of halal food consumption, but people don’t seem to discern it.  Some animals are prohibited because they are disease vectors, draining of blood will remove toxins, carrions are dangerous to human, intoxicants affect our gumption – negative impact on our judgement, and the process if followed avoid contamination during food production. There are also similarities between halal and kosher although alcohol is forbidden in halal but not under kosher. Grasshopper is the only visible insects permissible in kosher while insects are neutral in halal. Camel is halal but non-kosher. The halal process also stipulates that animals should be treated humanely, slaughtering should not be done in front of other livestock and stress should be reduced to a minimum. Halal is sustainable because livestock are not supposed to be raised on slaughter waste, blood meal or any kind of filthy feed. Hand slaughter is the best, but some scholars allow machine slaughter because of mass production. The issue of stunning is also controversial. Even though some scholars support stunning there are practical challenges with its use in slaughter houses. Some animals are still alive and stunning may not necessarily lead to sudden death. With hand slaughter the cutting of three out of the four passages, carotids, oesophagus, jugular veins, and trachea, of the throat with a sharp knife will lead to sudden death (Regenstein 2003, direct observation).

Asymmetric information

Imperfect information is present in most markets, homogenous or heterogeneous, and that is why people may end up purchasing a “lemon”. It is prevalent because the bad will crowd out the good when sellers have more information than the buyers, especially in the presence of a budget constraint. In other words, cheap becomes expensive in the long run. The level of asymmetric information (LAI), a measure of opacity, can be reduced by moving the market from a state of imperfect information towards perfect information. In the halal food market, the level of asymmetric information can be resolved by adequate consumer education, third party monitoring by certifying bodies regulated by the government, crypto-labelling (authenticity, transparency, and transparency enhanced via blockchain), and workable and desirable regulations that guarantees food safety. 

Lamb Loin Chops at Arabesque Restaurant

As we explore the food market, we have discovered that reduction of LAI translates to authentic food. This implies that opacity and food authenticity are inversely related. Highly opaque "food" may in fact be made up of very little agricultural produce (understood to be the traditional source of food) and contain a high degree of artificial, chemically-modified, processed ingredients which results in an industrial food-like substance or food substitute. Extra-ecological commodities associated with mono-culture, possibly genetically modified and of dubious nutritional value.[1] Opacity is a challenge in the food market including halal because of the points below:

1.      It is difficult to monitor the activities of the producers, processors, and marketers – Moral Hazard.

2.      More complex in big organizations because the interest of the managers (agent) are not necessarily the objectives of the owners (principal) – Principal-Agent Problem.

3.      Low quality foods are cheaper; thus, consumers will buy because of their budget constraints – Adverse Selection.

4.      Logo and the certification process may be compromised – Signalling is not necessarily a panacea.

The power of minority

A farming couple from Windsor, Ontario once told me “Halal is not a niche market because we all eat shawarma”. Some people from non-Muslim backgrounds are willing to pay a premium because of their appreciation of the health benefits of authentic halal food.  Economist Nassim Taleb (e.g. Skin in the Game) also alluded to the fact that halal may become mainstream.  A stubborn minority can make a significant impact and influence the decision of the majority. We have seen cases where party organizers will cook only halal chicken and avoid pork because two out of the twenty people on the guest list eat only halal. It seems there will be an increase in the demand for halal food in the future.

There is an adage in the Yoruba culture that states that “Bi oni ti ri, ola ki ri be, li o mu ki Babalawo ma da Ifa ororun (Today’s situation is not the same as tomorrow, so the Babalawo consults the oracle every five days)”. This indicates that change is the only thing that is constant. Even though the future is difficult to predict, halal food may become mainstream because of our love for shawarma, the minority rule and food safety.  

*Special thanks to Warsame Warsame, Christine Kajumba, Richard Bankole, Jeremiah Saringe, Wondimu Gashaw, and Dan Maitland.


Regenstein J. M., Chaudry M. M., and Regenstein C. E. (2003). The Kosher and Halal Food Laws. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety 2:111-127.

Taleb, N.N. (2018). Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life. New York: Allen Lane.

Bamidele Adekunle, ECVOntario, SEDRD, University of Guelph

[1] This explanation is based on a comment I received from Dan Maitland the first time he saw the framework.
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