Thursday, December 12, 2019

Forty Years Ago

Country of Sheep
New Zealand is a country with more sheep than people. The number of sheep peaked at 70 million in 1982. The human population at that time was just over 3 million. Twenty sheep for each person (fortunately, they did not live in the same places).

At the end of the Second World War, Britain was seriously short of food, so the UK government agreed to buy all the sheep meat that New Zealand could produce. Over the next twenty years, New Zealand farmers focussed on producing sheep meat for the British Market. That came to an end in 1973, when Britain joined the EU (then the EEC) and gave priority to imports of meat from Europe. At the end of a transition period, New Zealand meat companies were left with a limited quota that they could sell into their traditional market.

By the end of the 1970s, the meat exporting companies and the New Zealand Meat Producer Board, which controlled marketing of New Zealand meat, were desperate for new markets. They decided that Middle Eastern countries would be the best alternative market for the surplus meat. The only catch was that to sell into these markets, livestock had to be killed according to Islamic halal requirements, which meant the slaughter board must face Mecca, slaughterman must be a Moslem and say a Moslem prayer when each animal is slaughtered. The Meat Board and the government began to pressure the meat companies to get set up for halal slaughtering of livestock for export.

Out of Nowhere
In 1979, I was a young minister in a Presbyterian parish in the southern part of New Zealand. The parish was entirely rural and most of the parishioners were farmers. In October 1979 I saw a news item in the local newspaper that a contract for the supply of 200 thousand tons of sheep meat had been negotiated with Iran. The pressure came on the meat companies to adopt halal slaughtering of livestock. I was serious about making the Christian message relevant to the lives of the people, so I preached a sermon about the issue to help the farmers thing through their response. (The information in my message is here).

Each Sunday morning, I covered a circuit of three churches. The first service was in a small church at a place called Merino Downs (the small church and a community hall were the only buildings, as the school had closed many years earlier). The congregation was usually less than twenty people. On the morning that I spoke about halal slaughtering, a woman was there who did not often attend. She went home to her husband who never attended church, and told him he should have been there, because he would have been interested in what I had said. I did not know, but he was a director of a cooperative meat processing company called Alliance, which handled more than half of the livestock produced in the Southland region.

By the time I got to the third church on the circuit, two of his fellow directors, who were also parishioners, turned up to listen, one armed with a cassette recorder. He told me at the end of the service that he had recorded the sermon, and hoped that I did not mind.
Two days later, the board of the Alliance met in Invercargill. One of the directors, whose father had been instrumental in establishing the cooperative, played the cassette to the meeting. A rural reporter for the local radio station had attended the meeting (I don’t know if he had been warned) and by lunchtime, an item about a local clergyman’s concern about halal slaughtering was on the national news.

The outcome was that many Christian farmers, and there were large numbers in the area, refused to allow their sheep to be halal slaughtered. The meat processing companies killed livestock “on consignment” and they purchased the livestock after they had been processed, so that any that were defective could be rejected. This meant that when they were being slaughtered, the sheep still belonged to the farmer who had grown them. So, the Meat Board and the government were effectively forcing Christian farmers to pay for Moslems to pray over their livestock, a serious breach of their freedom.

The spiritual implications were more serious, as by submitting to the process, farmers were submitting to the spiritual powers behind it.
That was forty years ago.

The Alliance cooperative kept halal slaughtering out of one of their plants for about ten years to allow their farmer-shareholder who were opposed to the change to continuing supply stock, but they eventually succumbed to the political pressure and began all halal processing. After being a very profitable operation, it had a number of very bad years and had to merge with some other meat companies to survive.

Halal slaughtering has become the norm in New Zealand, although only about 15 percent of sheep meat is exported to Moslem countries. The meat processing companies prefer to have all livestock halal slaughtered, so that they can send stock to any market. They say that people in other counties do not care that meat has been subject to a religious process when slaughtered.

A few small processing companies still have not adopted halal slaughtering, but the number is getting fewer. This leaves few options for farmers who object to their livestock being halal slaughtered. The same regulations have been applied to the slaughtering of beef.
A significant number of farmers have continued to refuse to have their livestock halal slaughtered, but this has significantly reduced the markets open to them. Over the forty years, they have paid a significant cost for their stand. I admire their courage and persistence in doing what is right.

Sheep farmers in New Zealand have had some very difficult years with low prices and difficult growing conditions. The number of sheep has dropped massively, as farmers in the South Island switched from sheep farming to dairy farming. Sheep numbers have more than halved to 27 million, while dairy cattle numbers have doubled to 6.5 million.

I have a couple of questions for readers in the US, UK and Europe.

  • Have Christians farmers in these countries been forced to have their livestock halal slaughtered in the same way as here (sheep or beef).
  • Do people in these countries care if the meat they buy has been halal slaughtered.
  • Are there meat wholesalers or importers in these countries, who specialise in meat that has not been halal slaughtered (there are plenty who specialise in halal meat). Is there a market for meat that has not been halal slaughtered?
If you know the answers to any of these questions, or know someone who does, please leave a comment.

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