It is a hot-potato issue that in a past parliament prompted Mmadinare MP, Ponatshego Kedikilwe who at the time had self-demoted to the backbench, to ask: “What is halaal?”
Like many more non-Muslim Batswana consumers, Kedikilwe was concerned about the imposition of a religio-cultural standard in a mostly Christian nation. Then as now, some poultry farmers were complaining about not being able to sell to supermarkets which insisted on halaal meat. The elaborate halaal ritual requires that the person slaughtering an animal should be a Muslim. Interestingly though and minus the religious aspects, Batswana have traditionally drained all the flowing blood from a freshly slaughtered animal. However, widespread application of a Muslim standard in a Christian-majority was always going to be problematic.
The battle over halaal erupted long after the Botswana Meat Commission had adopted this practice at its plants in Lobatse, Francistown and Maun. This appears to have been a wise move. According to a beef value chain analysis action plan that was developed under the framework of the Private Sector Development Programme (PSDP), BMC’s ability to produce halaal-certified beef puts it in an excellent position to penetrate the lucrative Middle East market. BMC has already entered into a memorandum of understanding with a Kuwaiti distributor for supplying the entire Middle East. The PSDP plan says that these types of relationships need to be proactively pursued and that BMC’s halaalpractice will be helpful in this venture.
To answer, Kedikilwe’s basic question, lexically halaal means “permissible” under Islam ÔÇô the opposite is haram. In terms of the halaal procedure, an animal has to be slaughtered in a ritual way known as Zabihah which requires the animal to be alive and healthy at the time of slaughter. The animal has to be fed as normal and given water prior to slaughter and must not be suffering from any ailments or have any lacerations. The knife should be razor-sharp and four times the size of the neck. As far as possible, the slaughterer and the animal should face Mecca. In order for the animal to suffer as little pain as possible, the jugular vein, carotid artery and windpipe have to be severed by the knife with a single swipe. Only a Muslim should perform the slaughter and in the process doing so, will recite a dedication known as tasmiya or shahada. Other animals must not see the other being slaughtered. All the flowing blood must be drained out of the carcass.
In 2009, the Ministry of Trade and Industry introduced amended the Control of Goods Act to provide for the marking and labelling of halaal and non-halaal meat and meat products.
The PSDP plan says that market diversification should be a key objective for Botswana beef and that an important aim would be to reduce the reliance on, and the consequent risks associated with, a very narrow range of markets.
“BMC has been targeting alternative markets over an extended period. However, this work needs to be undertaken more systematically, based on robust market research and a coordinated and sustained set of actions,” it adds.