Halal Certification – A Brief History

Today, you can walk into almost any supermarket and see halal products lining the shelves. It’s easier than ever before to eat halal foods as a Muslim living in a western country.

However, that hasn’t always been the case. We recently spoke about how times have changed over the past half a century in regards to halal food, but we think it’s worth revisiting that subject to offer even more detail about how the market grew, thus creating the foundations for the halal certification we see now and how halal will grow in the future.


The Early Days

It’s hard to think of an era like the 1960s as the “early days”, but it was during this time that the western world saw an influx of Muslim immigrants. Many chose to call the United Kingdom their home, but yet more found their way to countries like France and Spain.

This influx of people led to growing demand for halal food, which the western markets of the time had previously not catered towards. The idea of a halal label was alien to all involved. Newly-arrived Muslims were used to their food being halal because of where they had come from, while established western businesses had not previously needed to meet a demand for halal food. This means the halal label on food is a phenomena that is specific to western countries, rather than Muslim ones.

First generation Muslim immigrants were especially keen to maintain halal for their food products. Worries about the potential contamination of permitted meats with forbidden ones, such as pork, led to many buying their meats from Jewish butchers. The parallels between halal and kosher meats came to the fore here.

Initially reserved for special occasions, meat became a staple of the Muslim diet during this period, which again raised demand for halal products. Throughout the 1970s, Islamic butcher’s shops began trading, especially in France. Usually owned by families, these shops certainly weren’t mainstream, but they offered Muslims more control over the food they put in their bodies. Often, the fact that such butcher’s shops were owned by Muslims was enough of a guarantee of halal that a label was not needed.


The Move Towards Certification

As we moved into the 1990s, this general structure of small halal butcher’s with no labelling continued. However, the 1990s also saw the rise of several food crises, the two most important of which were the rise of foot-and-mouth disease and mad cow disease.

This led to increasing public pressure to improve the quality of western meat, both from Muslims and western consumers themselves. For the first time, western abattoirs started equipping themselves with the equipment needed to create halal meat.

This added a level of industrialisation to what had traditionally been a ritual slaughtering process, so there were missteps. However, the growing acceptance of the halal method led to the introduction of halal certification, which gave Muslims the confidence to purchase meats from mainstream providers, as well as the small butcher’s shops that had serviced them for so long.


The Current Day

Today, the prominence of halal in the food industry has led to more regulation that ensures products carrying the halal certification actually meet the correct rules. More recently, Malaysia has secured a pledge from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to create more stringent guidelines for halal.

As such, you’re now just as likely to see the halal label on jewellery, cosmetics, and anything else that comes into contact with your body as you are on meat.