By Rose Eveleth, Smiths Online Mag
Halal meat is supposed to adhere to strict religious rules, but a new study suggests it isn’t quite so spotless.
By now, it might come as no surprise to you that a lot of the meat you see and eat isn’t exactly as advertised. Whether it’s horse meat in Ikea’s meatballs, or fox meat in China’s donkey, more and more flesh is coming with surprises. Now, a new study suggests that halal meat—meat that supposedly adheres to strict religious rules—isn’t quite so spotless, either.
A key component of halal meat is that it is free of any kind of pork product. There are other halal rules, as well: the animal cannot have been strangled, beaten, gored, killed by a non-human or been carrion. But once the meat is on your plate, it’s pretty hard to determine if those rules have been followed. What’s in the meat, however, can be tested.
That’s exactly what this study did. The researchers gathered 224 meat products from different food markets in Iran—68 sausages, 48 frankfurters, 55 hamburgers, 33 hams and 20 cold cuts. They tested those meats to see what DNA they could find in them. Here’s what they found:
Results showed that 6 of 68 fermented sausages (8.82%), 4 of 48 frankfurters (8.33%), 4 of 55 hamburgers (7.27%), 2 of 33 hams (6.6%), and 1 of 20 cold cut meat (5%) were found to contain Haram (unlawful or prohibited) meat. These results indicate that 7.58% of the total samples were not containing Halal (lawful or permitted) meat and have another meat.
This isn’t the first time halal meat has come under scrutiny for being contaminated. In February of last year, the U.K. Food Standards Agency had to have an emergency meeting, after a similar DNA study found pork in the meat supplied to prisoners in England and Whales. Those who don’t trust their suppliers to keep halal can even buy a little PCR machine to test their products themselves, according to the American Halal Association. While pork meat is only one part of halal rules, it’s the easiest thing to test. Scientists still haven’t figured out a way to interrogate a slab of meat to see how humanely it was gathered.
Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.