Here in the UK, the figures around meat consumption highlight just how popular meat is in Muslim households. British Muslims – whilst constituting 5% of the UK population – account for 20% of meat consumption in the UK.
Whilst eating meat is of course a halal practice, the prophetic diet was actually predominately vegetarian, comprising far less meat than the average diet of Muslims in Britain today. Meat was, and in many parts of the world still is, expensive.
However, if we think beyond the monetary value, we’re also reminded of the ethical principles behind halal eating: animal welfare, human health and environmental impact.
As Muslims, we’re called to respect Allah’s creation and “tread lightly on this Earth”. If we therefore think of the unnecessary mass-consumption of meat (which is also additionally bad for our health), it becomes clearer to see that we really need to examine how “halal” our eating habits really are.
From farm to fork, meat consumption has a devastating impact on the climate, with masses of C0₂ emissions released from the production, travel and disposal of meat and its packaging. In fact, livestock farming produces 20 to 50% of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions.
How, you may ask?
Well, cattle and other livestock produce waste gases such as methane which are harmful to the environment and estimated to be 84% more harmful than CO₂. Moreover, farming animals requires land, which often results in deforestation as we rid our land of plants which process C0₂ and other gases into oxygen.
Then there’s the environmental damage caused by the process of getting our meat from farm to plate. With imported meat, we hike up air pollution as meat from places like New Zealand has to cross continents to reach us. What’s more, with large-scale businesses there’s the ecological cost of road transport too, as well as plastic packaging and production costs.
Of course, this is nothing like locally-grown produce from small-scale farms and butchers which require considerably less (often almost no) travel, marketing and packaging.
Again, in terms of farming and animal-rearing, as human demand for meat increases, the world’s biodiversity is decreasing. Farmers are forced to breed more and more animals simply for ever-increasing human consumption.
Today, over 80% of land mammals are now either livestock (cows, sheep etc.) or us: meat-eating, high-consuming and polluting humans. This is why our dependency on meat drastically needs to be overhauled.
We therefore need to adopt healthy eating habits both for own health and that of the planet.
From an environmental and spiritual perspective, as Muslims we need to take responsibility for this pollution. We must seek to both reduce our meat consumption and ensure that our meat is locally-sourced to help limit additional C0₂ emissions being incurred from storage and transportation.
From a human perspective, as we’re encouraged by Allah (SWT) to look after our bodies and not eat and drink to excess, we’re once again also reminded of the need to limit our intake of meat.
Qurbani and meat: Designed to help not hinder those in need