Being dependent on the export market for 90% of our agri food sales means that companies and marketing organisations are constantly looking for a new angle to grow market share and add value.
There has been considerable success with Origin Green in presenting Ireland as a natural food producing island. We are preparing to go a step further with a PGI for beef to compliment existing PGI’s for lamb.
The area of land converting to organic production will double this year, and a further 2,000 farmers are expected to sign up when the scheme opens again this autumn.
However, there is a market that is forecast to grow dramatically in coming years, in which Ireland already has a presence, but has not featured in any strategy for adding value to Irish meat and dairy exports.
This is the market for halal product, which is ordinary beef, lamb and dairy, but processed in a different way to satisfy religious requirements of the growing Muslim population.
Food Navigator Europe recently highlighted a report produced by Lyndon Gee on behalf of TAKUL, a UK halal convenience food manufacturer.
It suggests that there is massive growth potential in the sector, as the UK Muslim population is forecast to increase more than three-fold from 4m today to 13m by 2050. It also forecasts that the European Muslim population, which is 4.9% of the total population, will grow to 7.4% of the total population by the middle of the century.
The report also highlights that it isn’t just population that will drive demand, it is also the fact that Muslims are becoming wealthier and will be buying high-value food, including meat and dairy, which will also drive up demand.
Surprisingly, the report also sees potential growth in the non-Muslim population for halal product, and refers to the additional certification that is required as an extra assurance for consumers.
This all points to a market opportunity for Irish beef, lamb and dairy. Indeed, sheep producers are familiar with the Muslim festivals of Eid and Ramadan, which tend to drive demand and the price of Irish lamb.
However, there is a problem and it’s the reason why the halal market opportunity isn’t promoted as actively as the potential would suggest it should be.
The special slaughter process required differs from the typical abattoir process of using a captive bolt to kill the animal. Instead, in Ireland, an animal is stunned and the process completed by a special knife technique.
This process sits uncomfortably with many in the veterinary profession and animal welfare organisations.
Sheep producers are familiar with the Muslim festivals of Eid and Ramadan, which tend to drive demand and the price of Irish lamb
Indeed, many blue-chip customers for Irish beef “discourage” their suppliers from serving the halal market, even if this is a contradiction in itself, because most retailers stock a halal range for their Muslim customers!
The Irish meat processing industry at most dabbles in halal production. It is fairly common with sheep processors, as Muslim customers are a major part of the sheep meat export market.
It is less so with beef and, as a result, halal processing tends to be confined to specialist processors.
Government and their agencies seem to have adopted an acceptance rather than encouragement of halal processing.
Bord Bia have an office located in Dubai to cover the Middle East, where the population is mainly Muslim, but they have never had a halal-focused marketing campaign.
The reason that there is a demand for halal-processed beef and lamb is to meet the religious requirements of Muslim consumers. As that population is set to increase in coming years, it is logical that the market opportunity will increase in parallel.
Yet, this process, no matter how tightly controlled, doesn’t sit easily with 21st-century Irish and European expectations for animal welfare.
These are a long way removed from what was normal in the industry up until a few decades ago, and many older readers will still recall the farm slaughter of cattle and pigs by a local butcher. That was of its time, and modern halal welfare standards will go well beyond that.
Ultimately, it is a conflict of rights and legislation has to dictate which has priority. Currently, halal processing is legal to service the Muslim population, and is therefore a business opportunity that it is perfectly legitimate to develop.
If policy changes in the future and halal processing is no longer legal, then it would have to cease. This is what happened when use of hormones was banned, but in the meantime, it remains a market with considerable potential.