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September 29, 2010

Local US Farmers Cater to Muslim Traditions

by Jeff Swicord

Many Muslim-Americans have often had difficulty finding Halal-certified meat, or meat slaughtered in according to Islamic tradition, in their local grocery stores.  Sometimes, they have resorted to buying whole goats or lambs on farms and slaughtering them on-site themselves, in accordance with tradition.  But this is illegal in many parts of the United States.  Realizing the growing Muslim market in the U.S., some American farmers are opening legal halal-certified slaughterhouses with great success.

After 37 years of working with livestock on other people's farms, Joe Kavanagh decided to open a slaughterhouse on his own farm with a unique clientele in mind.

Part of his business is catering to Muslims, who want to buy meat from animals they know have been slaughtered in accordance with the Islamic tradition of halal.

"My youngest sister is married to a Kuwaiti Muslim," said Joe Kavanagh, owner of Lambco. "And, we had talked about it over the years.  There is a lot of, well we call them 'back woods' operations in America where people go and get lambs and goats and stuff like that.  I just wanted to do something for the rest of my life and not have to look over my shoulders and hold my breath when I did it."

WARNING: This Video Contains Graphic Images

The "back woods" operations, as Joe calls them, are illegal in this part of rural Maryland, and rarely clean or sanitary.  Joe saw an opportunity to build a legally-certified slaughterhouse that catered to the Muslim community.

His facility called Lambco LLC,  is built in accordance with U.S. Department of Agriculture safety and sanitary standards.

Most of his business is with a large national grocery store chain, but he also sells to individuals.  And with more than 800,000 Muslims in the Baltimore-Washington area, he says business is growing every month.  

One of Joe's customers, Syed Wagar Farhat, is from Pakistan.  He has been slaughtering animals the halal way since he was a young boy.

"When we slaughter, we slaughter with the knife and we cut like half throat and we have to read some verses of our holy book, Koran," said Syed Wagar Farhat.

Traditional U.S. slaughterhouses shoot animals in the head with a stun-gun, causing brain trauma.  Then they hoist the animals up and bleed them out.  The Islamic way is to hold the animal down with its head pointed toward Mecca.

As the person performing the ritual recites the Koran, he makes a quick cut to the main arteries in the neck. The animal bleeds out, and slowly loses consciousness.  According to the Koran, this should be done as humanely as possible.

"This way, all the air when he breathe, all the air will go in, and all the blood will come out," explained Farhat. "So there will be no blood in his tissues and muscles."

Joe Kavanagh says the most difficult thing about starting his business was working through all the county, state, and federal health regulations.

"You would have thought I was building a nuclear reactor down here and getting water out of the creek," he said.

His facility is inspected regularly, and he is often complimented on its cleanliness - something that is not lost on customers like Farhat who used to frequent some of the illegal operations.

"We used to go to some farms and they didn't have a slaughter house," Farhat said. "We had to slaughter by the trees where we can have a lot of mosquitoes and insects."

For Joe Kavanagh, working with the Muslim community is good business.  Farhat leaves with peace of mind.  The goat meat will last his family for a month.  He knows the facility was clean, the animal was healthy and was slaughtered in accordance with Islamic tradition.