MUSCAT // With international supermarket chains cropping up in the country during the last five years, Omani families have become suspicious of meat being sold in local markets and are urging the government to enforce laws that require retailers to label their products as halal or non-halal.
According to official statistics, Oman imports about 80 per cent of its meat and poultry products, either fresh from nearby countries such as India and Pakistan, or frozen meat from New Zealand and Australia. Muslims are allowed to eat only meat or poultry slaughtered by a fellow Muslim with a knife using a single cut on the throat while reciting the name of God while doing it, according to Islamic law.
"We have beef or lamb from abroad sold here that we suspect the animals are not prepared according to the Islamic custom. The government must force retailers to put stickers to indicate which meat adheres to Islamic sharia to distinguish them from the rest," Mahfoudh al Kharousy, 46, a computer engineer at the defence ministry, said. Other consumers would like to see a total ban enforced on non-halal meat and poultry.
"Why sell it at all in our markets if there is no guarantee it is halal? The government must ban the import of such meat product," Zahra al Lawati, 32, a public relations officer working for an advertisement agency in Muscat, said. Meat and poultry are the main foods for Muslims in Oman during the fasting month of Ramadan, which is expected to start in the second week of August. "Ramadan is a month of piety and we are going to see many Muslims in this period question the legitimacy of the food they eat when they break the fast in the evening. So it would be a good time now for the government to introduce the halal meat law for retailers to follow," said Sheikh Salim al Amry, an imam in Muscat.
But some meat retailers, while saying they have no objections to applying labels to their imported products, warned that such a law would lead to an increase in the price of meat and poultry in Oman. "Meat and poultry that conform with Islamic rituals is expensive because fewer such products are available around the world. Also, we will have to add the cost of labelling each and every packaging that we sell," Ataullah Khan, a butcher in Muscat, said.
Retailers of locally-produced meat and poultry welcomed the idea of a halal law, and said it would create a profitable niche market for them. "Our meat products are genuinely halal and open to the public inspection in our slaughter houses. We are sure that if the law is introduced, then we will benefit from it because we can guarantee authenticity," Abdullah al Farhani, 62, the owner of Al Batnah Butchery in Muscat, said.
Nasser al Kiyumi, an importer and distributor of frozen meat and poultry, dismissed the call from some consumers for the labelling of meat product, saying that such a law would encourage retailers to produce fake certificates of authenticity. "The reason consumers don't care that KFC or Burger King's meat is halal or not is that they know that they cannot ensure its authenticity even if they are told it is halal. I can also easily ask my supplier to send a certificate of authenticity just to satisfy consumers. How will they prove otherwise?" Mr al Kiyumi said.
Mr al Kharoosy and other consumers acknowledged that not all retailers would be honest but still urged the government to enforce the law. "The government can work out how to stop retailers when they come up with fake certifications of authenticity. It might take time but eventually it will catch up. It will also encourage local herdsmen to breed more animals knowing there is a niche market for them," Mr al Kharoosy said. A government official said Oman had no plans to introduce a law for halal meat product but urged retailers to do it anyway for consumers who demand it.