The Detroit News - August 5, 2005
Wayne County law fines for fake Islamic diet ads
By Joel Kurth
Wayne County (Michigan) butchers selling bogus blessed meat soon could find themselves in trouble with the law.
Acting on a string of complaints, the County Commission on Thursday made it a misdemeanor for food sellers to falsely claim their meat is halal or kosher. Halal food includes beef, lamb or chicken slaughtered according to Islamic law. Kosher food is prepared under strict Jewish rules.
When the ordinance takes effect in 44 days, violations will be punishable by $500 fines or 90 days in jail.
Although it applies to kosher and halal food, the ordinance was prompted because of the popularity of halal food. Once hard to find, the blessed meat now is available at Metro Detroit chain supermarkets, Asian restaurants and even two McDonald's restaurants in Dearborn.
It's so ubiquitous now that some of southeast Michigan's 100,000 Muslims have trouble trusting the meat that claims to be halal.
"You wonder if they're just saying it's halal," said Bushra Alawie of Dearborn, who shops at a small butcher in the city's south end. "It's a gut instinct. You wonder if those huge supermarkets are really following the Islamic way."
The ordinance requires stores making the halal or kosher claim to post conspicuous signs identifying the slaughterhouse and wholesaler. County health inspectors would respond to complaints about scofflaws and issue citations, said county Executive Robert Ficano….
Ficano proposed the ordinance after meeting this winter with community leaders in Dearborn. The ordinance is based on a similar state law passed in 2002. That law, however, leaves enforcement to sheriff's deputies and police. The county ordinance allows health inspectors to issue fines.
The 15-member County Commission unanimously approved the ordinance without debate.
Detroit Free Press editorial - August 15, 2005
Muslim customers get protection they deserve
Part of good government is trying to understand citizens and, where possible, adopting policies that respond to their needs.
The Wayne County Commission demonstrated as much by passing a new law banning false claims about food aimed at observant Muslims. It follows similar laws passed recently in New Jersey and Illinois.
The law recognizes that Wayne County is home to one of the nation's largest concentration of Arabs and Arab Americans. And they are residents whose dollars help to keep local businesses thriving and who are deserving of consumer-protection initiatives.
Given the rapid growth of the Arab community, the statute was overdue. The State of Michigan has had a law on the books protecting claims regarding kosher products for Jews since 1966.
By custom, Muslims eat meats that are halal, an Arabic word referring to a host of special preparations from the choice of knives used during slaughtering to the prayers that must be recited during the process.
The strength of the county law is in its penalties. Starting next month, inspectors will begin looking for violators, who face a $500 fine and up to 90 days in jail if convicted.
As steep as the consequences of the new law may appear, they're in order, given the increase in butcher shops and restaurants now touting halal products. Muslim customers should help the county remain vigilant about enforcement by reporting any suspected fake halal claims they encounter.
The law will cause a few headaches for some business owners. But the better fact to focus on is what it says of metro Detroit's efforts to show more tolerance.
By making a priority of protecting Muslim consumers, the commission shows it values the diversity in the local population.