Halal-certified red meat exports increased 13% during the 2020-21 season with most products going to non-Muslim markets, according to an analysis by the Meat Industry Association (MIA).
More than 90% of New Zealand meat is slaughtered by the halal method and this can only be done by people who are fully qualified to undertake this work.
Meat Industry Association (MIA) chief executive Sirma Karapeeva told Rural News the situation is not great. She recently made an impassioned appeal to Parliament's primary production select committee in a bid to prod the Government into progressing the issue.
About 250 halal slaughterman are employed in the meat industry, almost all of them from overseas. But half of them are on visas which are due to expire in the next six or so months and Karapeeva says when their visas run out, there is no certainty that replacements will be allowed in.
"This is what we are most worried about because halal processing is so critical to what we do and so we are not in a very good position," she says.
The reason that most of the animals are slaughtered by the halal method is to give the meat exporters the flexibility to sell their meat to any country in the world. The halal cut is a critical part in the killing process Karapeeva says.
"Once the animal is deemed to be slaughtered in the halal way, then it can continue through the chain as a halal carcass and can be broken down into various bits and pieces for export," she explains. "If the animal is not slaughtered in the halal manner there is absolutely no way in the ongoing process to designate it halal."
In the past, Muslim slaughtermen have come from places such as Fiji and Malaysia. The MIA also ran a training course for men in Indonesia before the advent of Covid.
Karapeeva says she's been at pains to impress on politicians and officials that the case of the halal slaughtermen is a unique situation and not a case of money or training.
"Ultimately, there is a religious component in this that we can't do anything about," she adds. "We are not going to be setting up a conversion centre to convert good Kiwi blokes into Muslim slaughtermen."
Karapeeva says with the meat processing season just a few months away, meat companies are deeply concerned about the uncertainty of not having Muslim slaughtermen for the full season.
Karapeeva says she's talked to politicians who claim they understand the problems the meat industry is facing, but they don't seem to be able to get their heads around what to do.
"The MIA was very clear and specific about our one request of the Government. Hopefully that will encourage the select committee to put forward a strong case to government and move this along."