Centralia shop specializes in processing Islamic food

Gene Huguenin is a Christian and Marine Corps veteran. He is also the owner of a Centralia meat processing plant that butchers goats, sheep and beef according to strict Islamic religious standards for shipment to Muslim customers around the world.

The Beef Shop, owned by Gene and his brother Arnold, is now among the few places in America to process meat in total accordance with halal, the method of permissible behavior under Islamic law, including dietary laws.

This weekend will be one of the busiest times of the year for The Beef Shop as it, along with its distributor in Renton, PacWest, will start slaughtering around 200 goats, 200 lambs, and 15 head of beef for the Eid al-Adna, a festival in honor of hajj from Nov. 27 to the 30th. There is heavy demand for halal meat during Muslim celebrations of hajj, or the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, a necessary component of Islam.

The Huguenin brothers saw the partnership with PacWest to produce halal standard meat from a cost-benefit analysis. Generally the meat business is what Gene refers to as “a feast or famine,” but in processing halal meat there is a year-round demand.

“We were looking for other revenue,” said Gene Huguenin about the partnership with PacWest.

“Pepperoni, jerky, beef bologna, all that stuff is a market we are looking into,” he said.

The Huguenins had to install a special holding cell called a knock box at their Airport Road facility for the animal that will be slaughtered by halal standards. The equipment and installation cost about $36,000, according to Gene Huguenin.

There are only six boxes in existence in North America, according to Hamza Abdulkarim, a partner of PacWest, The Beef Shop’s halal meats distributor.

Gene Huguenin says his faith doesn’t conflict at all with The Beef Shop’s new business model.

“It’s one of those things that it’s the same as eating a kosher hot dog,” he said.

The Huguenins started producing halal meat about 50 days ago to provide halal meat to much of the West Coast and beyond, said Abdulkarim.

Many of the animals will be sacrificed, or qurbani in Arabic, in accordance to Muslim tradition, and one-third of the animal will go to the owner of the meat, one-third to the owner’s family and friends, and the last one-third to the poor, according to Abdulkarim.

“Most halal meat is supplied by the Midwest, Wisconsin, northeast Canada and Texas, which is a race to the bottom ... if all halal distributors are selling meat from the same supplier,” Abdulkarim said.

A halal diet has many of the same basic components of a Jewish kosher diet, with cleanliness and thanking God being key.

The only difference between halal and other methods of slaughter is the way the animal is killed. In order to meet the halal standards of ethical slaughter, The Beef Shop employs Manuel Lizalde, an observant Muslim who has been harvesting halal meat for the past five years. A prerequisite for halal harvesting is that the harvester must be an observant Muslim. Before each live animal has its throat slit, or zabiha (the Arabic name of the killing) the harvester stands Qibla (in the direction of Mecca) by the animal and recites the prayer, “Bismillahi Allahu Akbar,” or “God is great and God is the only one,” according to Lizalde.

Other standards for the meat to be certified halal include that the harvester slitting the throat has to believe in Allah as God and Muhammad as the prophet, they have to be accepted by the Muslim community to do the act, and they have to live a life in accordance with Muslim attitudes, including not eating pork or drinking alcohol, said Lizalde.

The animal is drained of its blood. Blood, according to Muslim tradition, is haram, or forbidden, in the Muslim diet. It is also seen as a precautionary action against blood pathogens such as E. coli.

It is argued by both Lizalde and Abdulkarim that the halal method of harvesting is more humane than the stun-and-bolt method.

“The meat tastes so much better and the animal has no pain and suffering,” Lizalde said.