Non-halal meat served as halal a 'gross violation' of trust, says University of Regina student

A food service company that has twice sold non-halal food and advertised it as halal has violated students’ trust, says the University of Regina’s Muslim Students’ Association president.

University of Regina seeks to hold in-person meeting with food services company

Some University of Regina students are upset about mislabelling of a chicken pita served at Global Village on campus. The meat was labelled as halal, prepared in accordance with Muslim law, but was not in fact halal. (Virginia Mayo/Canadian Press)

A food service company that has twice put out non-halal food and advertised it as halal has violated business ethics and student trust, says the University of Regina's Muslim Students' Association president.   

"We can't trust this organization ever again," said Muhammad Abdul Rehman.

The mistake should be of concern not just for Muslim students on campus, but for all students who may have particular dietary restrictions, he said.

"It's about every single person on campus; it's about every single person that buys something from this company, because it's misleading to give someone a product that's labelled something else and is something else."

Abdul Rehman said he was contacted on Thursday by three of his fellow students who had eaten at Global Village on campus, a food service location that sometimes offers halal options, or meat slaughtered in accordance with Muslim law. 

They were hurt and they were angry.- Muhammad Abdul Rehman, president of Muslim Students' Association

A dish had been labelled as halal, but the students happened to ask the kitchen staff and chef to double-check if the meat was prepared as halal.

"There was a mixed message from basically every single person and at the very end, they said no, it's not halal," said Abdul Rehman.

For practicing Muslims, who want to adhere to the religious dietary restriction, this came as a total shock. 

"Everyone I spoke to that basically went through this, they were hurt and they were angry because to them the label is just enough," he said.

All people should be concerned about companies that do not properly label food, says president of the Muslim Students' Association Muhammad Abdul Rehman, as others who may have allergies or who have other dietary restrictions may also be served food that they don't mean to eat. (CBC News)

More than one-time mistake

A similar incident had taken place in the fall semester, but the students had accepted it as a one-time occurrence that happened due to negligence, he said. But having it happen twice spiked fears that the students may have unknowingly eaten non-halal meat more than once.

"God knows what type of business practices are taking place, if this is something that is happening on a regular basis [or] is this something that happened one time?" he asked.

He noted Chartwells, the food service provider contracted by the university, is part of multinational company Compass Group that serves around four billion meals a year. 

University says mislabelling 'disrespectful'

The University of Regina confirmed it was aware of two incidences of non-halal meat being served as halal. In the fall, the university and Chartwells agreed on a few practices to make sure the issue doesn't come up again.

Last week, the university wrote to the company, stating it was clear that the agreed-upon practices had not been followed. 

Muhammad Abdul Rehman, president of the University of Regina's Muslim Students' Association, said he believes the university takes students' concerns seriously and is working to address issues raised around food labelling. (CBC News)

"This is not simply a matter of mislabeling; it is disrespectful to our Muslim students, faculty and staff who rely on having halal meat as part of their University food service," stated the letter from John Smith, associate vice-president of Student Affairs at the University of Regina. "It is also a reputational risk for the University of Regina."

Stephanie Baxter, director of communications with Compass Group Canada, acknowledged that on Feb. 15, non-halal chicken was accidentally served on the buffet. Once the error became known, she said the signage was changed to let customers know. 

The company takes this matter seriously, and offered its apologies to staff and students who were impacted, she said.

"We are currently conducting a thorough investigation and are working with the university to implement additional measures to ensure it does not happen again."

Abdul Rehman said he's glad to see the university taking steps to meet with Chartwells and address student concerns. 

"The problem we're trying to tackle is a gross violation, of moral and business ethics that everyone should be adhering to in this country."