Iowa Public Television


Muslim Suit Riles Ohio Pork Industry

posted on October 7, 2011

    COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - A decision by Ohio officials to remove all
pork products from prison menus in response to a lawsuit by Muslim
inmates is not sitting well with the state's pork producers and
     Both promise action of their own, including a possible counter
lawsuit, to address what they consider an unfair and illogical
     "We really think it's not in the best interest, frankly, of the
whole prison system," said Dick Isler, executive director of the
Ohio Pork Producers Council. "It seems like we're letting a small
group make the rules when it really isn't in the best interest of
the rest of prisoners."
     Pork is inexpensive and nutritious and compares well to other
lean meats, he said.
     Ironically, the inmates' lawsuit doesn't involve pork at all; it
demands that non-pork meats like beef come from animals slaughtered
according to Islamic law. But the prisons system responded by
simply removing pork as an option altogether.
     If Ohio would provide Muslim inmates with pre-packaged meals
similar to those given to Jewish inmates, as the lawsuit requests,
it wouldn't be necessary to remove pork from menus, said David
Singleton, executive director of the Ohio Justice and Policy
Center, which is suing on behalf of the two inmates.
     Assistant prisons director Steven Huffman has spoken with Isler,
but the system isn't changing its mind, spokeswoman JoEllen Smith
said Wednesday.
     She said she couldn't comment on the lawsuit specifically, but
said removing pork assures that inmates' religious practices aren't
jeopardized by pork coming into contact with other food during
     Ohio joins California, Florida, Maryland and Massachusetts among
states that don't serve pork in prisons. Massachusetts stopped
serving pork more than a decade ago to satisfy religious
preferences, said prisons spokeswoman Diane Wiffin.
     Ohio first took pork off the menu in 2009 after, in a
money-saving attempt, it closed the pig farm and processing
facility it operated to provide meat for inmates.
     Last year, after lobbying by pork producers, the system added
pork rib patties back to the menu once a week, at a cost of about
$27,000 a week. The pork was provided by a Michigan company, and so
Ohio producers aren't affected, Smith said.
     "This issue seems to be blown out of proportion based on a
misunderstanding," she said.
     Pork is big business in Ohio, the country's eighth-largest
producer, with 3,700 farms raising 4 million pigs a year.
     Kristin Mullins, who lobbies for Ohio pork processors, said the
move last year actually saved Ohio money because pork was less
expensive at the time than other meats.
     "Let's service the entire prison population and not let one
portion dictate what's being served," said Mullins, who also
represents processors in Kentucky and Tennessee.
     In a federal lawsuit, death row inmate Abdul Awkal complains
that the state is restraining his religious freedoms by not
providing meals prepared according to Islamic law, known as halal,
while at the same time supplying Jewish prisoners with kosher
meals. The Quran, the holy book of Islam, prohibits Muslims from
eating pork.
     Awkal, joined by a second inmate not on death row, says the
vegetarian and non-pork options aren't good enough. The inmates say
food must be prepared in specific fashion, such as ensuring that an
animal is butchered by slitting its throat and draining its blood,
to conform to Islamic beliefs.
     Prison guidelines for Muslim inmates already provided that meals
will be "free of all pork and products containing or derived from
     A judge has given lawyers and inmates for the state until next
month to finish filing documents bolstering their arguments, ahead
of an expected January trial.
     Ohio says requiring halal meals could mean new dietary plans for
as many as 2,000 inmates, while Awkal's lawyers believe the figure
is lower because not all Muslims eat halal meals.
     Awkal, 52, is scheduled to die in June for killing his estranged
wife, Latife Awkal, and brother-in-law Mahmoud Abdul-Aziz in 1992,
in a room in Cuyahoga County Domestic Relations Court. Joining
Awkal in the lawsuit is Cornelius Causey, 35, serving 15 years to
life for murder and aggravated robbery convictions out of Hamilton
     In court documents, Ohio has argued that it provides both
non-pork and vegetarian meals to Muslims and says the courts have
sided with this practice. The state also says that providing halal
meals could hurt Ohio financially, given the current budget
     California provides packaged kosher meals to Jewish inmates and
halal meals prepared at prisons for Muslim prisoners.
     Texas, which does serve pork to prisoners, offers Muslim inmates
regular, meat-free or pork-free meals but not halal meals.

Tags: agriculture inmate rights Muslims pork religion