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McDonald's Retreats From Selling Halal Food After Lawsuit

Katie Little With AP.com
Tuesday, 25 Jun 2013 | 4:32 PM ET
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The search for food prepared according to Islamic law at fast-food restaurant chains just got a little trickier.

On Monday, McDonald's announced that its locations in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn, Mich., would stop serving halal food, which requires animals to be slaughtered according to Islamic practices and excludes prohibited items such as pork. The franchisees were the only two in the country to serve halal food.

The move comes several weeks after a $700,000 settlement between McDonald's and a customer who filed a lawsuit in 2011 that alleged the menu items weren't consistently halal.

"We take into account local and dietary preferences, however these items were offered as an exception to McDonald's national core food menu in these two restaurants only," McDonald's said in a statement. "The decision to discontinue offering these items was the result of our continued efforts to focus on our national core menu."

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In the settlement notice, one franchisee said it "has a carefully designed system for preparing and serving halal such that halal chicken products are labeled, stored, refrigerated and cooked in halal-only areas." The company also said it had educated employees about halal food preparation and "requires strict adherence to the process."

Earlier this year, a McDonald's attorney said that if a problem had arisen, "it was isolated and rare."

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Victor Ghalib Begg, a senior advisor at the Michigan Muslim Community Council, said McDonald's decision is sad for observant Muslim families with children who like to visit the fast-food chain, but it's not likely to make a difference in Dearborn, where many alternatives exist.

"There's no shortage of halal restaurants, particularly here in Michigan," he said. Large cities often have numerous options to keep halal. When diners can't find halal meat, many substitute fish or kosher food, which differs slightly.

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"When my wife and I travel and we can't find a halal restaurant, we look for a seafood restaurant or a vegetarian one so we have no trouble at all finding any restaurant to eat," Begg said.

The McDonald's decision reduces the number of large restaurant chains with halal-friendly locations. The halal-food finder app Zabihah organizes halal restaurants by location but includes few large chains. Among the companies that have locations bucking this trend include Crown Fried Chicken & Deli, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Subway and Outback Steakhouse.

Although there are an estimated 2.75 million Muslims in the United States, according to a Pew survey, lawsuits such as the one that McDonald's faced, and the ones that companies claiming to serve "gluten-free" food have encountered, could be one reason why more national chains have not launched their own halal offerings.

—By CNBC News Associate Katie Little. Follow her on Twitter @KatieLittle.

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