ENA’s halal slaughterhouse ready for Eid al-Adha

The barn was teeming with baas of woolly sheep, mooing cows and nibbling goats – nearly 2,000 head of cattle tucked away at the end of a Paterson Street in an industrial part of town.

The animal abode is part of ENA Meat Packing, a 33-year-old halal slaughterhouse among the largest of its kind in the United States. The family farm harvests more than 400,000 animals each year by Islamic standards.

Normally, ENA is inundated with orders from butchers and grocery stores serving the large and growing Muslim community in northern New Jersey. But this week the pace is even faster, with the company in the midst of its busiest time of the year leading up to Eid al-Adha, the Festival of Sacrifice, which begins on Saturday.

“It’s overwhelming,” ENA chief executive Edibey Kucukkarca said during a recent tour. “There are a lot of moving parts and a lot of people. We mainly work with wholesalers and butchers, but during this time of year we work with a lot of retail and outside customers. Our slaughter process is increased tenfold in these three days.

Eid al-Adha, one of the two major Muslim holidays, commemorates Prophet Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son for God. Before he could do so, God arrested Abraham, known to Muslims as Ibrahim, and gave him a ram to sacrifice instead, according to the Quran and the Bible.

During the festival, which lasts three or four days, Muslims organize the slaughter of a goat, sheep or cow and share one third of the meat with family and friends and another third with poor. The Islamic tradition of sacrifice is commonly referred to as qurbani or udhiya. Some will donate to charities that perform the sacrifice and provide meat to families in the United States and abroad.

The Islamic Circle of North America’s humanitarian arm, ICNA Relief, has purchased 500 head of cattle to provide 5-pound cans of meat to families in need across the Northeast, said Arshad Jamal, the regional director. . In New Jersey, they are also accepting meat donations at their Somerset pantry July 11-13. With inflation increasing the cost of living, families welcome the aid, Jamal said.

The tradition of sacrifice and charity during Eid unites Muslims around the world, added Umber Siddiqi, operations and media coordinator for ICNA Relief NJ.

“It’s about being grateful and giving to people in need.”

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From Turkey to Paterson

ENA Meat Packing was started by brothers Ali and Zatibey Kucukkarca, who emigrated to the United States from Turkey in the 1970s. In New York, the enterprising sibling pair ran businesses including a canteen and an apartment building. apartments.

In 1989, they learned that the Italian-American owner of a Whippany slaughterhouse was selling his operation. They had no experience in the industry, but they took what they saw as a good business opportunity and purchased the Morris County location. For Ali Kuckakkarca, who was a student before becoming a businessman, the transition was not easy.

“When they shot down, I couldn’t even get near the door. Little by little, I got used to it,” he said.

He named the company ENA, using the initials of his children’s names: Edibey, his son and current CEO; daughter Nurseda; and Atabey, who runs Senat Poultry, a chicken producer and subsidiary of the halal business also based in Paterson.

They found early success filling a growing specialty market for halal meat, but faced a setback in a fire in 2000. The animals, which were kept in a separate location, were unharmed, but the installation was destroyed. After the fire, they moved to East Fifth Street in Paterson, home to a large and growing Muslim population with roots in the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

An ENA Meatpacking worker handles a slaughtered sheepskin.  Early July is the busiest time of the year for the Paterson company, ahead of Eid al-Adha, the Muslim festival of sacrifice.

About 70% of ENA’s animals come from the family’s 10,000-acre farm in Lometa, Texas, run by Ali’s nephew, Saffet. The rest is purchased at livestock auctions from farms around the country. From Texas, two drivers take turns driving for about twenty hours to the ENA site.

The animals, free of antibiotics and hormones, are slaughtered the same day they arrive and the meat is dispatched within 24 hours, according to the ENA. Two inspectors and a U.S. Department of Agriculture veterinarian work on site full-time to ensure product safety, the company said.

What is Halal?

By volume, the ENA says it is the largest halal-only meat operation in the country, harvesting around 400,000 lambs and goats and nearly 40,000 cows each year. A spokeswoman for the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service said they could not confirm or disclose the volume of production at the facilities they inspect.

For the food to be halal, a Muslim must perform the slaughter and say a prayer word, “Bismillah”, which means “in the name of God”. The animal must be healthy and alive at the time, and it must be done by hand. quickly with a sharp knife cut at the neck.

Often, customers dedicate the animal they purchase to the name of a loved one.

Some large meat companies, such as National Beef and JBS Swift, produce halal products on a large scale. There are smaller halal producers scattered across the United States, including at least five in New Jersey, according to the Food Safety and Inspection Service.

Goats shipped from the company's Texas ranch into the plant's holding section before being slaughtered.  The family farm harvests more than 400,000 animals each year under strict Islamic standards, but its workload increases tenfold ahead of Eid al-Adha.

They must undergo inspection to meet FDA standards, but they do not have to declare whether they are halal to the federal agency. Under New Jersey law, resellers do not have to be Halal certified, but they are regulated in other ways.

The New Jersey Halal Food Consumer Protection Act requires companies to honor the promises and representations they make when selling or serving food presented as following Islamic tradition. Businesses are also required to prominently display information about foods marketed as halal, such as whether they contain pork products or alcohol, both of which are banned.

The ENA said the company does not stun the animals, which usually involves shocking or hitting cattle on the head to immobilize them before they are killed. Some halal slaughterhouses use this method, and Islamic views on the permissibility of stunning before slaughter vary.

Choose an animal

The only time FDA inspectors are not present is during the Eid al-Adha holiday, when there is a religious exemption, and when the ENA provides what it calls “the personalized slaughter”. Families visit and choose the animal they like, which is then prepared while waiting. The process can be done in about 90 minutes.

This will be the first custom cull in three years, after the service was suspended due to COVID. Prices have soared due to an increase in overall meat costs, with a whole lamb or goat selling for around $600 and cows for $4.99 a pound, according to the ENA website. But the increase has not diminished demand.

Customers are numerous and prefer to get their meat on the first day of Eid al-Adha, Ali Kucukkarca said.

“We are a bit nervous,” he added. “We try to make everyone happy. Everyone wants it at the same time on the same day and it’s not possible. We’ll do our best.”

According to the Pew Research Center, New Jersey is the state with the highest proportion of Muslims, at 3% of the population, or about 270,000 people. As the community grew, so did ENA’s business. In the past two years alone, sales have doubled, Edibey Kucukkarca said. To keep pace, they are building a new 75,000 square foot facility next door.

Meat for sale at the ENA Meat Packing plant in Paterson, one of the largest halal slaughterhouses in the country.  Prices have recently skyrocketed due to an increase in overall meat costs, but the increase has not diminished demand, according to the company.

The annex, which is due to open in November, will be able to handle four times as many cattle. It will feature automation to make the job easier, more efficient and cheaper. ENA plans to double its workforce to 100 when the expansion is complete.

In keeping with halal tradition, slaughter will continue to be done by hand.

“There have been times when it’s been so overwhelming, where we say we should close for those days,” Edibey Kucukkarca said as he walked through the busy workplace.

“My father and my grandfather say absolutely not. It’s a church service. You have an impact on people.”

Hannan Adely is a diversity journalist covering Arab and Muslim communities for NorthJersey.com, where she focuses on social issues, politics, prejudice and civil rights. To get unlimited access to the latest news, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @adelyreporter

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