The circulation of a press release announcing KFC Canada’s shift to sourcing Halal-certified chicken for most of its restaurants in Ontario set social media ablaze over the weekend, causing the hashtag #BoycottKFC to trend online.

Toronto-based influencer Dahlia Kurtz kicked off the panic on Saturday, sharing a screenshot of the press release accented with the ominous words “And so it begins, quietly …” (Kurtz’s post had racked up 5.6 million views as of Tuesday evening.)

The press release, dated May 8, said that restaurants in Thunder Bay and Ottawa had been temporarily excluded from the switch, but that all outlets in Canada would be following suit by year’s end. It also announced that the franchise would be discontinuing the sale of pork products at all Canadian locations, causing many online to lament the cursed fate of the calorific Double Down sandwich (bacon and cheese between two fried chicken fillets) north of the 49th parallel.

But Canadians need not fear that this is the start of some sort of chicken coup — KFC’s switch to halal birds has far more to do with capitalism than religion. If anything, the iconic fried chicken franchise has dragged its feet too long and is now left playing catch-up with competitors who’ve already swooped in on the growing market of halal-conscious consumers.

As it turns out, followers of the famously pork-averse Muslim faith are partial to their poultry. No less an authoritative source than Canadian Poultry magazine reported in 2014 that annual growth in halal chicken sales was outpacing overall growth in the market for fresh chicken by a six-to-one margin.

And market research indicates that the appetite for halal offerings extends far beyond Muslim Canadians. The Halal Monitoring Authority reports that non-Muslims make up nearly 40 per cent of Canada’s market for halal foods. Halal meats have an especially broad appeal as they are free from hormones, GMOs and other additives. Halal meat is also considered by some nutritionists to be healthier than alternatives, one reason being that blood is drained from the carcasses of halal-slaughtered animals, clearing out blood-borne toxins.

So food establishments are killing two birds with one stone when they go halal, catering to both Muslim clientele and health conscious non-Muslims. Halal is a no-brainer from a business perspective.

In fact, several of KFC’s biggest competitors beat it to the punch in this respect. Chicken-centric chains Popeyes, Mary Brown’s, Church’s Texas Chicken and Nando’s all had halal offerings on their menus prior to last month’s announcement from KFC Canada’s corporate office. Even Swiss Chalet, a chain that sits firmly at the pantheon of Canadian casual dining, made the jump to sourcing halal chicken with little fanfare.

Admittedly, some valid humanitarian concerns have been raised surrounding the method prescribed in Islamic law for slaughtering animals, which entails the slitting of the animal’s throat while it is still conscious. Experts generally agree that this manner of execution is not instantaneous, meaning that the animal involved will feel pain while bleeding out.

Muslim religious leaders are divided on the question of whether it’s permissible to stun animals, for humane reasons, before killing them in this gruesome manner. In practice, most halal slaughterhouses in Canada and the United States use some form of stunning. Some Muslim groups, notably the Muslim Society of P.E.I., have argued that stunning is not necessary for smaller animals.

While prospective consumers should certainly be made aware of ethical issues stemming from halal slaughter, the grim reality is that meat production as a whole is an ugly business that’s rife with morally questionable practices. It makes little sense for keyboard warriors to train their selective outrage on halal slaughterhouses when abuses span the entire industry.

If Canadians are truly aghast at halal practices, or, for that matter, the creeping Islamization of our fast-food restaurants, they can choose to spend their money accordingly. But it’s patently ridiculous to suggest that KFC Canada is kowtowing to Islamists when its shift to a halal menu is clearly good business.

Capitalism, not Islamism, wins the day.

National Post