By Sarah Marshadlam
So what’s the big deal about relgious slaughter?
The revelation that supermarkets and food outlets across the UK have been supplying us with Halal meat in secret has just gone viral in the past few days. It’s made people aware of what religious slaughter entails and sparked outrage by the fact it is unlabelled.
As someone who has been interested in animal welfare, I’ve been aware and campaigning against religious slaughter for a couple of years along with animal charities such as the RSPCA, PETA and Compassion in World Farming. To me and other supporters, it has absolutely nothing to do with religion or culture. Religious slaughter is cruel in the same way that caged hens are or sow stalls. I couldn’t care less what prayer or blessing they utter over food, just the psychical process. The fact it has gone unlabelled is wrong no matter what your beliefs are.
There are a lot of comments flying around critisizing us who oppose religious slaughter. Some people are misinformed – you can see comments on the internet such as ‘Who cares?’, ‘No slaughter is painfree, what is the difference?’ ‘Most of Halal meat is pre stunned anyway, what’s the problem?’ and ‘Halal meat is only different in that it’s had a Muslim blessing uttered over it’. ‘Why not be a vegetarian?’
Whether you care about halal or not, don’t you think we should have a right to choose?
Supermarkets and eateries cashed in on the fact that there are many muslims in Britain and wrongly assumed that non-mulsims ‘don’t care’ whether they are receiving halal meat or not. You can see how in their money making minds, they would think ‘people wont care, so we may as well have all meat halal and that will keep muslims happy too’. Now it is obvious people DO care. OnePoll revealed 83% of people asked thought animals should be pre-stunned properly. The poll in the Guardian was roughly 50/50.
For one reason, it’s a consumers right to know what they are buying. Remember the outrage from the horse meat scandal? And recently the fact that supermarkets were advertising trawled tuna as pole and line? Consumers have a right to know what they are buying and putting into their body. On the Pizza Express website it says that they never kept it a secret that they use halal meat as it’s on their websites…. I don’t know about you, but do you scour a restraunts website for potential things like this? Especially when before a couple of days ago, most people didn’t realise halal was used in the mainstream. You wouldn’t think to go on their website to look for it, because you had no reason to think it. Especially if you are living in a place, like I do where we don’t seem to have any muslims. It doesn’t say anything about it in their menus, or in their stores. If there’s no secret about it, why not advertise it there?
As well as it being against our spiritual beliefs to eat an animal that has been religiously slaughtered, it’s also against Sikhs religious beliefs too to eat kosher or halal meat.
Are they stunned or aren’t they?
EU regulations state that all animals slaughtered must be pre stunned with the EXCEPTION to religious slaughter. This makes the regulation pretty pointless as it means that religious slaughter houses don’t have to stun the animals. To those that don’t stun, the animal is entirely concious and in pain and frightened throughout the whole process. In 2012 the FDA revealed that in religious slaughter, 3% of cattle, 10% of sheep and goats, 4% poultry of animals in religious slaughter are NOT stunned at all.
Is religious slaughter stunning different than traditional stunning?
Traditional British slaughter involves a bolt of electricity or physical bolt to the brain making the animal instantly unconscious and unable to feel pain. So what about the religious slaughterhouses that do use stunning? If the animals dies due to stunning itself, then they cannot eat it so they have to ensure this doesn’t happen. A lower voltage is used to stun the animals. The problem with this is that after the lower voltage only renders it unconscious for about 37 seconds and then recovery begins. In fact, on the organic – halal- meat website (which is pro halal) says this is even shorter – they state: “The stun used is a very low voltage that knocks the animal out for around 15-20 seconds. After 20 seconds it is potentially back to normal and during that 20 seconds it is alive and breathing. This means that when the animal is cut it still bleeds the animal properly”.
After the stun, the animals throat is cut and in halal slaughterhouses they are hung upside down to drain. Unfortunately death doesn’t always occur in 37 seconds, for example a calf can take 104 seconds to die. For some animals it can take longer. Blood accumilates in the spinal cord when hanging upside down enabling it to feel pain, which apart from the cutting, the being hung upside down would be extremely painful for a larger animal such as a cow. Watching videos on youtube of animals in pain and fear as they spend a few minutes to die is heart breaking.
The speed of the death depends on the precision of the knife user. Some methods are more benificial from a religious viewpoint but not a biological one. In investigations, it is shown that in some kosher slaughterhouses, cows were seen staggering about: “A cow stood up after being dumped on the floor and went into the corner. They managed to kill one or two more cows while he lay there moving around trying to stand up. He continually moved his nearly severed head around … as his legs were also making an effort to stand.”The first time I saw a cow stagger to his feet and walk around with his trachea dangling outside of his body, I thought to myself, this can’t be happening—but after several days I knew better….There is no justification for the cruelty I documented in that slaughterhouse. ” One video shows this taking five minutes.
If we eat meat anyway, do we care how it dies?
Now, there is no way I’m saying current methods of all aspects of factory farming are great, which is why charities like Compassion in World Farming are compelling the government to improve conditions, and religious slaughter is just one of the things on the agenda. It’s obvious that every piece of meat we eat has been bred and killed specifically for our consumption.
It’s easy to say ‘why not be a vegetarian and not eat meat at all’ but although that would be a lovely Utopian ideal, there is NO WAY everyone in the UK and the rest of the world will become vegetarian. So, as believed by animal organisations especially Compassion in World Farming, IF we as humans are going to continue to eat meat, we have to make sure that the life of the animal and the death is as peaceful and pain free as possible. This is why charities like these have been campaigning with success for improvements into the factory farming industry. They banned battery hens, they banned sow stalls – gradually things are improving for animals that are used for food. Live exports is another terrible practice which they are campaigning for.
Where is the line between respecting religions and common sense drawn?
Quite rightly, in the UK we are taught to respect other religions and cultures,but at what point is a line drawn between respecting people’s beliefs and common sense. Religion can be interpreted so many different ways, and a lot of things are taken out of context or are just outdated. Because this is regarding animals and animals are deemed not as important as humans, it’s allowed. We don’t allow female genital mutilation or arranged marriages even though these are aspects of people’s religion and cultures. Why don’t we allow these? Because common sense says, ‘No this is wrong’. But the difference is, this is regarding animals, which people don’t think is as important… Also there is the fact that religiously slaughtered meat is bringing in nice profit.
Playing the ‘Racist’ Card
To those who do care about animal welfare, other religions or just agree with consumer rights, how are we being treated?
Take these head lines:“The national debate on animal slaughter smacks of sensationalism and Islamophobia, Jewish and Muslim groups said last night” “The hysteria over halal chicken has nothing to do with animal welfare. It’s phoney outrage that tastes of Islamophobia” “The halal outrage has little to do with animal welfare. The Daily Mail et al feign concern for animals in their objection to Muslim ritual slaughter – which is in fact a humane, swift method”
I certainly wasn’t labelled a racist or bigot when I campaigned against battery hens, live exports or even the use of seahorses in Chinese medicine. Yet now, people like me are being critisized as ‘Islamaphobes’. Its prejudice and discriminative to belittle OUR beliefs and dismiss them especially stating it has nothing to do with animal welfare.
So if this is just about anti-muslims and nothing to do with animal welfare then why are the RSPCA, British Veterinary Association, PETA and Compassion in World Farming bothered?
‘Comedian’ Russell Brand made a ridiculous video reply which started with holding up the Sun with the headline about Pizza Express having only Halal meat in their restaurants, saying: ‘ I can’t believe the sun had such a racist front cover’? He then went on to joke about the difference between Halal killing, by slitting the throat and then the British way, singing Spandard Ballet to them. I gave up watching at that point, he obviously had not bothered to research anything and instead make a sweeping statement that all who oppose halal are just racists.
The real victims of discrimination
Its very ironic that we are being called racist. After all, its OUR beliefs that are being dismissed and us that are receiving the derogatory name calling. We are being judged by sweeping statements, stereotyped as ‘Daily Mailers’, ‘Islamaphobes and receiving negative comments. THIS is prejudice and discrimination.
As I said, in Britain we are encouraged to respect other people’s beliefs and not offend, quite right too! However, our own beliefs and opinions should matter too. All people should be respected, not just certain minority groups. I remember recently a dinner lady got the sack because she gave non-kosher food to a Jewish boy. I agree, this was not right. But his parents weren’t labelled racist for rejecting non-jewish food? So why is it ok for a non muslim to be secretly fed halal/kosher food?
For people like me, it’s against our spiritual beliefs to eat animals that have been killed this way. However it’s not just us which are being discriminated against – it is against Sikhs religions to eat Halal or Kosher food too. So why is it one rule for one and one rule for another? When a child is given non kosher meat, a dinner lady is sacked (because the food was given to them and it’s against their religion), yet it’s ok for a Sikh to be given halal or kosher meat even though it’s against their religion?
Surely, whether you are Muslim, or you just don’t care about animal slaughter, you must agree that food should be correctly labelled? That as consumers we have a right to choose, in the same way we can choose whether we buy free range eggs or caged-hen eggs?
Negative affects of discrimination.
The result of the name calling and finger pointing at people opposing religious slaughter will lead to more bad feeling. People don’t like being labelled derogatory names like racist, especially when we aren’t. We don’t like our views and opinons being distorted and trampled on either. Previously moderate and tolerant people will indeed be riled and think ‘Hang on a minute, what about us? We are British citizens too, why is our view not important just because we aren’t a minority group? Everyone cares about respecting Muslim’s beliefs, but not ours?’ Respecting equality and diversity creates a rich and peaceful society, but that doesn’t just apply to certain groups.
So what can we do ?
Spreading awareness is the key and standing up for your rights. We need to make supermarkets and eateries aware that we DO care where our meat comes from. Sign petitions such as the ones from British Veterinary Association here:
Also this could have a positive effect on local farmers – rather than buy meat at the supermarket go to your local butcher.
RSCPA views on religious slaughter:
Compassion in World Farming: