Late last year I visited a Halal takeaway in Tooting. I noticed the sign on the door, and so ordered a bean burger. My droogs were at first perplexed at this, but for some reason I didn’t feel as though I could voice my concerns without coming across as – well – a bit rude. Perhaps this was incredibly patronising of me. I do like to think that this did have some effect on alleviating animal suffering. I like to think of myself as something of a modern day Pocahontas.
This week, the President Elect of the British Vetinary Assosciation, John Blackwell, has only gone out and said that slicing open an animal’s throat while it’s still fully conscious may not be the most humane thing in the world. Which seems to have re-ignited a fair bit of outrage. All of this could, however, be just a giant conspiracy against Muslims and Jews, led by far-right extremist hate groups like the BVA, the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe, the Humane Slaughter Association, the RSPCA and errrrr…Compassion in World Farming.
Of course, all of our animal welfare laws were written with special clauses exempting religious groups. People whose religious feelings are violated by animal welfare. God, I detest this sort of exemption. They are unfair by definition. It’s literally literally one rule for some people and another for others, provided you can come up with a sufficiently mystical reason why you should be exempted. Really, our laws could be paraphrased:
“You must not do this, unless you believe that you shouldn’t have to, in which case don’t worry about it.”
And whenever this sort of debate is held, it’s always some empirically-derived certainty balanced against ‘strongly held religious feelings’. For example: Most experts agree that the world is round. But some people think it’s flat. How is this going to affect air traffic control?
While I’m not entirely sure why the religiousness of a particular feeling should be important, I am quite sure that the people who say this sort of thing believe its importance to be absolutely paramount. As you may have gathered, I disagree; and whenever I hear a phrase of this sort, I make a point of mentally subtracting the adjective:
“We have to balance animal welfare with people’s feelings.”
There you go, now you can see how insane everything is.
Religious rules are so nebulous and open to interpretation that they’re not really rules at all. All the word ‘Halal’, means is that Muslims are allowed to eat it. How this is decided, exactly, I have no idea – what does and doesn’t constitute Halal is a matter of such intense controversy that entire careers have been devoted to debating it.
The thing is, the word ‘Halal’ doesn’t necessarily indicate that the animal hasn’t been stunned. In fact, if this 2011 survey by the FSA is at all representative, Shechita is far worse. Around 80% of meat is stunned prior to slaughter in Halal abattoirs, whereas for their Shechita equivalents the number approached nil.
Despite this, I haven’t seen much in the way of anti-Shechita sentiment in the media. Maybe it’s because there aren’t quite so many Shechita butchers? I rather think it’s down to the fact that Jew-bashing lacks the social licence that Muslim-bashing has acquired; indeed, the latter practice seems to be enjoying something of a renaissance. If you want proof of this, find a tabloid headline that refers to Muslims and replace it with the word ‘Jew’: “Jews tell us how to run our schools”; “Jews tell British – go to hell!!1”; “Jewish plot to kill Pope”; and so on.
There are several schools of ethical thought on the matter; one popular one, which I subscribe to, and have discussed here previously, is the thing where you minimise pain caused to the animal. The popular method of doing this is to deliver a massive electric shock to the temples just prior to slaughter, rendering the animal instantly insensible.
The problem here is that this suggestion was not made any point in any Holy Books of Unassailable Wisdom. I’ve got a fairly good idea of why that is the case: at the time the Torah and Qu’ran were written, electricity hadn’t been invented yet. That would come much later, upon Chris Hemsworth’s descent from Asgard.
One suggestion that’s been brought up is that idea of mandatory labelling – not of Halal or Kosher, but of anything that hasn’t been stunned. I can understand why someone’s religion might command them not to stun the animal, insofar as I understand that religion can command people to do all manner of crazy things. I can’t, however, understand how anyone could object to sticking a goddam label on the packet so everyone – whatever their beliefs – is aware of what they are buying. If I buy a piece of dead animal flesh, I’d like to have some control over how the animal came to arrive at that state.
Until next week.