There has been quite a kerfuffle over Halal meat recently and it troubles me.
I am by no means an expert on the subject, but that doesn’t seem to stop anyone else wading in, so here goes…
As I understand it, Halal meat is slaughtered as proscribed by Islamic law. The animal must be alive and healthy when slaughtered. It is killed by hand and must be blessed by the slaughterman, and then all blood must be drained from the body.
As the number of Muslims in the UK increases, so does the provision of Halal meat and, apparently, we often buy it without knowing it.
People are now getting upset about this. They claim that they should be told how their meat is slaughtered and there are calls to boycott those chains that openly confess to using Halal meat (which is a bit of a contradiction as it seems to be those that are telling people how their meat is slaughtered that are being boycotted).
I am so filled with dilemmas and mixed views on this I hardly know where to start.
Ok, first things first: I am not religious, as you may have assessed this from my recent blog about the UK being a Christian country. I try to discriminate against all religions equally, so any biases on this subject are not based on my own religious beliefs.
My view on the subject, as stated in my blog, is that the law in the UK should be a “law which enshrines every individual’s right to believe in whatever gods they want to or none, without danger of persecution, provided that right does not infringe on the rights of others”
So, does the right of Muslim’s to have Halal meat infringe on my rights? Not really. Even if you are a Christian, or any other religion, I am not aware that you are bound by any dogma to avoid Halal meat. I’m also not sure that I have a great deal of sympathy with the view that we should be told how the animals are killed: all manner of horrific animal abuse goes on in the name of giving us cheap food and we seem happy to bury our heads in the sand about that, so why get so worked up about Halal.
However, if producing Halal meat contravenes our laws, then it is against my principles, provided those laws are based on reasonable grounds. Is it against our laws? Mostly not it would seem. In most cases, animals are stunned before slaughter in a Halal slaughterhouse and there is no practical difference from any other type of slaughterhouse.
However, the UK has an exemption from the European law that requires animals to be stunned, and around 10% or so of Halal slaughterhouses kill the animal without stunning. Here I find myself on trickier ground. I don’t like religion dictating law, but that is my general bias against religion – is there any reasonable, objective objection to the exemption?
Yes there is, on grounds of animal welfare. This is where most of the complaints come from. In many cases the complaints come from vegetarians who actually object to slaughtering animals however it is done. There are, perhaps, valid concerns here though: according to the RSPCA, British vets and the Farm Animal Welfare Council, animals experience more suffering if they are killed without stunning than if they are stunned.
So, we still don’t have a case against Halal per se, just that 10% or so that is done without stunning the animals first. It seems to me that, at least in principle, if the animals are stunned, the Halal method is probably more humane.
Reports that I have seen about non-Halal slaughterhouses make horrific reading. The animals are often treated with shocking cruelty throughout the process up until being stunned. I guess that the type of person that applies for such a job doesn’t have the love of animals as a primary character trait and, at best, they could be described as unsympathetic. On the other hand, in a Halal slaughterhouse, they must bless the animal before killing it – surely that suggests a more humane approach.
Of course, this is all just speculation and the blessing may be just a cursory thing and the process may be just as horrific – I have no evidence to support either view, but it seems unlikely that things could be worse.
On balance, therefore, the only reasonable grounds for concern seem to be for those Halal slaughterhouses where stunning does not take place. Any additional cruelty imposed upon animals in the name of religion is wrong and, perhaps, we should protest this exemption. However, to complain too loudly about it whilst the barbaric practices in other slaughterhouses is overlooked seems hypocritical.
The main reason why the kerfuffle troubles me, however, is that I fear that the main driver behind this whole debate is xenophobia and racism. Much of the outrage seems to be being stirred up by the far-right hate parties, and people are being dragged along with it innocently because, on the face of it, the practice seems wrong.
The bottom line for me, therefore, is if we are going to worry about animal welfare, let’s do something about the practices of all slaughterhouses not just Halal.
Meanwhile, by all means object and protest if you like, but make sure that you are doing it for the right reasons, not just being tricked into it by those with ulterior motives.