I’ve given up writing comments on newspaper web sites as a waste of time. It’s just a way of readers, me included, venting their spleen and as currently I can’t think of anything to contribute on my chosen subject of design or typesetting, I thought I would write something informative on a meaty topic like halal slaughter.
I would safely say that 99% of the politicians, journalists and ordinary folk who have spouted forth on this subject have probably had very little to do with actual sheep, let alone killing them in a religious fashion with a sharp knife. It looks to me from the outside like a politically inspired piece of hot air designed to whip up resentment about “the other” in the forthcoming European and British general elections. So this is where I come in.
Although I haven’t sacrificed a sheep or chicken for years now I have done several in the past and it qualifies me to talk about this with some experience. Very simply it means taking the animal or bird and with some care to keep it away from others of its kind so it feels no fear, and applying a very sharp knife across the jugulars. The short prayer uttered is a reminder that you are taking life with divine permission and that one day your own life will be taken from you by the One who granted it to you in the first place. The nerves to the brain are instantly severed so there is no pain as far as we know.* This is ascertained from our knowledge of the nervous system and seems pretty likely. Until we have a sheep or chicken to testify in public to this of course we shall never know. The sheep immediately loses consciousness and doesn’t “bleed to death”– the emotive description I have read in the UK papers. It bleeds, yes, but that is not how it dies.
Bleeding also purifies the meat of any toxins like adrenalin which stunning and fear produces and which locks them into the flesh and which is present in all stunned meat, probably even the pre-stunned halal kind. Veterinary laws in most countries insist on the bleeding of specifically pigs as the blood contains toxins lethal to humans and which is why in the UK it is illegal to kill a pig on your own land for this reason. Not so in Spain though, where pigs are routinely killed by small farmers in their own back yard often on what is called the Matanza, a kind of national fiesta of blood and gore. Also few country people in Spain don’t know how to dispatch a rabbit in seconds. In contrast city dwellers and supermarket shoppers in the countryside have no connection to the meat they eat other than shovelling it into their insides without a second thought.
How we care for our fauna and flora is at the heart of all these arguments about food laws, as this affects us deeply, both physically and morally. So whether meat is technically halal or not is irrelevant if the animal has been raised in an unnatural way. The same applies to food grown in the earth. Forcing plants and animals with chemicals, genetics or unnatural environments like battery farms for purely financial advantage is a very shortsighted and dangerous policy. For how we care for the flora and fauna is how we care for ourselves. It is perfect mirror of the humans set in charge of them, and the results of altering natural patterns of husbandry means sickness of body and soul. Seguro.
There is a skill in halal animal killing and it has to be learnt. This was a time-honoured practice of all the Abrahamic religions which means for many thousands of years this has always been the practice. We have inherited most of our accepted moral law from this tradition (ie the Ten Commandments) so why is this different for modern man? The modern neurosis about animal slaughter is the result of industrialisation, not of some hatred of religion. I say this because it is likely that even in older Christian and pre-Christian societies animals were killed with a knife to the throat as it is the easiest way to kill a beast. A local non-muslim sheep farmer I know kills all his sheep this way as it is the easiest and quickest way to do it. Industrial farming and marketing of meat forces the use of production line killing–even with so-called halal slaughter. The arguments put forward by some Muslim intelligencia that it is better to eat organic non-halal meat than industrial halal meat also doesn’t hold water. You still end up with meat filled with blood poisons like adrenalin locked into the meat. So how do we get out of this bloody mess?
So long as meat is over-consumed and demands industrial processes this conundrum won’t go away. Muslims, especially in the Middle East, consume far too much meat anyway, ignoring the Prophetic advice not to make their stomachs the graveyard of animals. Meat for breakfast, lunch, dinner and probably a snack in between. I can’t speak for Jews. The health consequences of this should not be ignored as diabetes and obesity is engulfing the prosperous parts of the Muslim world where ordinary folk are fighting a losing battle against an avalanche of sugar and meat consumption and lack of exercise. And who speaks for the 59 billion animals alive at any given time on earth, being raised for our consumption?**
I sincerely believe that the current row about halal and haram meat is utterly false from both sides of the argument and appears to be political and uninformed of the facts I have volunteered above.*** It all seems motivated by the clarion call of agribusiness, scientists and their political front men, that we have to produce more and more food to survive by fair means or foul, justifying all the horrendous practices of greedy farmers and supermarkets. But to what end, when not only is so much food wasted but also so many people just over-consume? I can’t help feeling that what humans face is a moral problem not a food problem. Learning to eat less would promote our own health as well as the health of our animals and crops. This is a choice humans are empowered to make. Take away the demand and the supply chain is immediately affected. Then animals can do what they do best which is to roam around fields and hills happily munching their lives away and our cereals and vegetables can grow in a non-chemical earth, left to grow in peace.
Finally I am waiting for the first food store to remove its “organic” labels and re-label all processed, chemically altered food as such and to erect clear aisle signs saying “Processed and Unnaturally Produced Foodstuffs”! Pre 1960 in the UK everything was organic – so what happened? How about labelling all stunned meat – halal or not?
*A study in Germany in 1974 at the Hanover School of veterinary medicine concluded that bolt stunning is painful to the animal.
** See the book Planet Carnivore by Alex Renton.
*** Historically the political campaigns and laws against kosher sacrifice in Europe and Scandinavia is believed to have its roots in anti-semitism more than considerations of animal welfare.
That was an interesting piece. Coincidentally I’ve been thinking (with a view to writing about) this topic for a while and the morning before receiving your post I ordered Planet Carnivore for my Kindle! Interestingly, Muslim religious authorities in Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and India have sanctioned the use of genetic engineering for foodstuffs and medicines. I’m not quite sure how rigorous the ethical reasoning has been in these cases but I suspect the various authorities have taken a somewhat benign view of science and adopted a narrow definition of halal or tayyibat with the concern focused on prohibited and non-prohibited species and conformity to the rules of slaughter.