How Would They Want to Go? The Need for Ethical Consistency in Butchery

As long as there are vegetarians and vegans around, the fact that slaughterhouses exist will always be a mark against anyone who chooses to sell meat. An old-fashioned meat pie can no longer be enjoyed with the blissful ignorance of times gone by.

If this were an alt right publication, they would probably title it Political Correctness Brings Barbarism to British Butchers. If published in the Guardian, on the other hand, the title would probably read Bigots Attack Cultural Food Practices. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I’m talking about halal. Everything I say is applicable to kosher meat as well, but I’m not going to pretend that Islam is not currently winning the battle for media coverage, both positive and negative. Whatever happens to halal will probably happen to kosher as well.

To criticize the doctrines of a religion is not racist, but to disproportionately hammer down on a minority group for unjust reasons usually is. The ardent anti-halal brigade feel they have seized on an easy stance to defend. I’m not talking about the I just want it labeled so I can avoid it people—weak-minded types, who are so numb to the concept of eating dead creatures that they can’t even be bothered to attach any moral angle to it. No, I’m concerned with those who are slightly more educated on this issue. The cream of the EDL really feel like they’ve found something here that can finally legitimize their position. A hijab ban isn’t feasible—unless you want to live in a fascist state almost as authoritarian as the caliphate they so fear—but who can’t get behind the cause of fluffy little critters being bled to death?

When religious rules, particularly archaic ones, are put in place, they tend to follow a certain pattern. First they represent progress. For example, Mohammed limited the number of wives a man could have at a time of chronic polygamy. Secondly, they spread, and their practicality wins hearts and minds. Eventually, they represent regressive impulses. Society has moved on, but God-sent rules trump pragmatism in many a tribe.

The origins of the Islamic way of handling meat production are fairly easy to explain. To draw the blood out of an animal, pre-rigor mortis, is a sure-fire way to avoid family members getting food poisoning every other week. The practice would no doubt have represented incalculable progress for that group of people, and might possibly have been sufficient to propel them into an advanced stage of society, beyond that of other contemporary communities. However, in our post-enlightenment world, we should not be enslaved by such considerations. Lots of countries can safely protect against meat-based bacteria nowadays, without letting an animal bleed to death in agony. That’s why advanced slaughterhouses don’t tend to follow this practice.

A lengthy lifetime spent in the field, followed by a messy end is perhaps preferable to a few weeks in a cage, followed by a bullet to the brain. The pro-halal citizens and their apologists sometimes have a point. The Daily Mail will pay ten times more attention to halal meat than secular foie gras production, even though the processes involved are of equally dubious ethical standing. Even the carnivorous Gordon Ramsay once said that the inside of a standard British abattoir was “enough to make anyone fucking vegetarian.”

PETA’s stance on halal, on the other hand, amounts to nothing more than everyone should be vegan. Their website is crammed with dense text, but their criticism of halal slaughter barely amounts to a single sentence. The other 99% of the article is about secular Western practices. In a piece entitled “The Truth About Halal Meat,” this may seem rather odd. PETA is an irretrievably ideological organization at this point, though, so it’s no surprise that their article, like so many herbivores, lacks sharp teeth.

The educational Islamic website sports a fairly eloquent piece on this issue. First, it outlines a well thought-out justification for eating meat in the first place (it won’t convince the PETA soldiers, but what will?) and then it refers to seemingly legitimate studies about the pain animals undergo during approved, pre-kill stunnings. In a skillful dance around the facts, the writer says that slitting an animal’s throat results in a painless unconscious state within three seconds. The animal’s unsettling writhings may be horrifying to watch, he argues, but they are nothing compared to the inner turmoil an animal actually feels, post-stun, during a non-Islamic killing.

This all sounds fairly reasonable, until you remember one thing: the most ethical, advanced, high-tech farmers do not use the Mohammed-approved method. Also, what do devoutly religious people generally do when confronted by rational opposition? They either change their viewpoint, or fabricate (or blindly believe) unsound evidence.

I have the utmost respect for any religious person who views the killing of animals as a kind of barbarism and decides to go meat-free as a result. I also have no beef (all puns intended) with the ignorant, who can’t possibly be expected to know about the entire journey a piece of lamb took on its way to their plates. Who isn’t a hypocrite on such matters? But I’m in favor of legislating against animal cruelty: I’m pro-freedom, but not the freedom to cause unnecessary harm to a sentient being.

I’m also not in favor of placing disproportionate pressure on any specific group. What I am advocating is a rational look at this entire matter. Our mainstream meat production system is questionable at best: stun guns often malfunction; pigs graze each others’ hides in tiny pens for years; thousands of chickens put up with everything short of hell fire until an AI finally wrings their necks. If we infidels want to be in a righteous position in this debate, we need to earn it. Any flesh-chomping Brit who spends all day calling halal butchery inhumane should take an educated Muslim on a tour around an average Western abattoir. We can’t take the moral high ground on this. Animal slaughter in the UK involves scenes that would not be out of place in a horror movie, but on an unimaginable scale. Action needs to be taken—not by vegan terrorists, or placard-waving theocrats, but by compassionate, rational thinkers.

British and American attitudes towards gay marriage, until recently, were fairly in line with conservative Islamic beliefs. We have legalized same sex marriage now, though, so we finally get to slag off Saudi Arabia’s institutionalized homophobia without being accused of hypocrisy. We need a similar revolution in the meat-making world—only then can we finally start nitpicking about our Muslim friends’ butchery practices.

Bon appetit, comrades.



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  1. Here’s an attempt at a consistent approach. Starts from evidence, reason and compassion for all sentient beings (i.e. wanting to avoid their suffering and enable their flourishing). For me, this leads to a conclusion that we should transition to end animal farming completely. Jacy Reese’s recent book and the two reports here are good reads re: how to do it

  2. The author is simply conveying truths in an intelligent, kind manner which asks for improvements in animal farms’ treatment before and during slaughter.

    He does not mention hunting or solo ranch/farm families’ killing of barnyard or wild, free-range animals for their consumption because the atmosphere is completely different than the over-crowded, horrendously tortured lives animal farm beings endure from birth throughout short miserable lives.

    Vast Western animal farms begin massive round ups by forklifts which often brutalize cattle before final death. It’s said cattle, during the process of round ups, some may become skinned while still alive. Halal, Kosher, Western animal farms need an overhaul in how animals are treated that’s long overdo.

    Since Gordon Ramsey was mentioned, he lost this viewer when he bellowed one too many times to competing chefs on his show, “It’s raw! The meat is raw!” and then always in his dramatic anger tosses perfectly good meat in a garbage can. Every episode seemed to cue a Ramsey tantrum and tossing of undercooked meat and never a return in pan/oven to complete process—total disrespect, asinine wastefulness.

    Urbanites could all benefit healthwise by eating less meat or at least taking the time to find grocery stores which offer meat, dairy from humane farms/ranches.

  3. Nah. That whimsical bit about animals living a decent life was where you lost me. That simply isn’t true of huge numbers of animals in the factory farming system. And slaughterhouses are appalling- a point which was made by the author….”Even the carnivorous Gordon Ramsay once said that the inside of a standard British abattoir was “enough to make anyone fucking vegetarian.””

    1. Then improve the standards.

      Temple Grandin, the autistic scientist who says she identifies with cows, has spent her life designing ways to do that.

  4. The meat I eat today was running around at 3.000 meters a year ago, with few worries except starvation or being eaten by a cougar, or having it’s young eaten alive by a bear.

    Then one day it heard a loud bang and it felt very weak and couldn’t understand what happened as it fell down and it’s vision went dark and then it’s heart stopped beating due to lack of blood pressure. Every year I am lucky and get two to four hundred pounds of meat this way. I get it when temperatures are cold and there is much snow on the ground. I cool it immediately saving the heart, liver, lungs, then bring it home to process myself, cleaning, wrapping, and freezing everything even the bones.

    For my efforts to eat clean meat and to manage the wildlife so to continue to feed my family clean meat via wildlife management I am castigated and people say bad things. I think everyone who eats meat needs to kill and butcher their own meat more than once. People in developing countries who grow up with yard birds which the kill and eat have fewer of the hangups of developed countries such as Europe and the USA.

    1. The human species provides nothing to benefit the planet and then we make self righteous arguments like “manage wildlife” to make us sound superior. We’re takers at best and evil at worst.

  5. Where to start.

    1. “so numb to the concept of eating dead creatures that they can’t even be bothered to attach any moral angle to it”

    So eating them alive, the way other animals do their prey, would be morally preferable?

    2. The reason for Halal and kosher was not to prevent food poisoning, it was to precisely to prevent unnecessary pain for the animal. There are also prayers involved, which critics don’t mention, because these are meant to remind the butchers to respect the animal, just as many hunter gatherers used to thank the animal for giving its life, and treated it respectfully.

    I am not convinced that those methods are worse than stunning, bleeding to death quickly is indeed rather painless, and in any case, it is over in a few minutes .

    3. There is no excuse for gratuitous torture of animals, and that was never a feature of humans eating other animals, unlike, for example, a cat playing with a mouse. But neither is there a moral argument for stopping being a part of the natural food chain. We are designed with canines for a reason, we evolved to eat meat, just as other omnivores were, and there is nothing intrinsically morally wrong with that.

    There should be compelling reasons to go against our nature and our place in the food chain.

    4. We moved from hunting to animal husbandry the way we moved from gathering to agriculture. We have bred herbivores, poultry, and pigs for food for millenia, and have moved to factory farming the way we moved to automated agriculture, thus providing abundant food for millions more people than we could have otherwise.

    We constantly improve agricultural methods, we should also keep improve animal farming methods to make them more humane while the animal is alive. But the new ideal is that no animal should ever feel any pain, ever, even for a few minutes right before it dies? That is a ridiculous standard.

    All animal life, including our own, involves some degree of pain, it is unavoidable in nature. Animals in the wild feel the stress of being prey, of hunger is they are predator, of cold and wet in some climates, they get maimed when an attack fails, and life much shorter lives than in captivity. Animals bred by humans generally live pretty safe, comfy lives, but demanding perfect safety and happiness for animals when humans don’t even get that, is ridiculous. And we pretty much all feel pain and anxiety when we die, unless it is unexpectedly in our sleep.

    An animal that lives a somewhat decent (not perfectly happy) life then feels a few minutes of pain and anxieties before being killed to feed humans? Not a tragedy. Get a grip.

    5. The irony and contradiction is calling speceism the reason we eat animals, i.e. that we feel special, while the only argument given to convince us we should not eat animals is that we are humans who should know better, which is precisely an argument that as humans we are “special” and should not be held to the same standards as other animals, i.e. doing what we are naturally designed to do.


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