I overheard a conversation about boycotting halal meat on grounds of “animal cruelty”. I thought I would blog my reaction to this and see what anyone else out there thinks.
First, I think we should keep things in perspective: if we care enough to boycott things, how about Israeli goods? Israel’s wall around the occupied West Bank is illegal, its settlements within the West Bank are illegal, and Palestinians are essentially living under a hellish apartheid situation. Every time Israel does crazy things like brutally invade Gaza or attack ships carrying aid, the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement does gain support – but only very slowly. Or what about rethinking chocolate since child slavery is endemic in the cocoa industry? Do we care enough to look into situations involving the oppression of our fellow human beings? This was the first question that jumped into my mind.
Secondly, I felt quite affronted at the use of the words “animal cruelty”. As far as I’ve always understood it, Islam emphasises kindness to animals and its rules for slaughter (using a sharp knife, not slaughtering baby animals, not letting the animal see other animals being slaughtered, swiftly cutting a main artery so that it loses consciousness within seconds) at least have the intention of being humane. As fiercely as I criticise Islam sometimes, I am curiously hurt when other people, who probably don’t have much knowledge, do it.
Having said that, I am all for technological innovations to make the process less painful, and from my own (non-Muslim) perspective, there is no good reason not to make use of those innovations. I have no sympathy with the sort of mindless religious legalising that says a stunned animal is “injured” and therefore doesn’t meet the requirements for slaughter (when clearly it was perfectly healthy a moment ago and you just knocked it unconscious yourself!). Why should religions be allowed special dispensation to slaughter without stunning, when it is illegal in all other contexts? I don’t think religion deserves special treatment in this way. If it should be illegal, it should be illegal for everyone.
However it seems that there has been very little research into the amount of pain felt by animals in any slaughter method. The only recent study I found was this one, which reports that animals do feel pain during religious slaughter from the nerves where the throat is cut, for the 10-30 seconds before they lose consciousness. (How much pain, is not indicated in the article.) Whereas when an animal is stunned by a blow to the head prior to cutting, which is one of the stun methods commonly used in secular slaughter (captive bolt stunning), loss of consciousness occurs almost instantaneously and so it experiences no pain from the actual cutting. But in this article, a physiologist questions whether the electric shock stunning method – also in common use – really knocks an animal unconscious or just paralyses it; it may be even worse than no stunning, we just don’t know!
I see it as lazy thinking (and possibly even prejudice) when people throw around words like “animal cruelty”, but I am not sure what I think; I have to admit that looking into the issue has raised more questions than answers for me. Is it alright that we don’t even know how much pain we’re causing with some slaughter methods? Would I still be prepared to eat meat if I could be fairly sure the animal had suffered intense pain for 10-30 seconds? How do we make these judgements?
Quite a lot from just a snippet of overheard conversation! 😛