Friday, 7 March 2014

Religious slaughter of animals

It was brave of the chief vet, John Blackwell, to call for the banning of killing animals by bleeding them to death without stunning them.  This practice, used by Muslims and Jews, produces meat that is considered holy.  But is it humane? "I don't think an outright ban is a long way off, there is enough of a view that this practice is inhumane and causes suffering at the time of death."

The Muslim and Jewish communities have retaliated that there is no evidence that allowing an animal to bleed to death, if done properly, is anymore inhumane than conventional slaughter.  According to Wiki's information on Halal meat:

 This method of slaughtering animals consists of using a well-sharpened knife to make a swift, deep incision that cuts the front of the throat, the carotid artery, windpipe, and jugular veins to cause the least amount of suffering to the animal. The head of an animal that is slaughtered using halal methods is aligned with the qiblah. In addition to the direction, permitted animals should be slaughtered upon utterance of the Islamic prayer "in the name of God."

There are a few things strike me about this.  One is to do with religion and approach to food.  At least the Islamic and Jewish methods have a spiritual ritual involved in the production of their meat.  They are supposed to kill the animal with as little amount of suffering as possible and they utter a prayer as the animal is killed, offering the action to God.  It shows an awareness that killing another sentient being is important and should be recognised as a religious act.  There are no rituals, no incantations, no sense of a religious act in normal slaughter houses where it seems animals are literally walking meat trays that simply need processing.

Saying that, I wonder how humanely the animals are killed in Halal butchers in todays crowded, meat hungry world.  Like all rituals they were developed when there were very few people and when animals were killed where they lived. Meat was a luxury, not a daily right as it is today.  I don't know if that reverence and respect is maintained in modern Halal slaughter houses.  We are told 6000 animals are killed like this every week.

Modern slaughter houses are supposed to be clinical and efficient.  The animals in conventional slaughter houses are stunned in a variety of ways as this table shows:

They maybe stunned but how do they feel before the bullet or the electric shock?  There is a lot of research on the sentience of farm animals and it is a growing and exciting area of science.  Fascinating facts about the lives of hens and their chicks reveals an intimate relationship that requires constant communication that starts even as the chick is developing in the egg.  Sheep can identify the cry of their lamb amidst hundreds of others.  Cows show joy and  are excited when they solve problems.  Recent findings show that happy cows produce more milk, here is a quote from Scientists Live on work being done at Newcastle Univeristy:

Drs Catherine Douglas and Peter Rowlinson have shown that by giving a cow a name and treating her as an individual, farmers can increase their annual milk yield by almost 500 pints.  The study, published online today in the academic journal Anthrozoos, found that on farms where each cow was called by her name the overall milk yield was higher than on farms where the cattle were herded as a group.

Those that are herd animals have fine instincts and are tuned to fear.  When one animal is frightened so are the others, producing a herd panic.  It is inconceivable that the transport of animals for hundreds of miles and their inevitable wait to be slaughtered is not keenly felt.  Is that more humane than the Halal method?

These are questions we have to ask and be honest about what we feel about farm animals as opposed to our pets and creatures in the wild.  It is easier to view them as unthinking dullards rather than intelligent creatures. The problem is though in the religious world, and I point the finger at the Christianity here, I am not convinced that the knowledge that animals suffer is very important.

Christianity is not kind to the non-human world, Catholicism in particular, despite the Catechism.   Catholic countries have a terrible history of cruelty.  Malta slaughters 3 million wild birds as they migrate over the island every spring and summer.  Spain does unspeakably cruel things to bulls, dogs and donkeys and so does Brazil.  I won't show pictures or go into details but this type of cruelty is unacceptable.  Bull fighting is appalling. Yet the Catholic world is silent.  Here is the Catechism on animals.  This entirely human centred view does not allow cruelty, but seems to be ignored:

Respect for the integrity of creation
2415 The seventh commandment enjoins respect for the integrity of creation. Animals, like plants and inanimate beings, are by nature destined for the common good of past, present, and future humanity.195Use of the mineral, vegetable, and animal resources of the universe cannot be divorced from respect for moral imperatives. Man's dominion over inanimate and other living beings granted by the Creator is not absolute; it is limited by concern for the quality of life of his neighbor, including generations to come; it requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation.196
2416 Animals are God's creatures. He surrounds them with his providential care. By their mere existence they bless him and give him glory.197 Thus men owe them kindness. We should recall the gentleness with which saints like St. Francis of Assisi or St. Philip Neri treated animals.
2417 God entrusted animals to the stewardship of those whom he created in his own image.198 Hence it is legitimate to use animals for food and clothing. They may be domesticated to help man in his work and leisure. Medical and scientific experimentation on animals is a morally acceptable practice if it remains within reasonable limits and contributes to caring for or saving human lives.
2418 It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly. It is likewise unworthy to spend money on them that should as a priority go to the relief of human misery. One can love animals; one should not direct to them the affection due only to persons.

Strange that we can be so kind to our pets yet so mindlessly ignorant of the treatment of pigs, chickens and cows.  Is it to do with ownership?  We give our pets names and feel responsibility for them.  Farm animals are nameless, ownerless and mass produced.  It is much easier then to treat them harshly and with little sympathy for their suffering.

 I am more convinced than ever that unless kindness is at the heart of everyday life we will never have equality and peace.  Kindness springs from pure goodness and does not depend on obeying laws, it is unrequested, freely given and non-reciprocal.  Kindness is a beautiful trait to find in anyone and all of us have experienced the emotion of being on the receiving end of an unsolicited act of kindness. 

How does kindness apply to the slaughter of animals?  Eat less meat, eat it with respect, only eat meat that has not travelled far and is killed in small, humane abattoirs.  Mass produced, cheap meat is cruelty in a packet.

We have to live kinder, simpler lives whether we are religious or not. That has to include re-thinking how much meat we eat and how we produce it.

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