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Ethical Meat

Below is an article I wrote for Secular Future, the newsletter/periodical of the AHS. I warn you that the content is contraversial and if it offends you, then i refer you to my ‘about‘ page.

I hope to bring you some more articles, some written by me and some not. Let me know what you think.

The article below is the unedited and unabridged version.

One of the most pervasive moral debates of the last fifty years has been whether it is possible to consume meat or animal products ethically or not. One of the main components of the debate is whether it is right to mass slaughter animals for human consumption on a commercial scale.

Whilst humans regard eating meat as a vital part of their diet, animals will need to be slaughtered to provide that meat. In today’s commercial environment, this slaughter comes in the form of the large scale abattoir which provides the cost effective production line style methods required to ensure affordable products for the end consumer. Whilst this is not necessarily an ethical position, it is certainly a practical one.

This commercialisation of the slaughter industry carries with it certain responsibilities. If we are going to consume meat, then we should do it with at least some regard to the animals we are eating. We have the power to ensure that animals reared for meat are treated to the highest possible standards in life and ultimately in death. Our responsibility as slaughterers of animals is to ensure that these standards are maintained throughout the various stages of the journey from farm to supermarket aisle. This responsibility has led us to develop certain policies and procedures with regards to how we can slaughter animals for human consumption.

These policies and procedures are designed to limit the suffering and pain of the animals as much as is humanly possible. The current law in England and Wales specifically states that it “…is an absolute offence to cause or permit an animal avoidable excitement, pain or suffering.” This law lays out in explicit detail how animals should be treated to ensure that there is no unavoidable excitement, pain or suffering. The only exception to this seemingly acceptable compromise is the fact that it specifically exempts animals slaughtered for religious reasons from the guidelines applied to the rest of the industry.

Animals slaughtered for consumption by Muslims or Jews, i.e. Halal and Kosher meat, does not have to be slaughtered using the strict guidelines laid down by the law. The main difference in the methods comes down to pre-stunning. This is the practice of knocking the animal unconscious by electric shock prior to being slaughtered. This method is considered by many to be the most humane way of mass slaughtering animals. In Britain, the Muslim and Jewish authorities deem this practice to be contrary to their traditions concerning the ritual slaughter of animals. This means that animals slaughtered for the religious market must be killed alive by the slitting of the throat and allowed to bleed to death.

The Farm Animals Welfare Council in their 2003 report on the slaughter practices in the UK concluded that all animals slaughtered for human consumption should be electrically pre-stunned and that the Halal and Kosher methods for the slaughter of animals caused unnecessary pain and suffering the animals in direct contravention of the main principle of the Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulations 1995.

The religious slaughter industry is worth over a billion pounds and makes up one seventh of the total slaughter industry. In practice this means that thirteen per cent of the animals slaughtered in this country are subjected to unnecessary pain and suffering.

What is worse is that there are Muslim and Jewish authorities outside of the UK that have accepted that pre-stunning is essential in ensuring that animals do not suffer in excess. In countries such as New Zealand where there is no exemption from welfare laws for religious slaughter, the Muslim and Jewish leaders have devised ways of incorporating electrical pre-stunning into their ritual slaughter.

With an ever increasing trend for fast food outlets, takeaways and supermarkets stocking religiously slaughtered meat, the industry is going to continue to grow. This means that more and more of the meat we see in our shops will have come from animals that suffered excessively.

How does that affect you and me, the consumer? There is currently no law in the UK that requires meat products derived from animals slaughtered cruelly in religious slaughter houses to be labelled, or notice given to customers. This means that consumers are unaware of where their meat comes from and more importantly, whether the animal that provided it was subjected to the torture of religious slaughter.

Eating meat is an ethical question for us all. For those that choose not to eat meat, there is legal provision for the labelling of food that suitable for vegetarians. Consumers have a choice. For those that choose to eat meat, that choice does not exist.

There are two messages to take away from this debate. The first is that any food that is currently slaughtered outside of the spirit of the law must be labelled. The second is that the spirit of the law needs to be upheld by becoming the letter of the law. If it is an absolute offence to cause animals unnecessary excitement, pain or suffering, then let us ensure that it is an offence, under law, to cause that suffering regardless of your religious beliefs.

We do not protect other aspects of religious belief that do not conform to the spirit of our laws and human social advancement such as the stoning of adulterers and the murder of infidels. Why then do we protect the cruel abuse of the animals we eat?

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  1. August 16th, 2009 at 11:11 | #1