Secularists need to join up their thinking on meat consumption

I have just engaged is a longish Twitter chat with someone very opposed to non-stun slaughter. I know, it’s a pointless exercise as Secularists have made up their minds and follow Secular scientists with a religious zeal that matches any Muslim. Below I show a section of the thread but first, let me state my position.

Our demand for large quantities of cheap meat requires industrial scale slaughter and not to stun is unconscionable. I have recently read that in Israel one, if not two kosher, slaughterhouses have been shut down on welfare grounds. Issues have also been identified in the USA. I am in no doubt that except in well-designed facilities non-stun slaughter does not scale up easily. In addition there are issues relating to training.

Fully trained Jewish shochet train over seven years or so. It’s a long period. One hundred years ago when farmers prepared their own meat for market many would also have undergone extensive training. My father was so trained and I gather that he did not stun sheep or pigs. Large beef steers were another matter. Eye witnesses say that sheep and pigs merely slipped away.

Dr Temple Grandin has written a great deal on slaughter welfare and advocates stunning but she has studied non-stun practice and attests that when done correctly it does not appear to cause pain. Here website is extensive. Here is a link to one of her papers.

Religious slaughter and animal welfare: a discussion for meat scientists.

She is clear non-stun slaughter performed to good standards is not unacceptable. When performed with unsuitable kit non-stun slaughter is not good. My support for non-stun practice is heavily qualified, as is Dr Grandin’s.

The Tweet that caught my eye:

MJ: … Even Tariq Ramadan has condemned the cruelty and waste.(See Tariq Ramadan Twitter).

BB(me): There plenty of good reasons to question our love affair with meat. Waste is surely a bigger issue with secular practice. Waste is an animal dying in vain

MJ: The animal wouldn’t care about whether it was wasted. Just pain and fear. Put yourself in its position

Discussion:

The name Tariq Ramadan is indicative of his being Muslim. Clearly his comments must allude to more than the issue of stunning. The Muslim position condemns cruelty. An animal that has suffered (at the hand of man) both in life and death cannot be considered halal.

The word “waste” caught my eye. In Biblical times the peoples who ate meat for sure understood the “sanctity of life”. Sacrificial rituals in part reflected their guilt for taking a sacred life. They worked out a right and wrong way of doing it humanely and hygienically.

Apart from birds most animals that they deemed suitable to eat were too big for the nuclear family to eat so they were shared around in the context of festivals, community gatherings at which the proverbial fatted calf was eaten. These festivals are one origin of charity or poor relief that is a strong feature in Isalm. Quite probably nothing that could be eaten or used, for example fleeces and hides, was wasted. To simply waste edible meat would have reinforced their guilt. What was inedible or used was offered to the Gods. It was burnt, in effect sterilised, so that the skeleton could be thrown away safely and not attract vermin. Nothing that could be utilised was wasted.

Tariq Ramadan must surely have been alluding to this thinking and practice.

That said, the word “waste” caught my eye for another reason. How much meat slaughtered to satisfy secular meat eaters is thrown away? How many unsold meat filled sandwiches do food retailers throw away? How many cook chill prepared meals are simply wasted because they have not been sold before a reasonable best before date?

How many of us think about where our meat came from when we consume it and how well it was actually treated – especially at death? How many of us offer a wee prayer to “Our Maker” thanking him for His bounty and by way of seeking forgiveness for taking a life to satisfy our needs. If we do not believe is a God or a Creator there is no one to thank and we can therefore only see animals and meat as a commodity. Therein lies a paradox. We do have feelings of guilt and we do have a concept of the sanctity of life requires us to give an account of our actions to ??? Would that ??? be God, or a god, or some other spiritual Supreme Being? That’s a discussion for another day.

MJ’s “The animal wouldn’t care about whether it was wasted. Just pain and fear. Put yourself in its position” suggests to me someone who needs to join up his/her thinking

Of course animals won’t know if they are about to be killed merely to be thrown into landfill or composted or burnt for energy. If they are killed on their own and in the absence of cues that suggest death they will have nothing to fear. However, pack them into a big lorry, however, drive them to the other end of the country, unload them straight into the slaughterhouse without any time in lairage in order to relax and chill out and they could well be stressed. If they are stressed they may not stun easily and their trauma will be compounded.

Now, to be frank this applies equally whether stunning is deployed or not. Animals that are agitated and tense when they cut will not cut easily. If the knife is not well sharpened and nick free it will lacerate or tear surrounding tissue and there may be bruising – both causing pain. Despite the blood a razor-sharp knife actually damages very little and presumably cuts through many nerves in its pathway. I do not doubt that nerves are stimulated but what sensations will the animal feel, when and for how long? Obviously we cannot be sure but most men will have experienced shaving nicks. Most of us have experienced the lightheadedness that precedes a faint. Neither can match a severe headache that must surely follow a mis-stun. How painful will an electric shock be if it is not effective first time?

Conclusion

The welfare of animals at slaughter is a big issue but let’s not kid ourselves that secular slaughter with stunning ritual and the religious fervour generated in defending it is fully informed. Very few people see what happens between the farm gate and the supermarket shelves. If we did care we would ask many more questions than we do. The people who slaughter on our behalves often detach themselves from the process. Slaughter is not a pretty site. It’s made slightly more tolerable because machines do the final deed. Even if operated my man there is a barrier between the man and the beast. That’s critical to our thinking.

True halal and kosher practice and custom creates a personal connection between man and beast. It’s close and personal. Now, that may well be the real issue in this debate. Secular practice is impersonal and we simply do not think or even care about it (until prompted) but so-called “religious” or “ritual” slaughter requires the consumer to reflect on the situation. Do Jews and Muslims reflect enough? Probably not but that’s a discussion for another day – except to say that bad practice can be found in both kosher and halal slaughter facilities trying to produce cheap meat in quantity while we rarely see what occurs in our secular slaughter temples.

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One thought on “Secularists need to join up their thinking on meat consumption”

  1. I agree with you that more thought– both religious and otherwise– needs to be put into our food system. Have you had interfaith conversations revolved around this topic? How have you facilitated them?
    Thank you for sharing this.

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