Belgium’s Ban on Ritual Slaughter: A Small Step in the Right Direction
At the beginning of the year, a ban on ritual slaughter came into force in Belgium. This requires that small animals – including chicken and sheep – be electrically stunned before their throats are slit, which some, but not all, believe would contravene the dietary laws of Islam and Judaism, which dictate that animals must be healthy at the time of their death.
In his book Animals in Islam, BA Masri Al-Hafiz, the first Sunni imam of the Shah Jahan Mosque in Woking, Surrey, argued that stunning is not unlawful under Islamic law. In fact, today, many animals slaughtered for the Muslim market in the UK are stunned and certified as halal by some of the many bodies responsible – as long as all other aspects of the slaughter are consistent with Islamic law. And, indeed, Orthodox rabbis have accepted laws in countries such as Norway and Sweden, where stunning is required. Conversely, in today’s high-speed, mechanised “conventional” abattoirs, millions of animals are improperly stunned every year and face the fatal incision awake, alert, and terrified. In fact, if you’re buying “conventional” meat – including that touted as “high-welfare”, “organic”, or “free-range” or carrying any other misleading label – there’s no way of knowing whether the animals who were killed for it were fully conscious as their throats were cut open.
There’s no question that animals in abattoirs are absolutely and understandably petrified when chains are shackled to their legs and they’re hoisted upside down into the air. Birds thrash wildly in panic and excruciating pain, since their legs can break under their own weight and may be pulled out of their sockets. Research shows that when cattle and sheep are killed without prior stunning, they may only lose consciousness several unimaginably agonising seconds after their throats are cut. Animals often witness the slaughter of their companions and sense their terror.
In truth, the idea of humane slaughter is a myth and a distraction – because whether animals are stunned and killed or just killed, the final moments of their lives make up only one part of the long and blatantly cruel process of modern meat production. The reality of these practices is an affront not only to Islam’s and Judaism’s teachings of kindness but also to any decent human being’s most basic sense of right and wrong.
Animals slaughtered according to halal regulations come from the same un-Islamic, unhygienic, miserable factory farms as animals killed in standard abattoirs. On factory farms, animals are crammed by the thousands into filthy, windowless sheds, wire cages, crates, and other confinement systems. They’ll never raise their families, root in the soil, build nests, or do anything else that is natural and important to them.
PETA and our international affiliates have released eyewitness footage from around the world showing frightened animals who are sexually abused, burned with cigarettes, tormented, and mocked in their final moments. Even at so-called “organic” abattoirs, video evidence has shown pigs who were viciously beaten and kicked by workers. On the way to slaughter, animals are often crammed so tightly into lorries for many agonising hours that they suffocate, are crushed to death, or even freeze to the sides of vehicles during the winter. It’s no wonder that there are numerous accounts of animals who tried desperately to break free on the journey towards their death. Every single aspect of the mass breeding, farming, and killing of sensitive and intelligent beings goes against the basic principles of compassion and reverence for life shared by virtually all religions.
If Belgium’s new law is based on the belief that cruelty to animals is wrong and that we should act to prevent it, then the only conclusion any of us can reach in good conscience is that we must not only try to legislate against the most egregious cruelty but also stop supporting industries that are built on animal suffering entirely – by adopting a vegan diet. There’s no passage in the Qur’an or the Torah – or the Bible, for that matter – that dictates that their followers must eat animals.
Compassionate people should welcome any law that aims to reduce animal suffering while knowing that none of us needs a law to do what’s right. The meat, egg, and dairy industries are hell on Earth for animals, and we already have the power to put an end to this misery simply by choosing to eat plant-based meals. And with the vast array of vegan meats and dairy-free milks of all descriptions available today, making kinder dietary choices isn’t just right, it’s also easy.