Debate | Is Denmark right to ban religious slaughtering?
Last week, Denmark’s government banned the religious slaughter of animals for the production of halal and kosher meat stating that “animal welfare takes precedence over religion”. Although supported by animal welfare activists, this move has been labelled as “anti-Semitic” by Jewish leaders and “a clear interference in religious freedom” by the non-profit group Danish halal. LS Debate asks, is Denmark right to ban halal and kosher slaughtering?
Third year Politics
Have you ever seen an animal being killed? I have, twice. Both killings occurred on television – on Channel 4 to be precise. The first time was on Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, where I saw a cow being stunned and killed, before having its blood drained. The other instance was on a programme called That’ll Teach ‘Em – a reality TV series where 30 teenagers lived in a 1950s/1960s style boarding school. I vividly remember the moment when the students gathered around to see a chicken’s neck wrung, not a pleasant memory.
I felt very queasy watching both incidents and the idea of ever witnessing halal or kosher slaughter makes me feel equally queasy. Can you imagine what it’s like to be an animal whose throat is suddenly cut? Can you imagine lying on the floor, gasping for air, shaking uncontrollably?
Last week, while announcing the ban of religious slaughter for halal and kosher meat, the Danish Government explicitly stated that animal rights should come before religion. I would certainly agree with this sentiment. The cruelty inflicted on animals during halal and kosher methods is too large to ignore. In a 2009 report, the Farm Animal Welfare Council stated that, without stunning the animal first, slitting an animal’s neck would cause “significant pain and distress.” They also found that many cattle can take up to two minutes to bleed to death.
Beyond animal rights, we should be more concerned about how our mass consumption of meat is putting extraordinary pressure on the planet’s resources. In 2006, the Food and Agricultural Organization estimated that the use of livestock – for meat and other uses such as draft animal power, leather, wool, milk, eggs, fertilizer and pharmaceuticals – contributes to 18 per cent of global greenhouse emissions. With a growing world population to feed, it is of extreme concern that animal welfare is improved before global warming gets any worse; animal welfare and a cleaner environment go hand in hand.
We are healthier too if we eat less meat. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported in 2010 that “vegetarian-style eating patterns have been associated with improved health outcomes—lower levels of obesity, a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, and lower total mortality.”Furthermore, eating meat is not an integral part of the Abrahamic faiths. Many prominent Jewish rabbis are vegetarian, including Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth. The late Islamic scholar, Gamal al-Banna, believed that being a vegetarian was in no way un-Islamic. He said that “as a Muslim, I believe that the prophet would want the followers to be healthy, compassionate and not destroy our environment. If someone believes not eating meat is that way, it is not like they are going to go to hell for it. It may be the right thing to do.”
Al-Banna’s desire for a healthy, compassionate and environmentally-friendly planet sums up the argument beautifully. There is no compassion involved in halal or kosher slaughter, it is detrimental to our health and it is not good for the planet.
Fourth year English Literature
For meat to be considered kosher under Jewish law or halal under Islamic law an animal must be alive, healthy, and intact before being killed. This is often interpreted so that the animal is required to be conscious before its throat is cut. However, European regulation states that the slaughter of an animal is considered humane only if it is stunned before being slaughtered. In the UK, law permits animals to be conscious before they are slaughtered by Islamic or Jewish butchers (although in practice around 90 per cent are stunned first) – allowing religious communities to continue their ways of life without feeling marginalised by the state.
Conversely, by suggesting that “animal rights come before religion”, Denmark’s decision to ban kosher and halal slaughtering suggests that the ethical code and moral fabric of Jewish and Islamic communities exists outside of, and is incompatible with, ‘normal’ Danish society. In this, the decision seems to be less about the promotion of animal rights, and more about the regression of religious tolerance.It seems unfair that so much attention is focused on religious groups when there are larger, more widespread problems with the production and consumption of meat. Battery farming is rife and the welfare of animals is often completely ignored in order to feed the wants of our consumer desires. This begs the question: which is crueller – keeping a chicken in a battery coop all its life, or quickly cutting a lamb’s throat? The cruelties of factory farming extend over an animal’s whole lifetime whereas the cruelty of ritual slaughter lasts only a few minutes. Indeed, Denmark’s move to outlaw halal and kosher slaughtering is a distraction from the wider truth – that killing animals is never pleasant.
If Denmark is so worried about animal welfare, why not tackle the barbaric conditions of its pig farming industry? (Or even its giraffe-killing zoos?) During a study into the Danish pig industry, Compassion in World Farming found that in 67 per cent of farms visited there were either no or ineffective environmental enrichment. Pregnant sows were confined to stalls, unable to move or exercise; pig pens were ‘barren and over-crowded’ and, in every case, pigs were unable to engage in their natural behaviour. Furthermore as Danish agriculture minister Dan Jørgensen points out, 25,000 piglets die in Danish factory farms every day – they never even make it to the slaughterhouse.
Although halal and kosher methods are by no means merciful, banning them could potentially drive these practices underground – meaning worse conditions and unregulated practice. But perhaps more importantly, by changing what is deemed legally acceptable, banning religious slaughtering also positions cultural minorities outside of society. The Danish government has created a distinction between the ‘acceptable’ and profitable abuse of animals in factory farming, and the ‘unacceptable’, though arguably less severe, abuse of animals in religious slaughtering. Denmark’s decision targets minorities by selectively applying a concern for animal right; the hypocrisy is plain to see.