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John Blackwell vs. ritual slaughter

John Blackwell has recently spoken out (£) on the controversial topic of religious slaughter.

John Blackwell, president-elect of the British Veterinary Association, said that the traditional practice of slitting animals’ throats and allowing them to bleed to death for halal and kosher meat caused unnecessary suffering.

He urged Jews and Muslims to allow poultry, sheep and cattle to be stunned unconscious before they are killed. If the two faiths refuse, Mr Blackwell wants ministers to consider following the example of Denmark by banning the slaughter of animals that are not stunned first.

On Radio 4’s Today programme this morning he seemed to strike a slightly more conciliatory note, suggesting that clear labelling would go some way to addressing his concerns (although he still asserted that  animal rights should trump religious considerations).   This seems reasonable, and helpful for all consumers, religiously observant or otherwise.  Muslim shoppers might also welcome still more detailed information about different halal slaughter methods, as there are differing views as to whether pre-stunning is permissible.

It’s true that this issue will inevitably be exploited by the far right, and there is a long history of bans on ritual slaughter being used as a weapon against minorities.  However it is of course the case that many of those raising the issue will have sincere motives and concerns, and I wasn’t sure Jonathan Arkush’s suggestion that John Blakemore was expressing himself in a way which inflamed prejudice was entirely helpful.

But it’s certainly useful to look at the issue of religious slaughter within a wider animal welfare context, as Tell MAMA does here:

If we want a serious debate about animal welfare, let us focus on all forms of slaughter. For example, we genetically select chickens to grow very quickly for their meat. As a result, they can reach slaughter weight in just five weeks after hatching. Such rapid weight gain can lead to heart defects.

Whilst Britain does generally maintain a high standard of livestock welfare, horror stories of mistreatment do emerge.

Although it’s legitimate to ask questions about animal welfare, it’s also legitimate to ask whether those raising the issue have similar concerns about the many other abuses and cruelties involved in meat production.  When complaints about ritual slaughter are framed in a tendentious or misleading way (most halal meat is in fact pre-stunned for example) it’s not surprising that people become sensitised to any discussion of the topic.