I am always saddened when an issue comes up in the news and animal advocates pass up the chance to educate the public about veganism because they want to jump on the new welfarist bandwagon and make people feel better about animal exploitation instead.
The British newspaper, The Mail on Sunday, ran a story today in which it reports that a great deal of the meat served in Britain is halal, or slaughtered in accordance with Islamic law. Halal is similar to Jewish ritual slaughter, kashrut and involves making a deep cut on the animal’s neck, severing the jugular veins and carotid arteries of both sides but leaving the spinal cord intact. Animals slaughtered in this way are not stunned and halal and kosher slaughter have been criticized as being cruel and as causing more pain and suffering than the stunning method of slaughter, which is supposed to render the animal unconscious before the actual killing occurs.
Many people in the U.K. are upset to think that the meat they are eating came from animals who were not killed “humanely.”
I would suggest that no animal consumed by anyone in Britain or anywhere else on the planet was treated and killed in a manner that could be called “humane” without making an obscene misuse of that word.
So the story afforded animal advocates the opportunity to explain to a concerned public that there is no such thing as “humanely” produced meat; that all meat—and all animal products—come from nonhuman animals who have been tortured under the very best of conditions. And we cannot justify killing animals under any circumstance when the only justification we have is that they taste good.
Did animal advocates seize the opportunity?
Instead, they characterized the issue as one involving a practice of a particular religion. For example, Viva!, was quoted in the article:
Other practices which may be undertaken for religious reasons, such as polygamy or the stoning of adulterers, are not permitted in the UK.
Religious freedom does not override other moral considerations and the suffering caused by this form of slaughter is so severe that it cannot be allowed to prevent action to be taken. Consumers can do their bit by boycotting places that persist in selling meat from unstunned animals.
I find it terribly sad that Viva! chose to characterize this as an issue of a Muslim practice concerning how animals are slaughtered rather than that they are slaughtered at all. Unfortunately, Muslims do not have a monopoly on mistreating animals and Viva!’s comments encourage Islamophobia, which is already rampant in the U.K. and U.S. And, as mentioned above, Jews use a similar method of slaughter and the stunning method that everyone thinks is so much better than what either the Muslims or Jews use is also really quite horrible.
It is nothing more than sheer fantasy to believe that there is any significant difference between halal meat and “humane” meat. It all involves torture and death. It is simply dishonest to perpetuate the idea that we can simultaneously regard animals as members of the moral community but can continue to eat them and products made from them.
Everyone who consumes animals is, I am afraid, in the same boat as it were. There is no special boat designated only for Muslims or Jews. By criticizing halal or kashrut, we pretend that there is a morally significant difference and that those who eat meat from stunned animals are morally superior because they care more about animal welfare. We once again participate in the favorite new welfarist activity of trying to make people feel good about animal exploitation as long as it is done “humanely” and with regard for “animal welfare.”
I should say that much of the meat sold in the United States, particularly in the Northeast, is kosher slaughtered so the same issue exists on this side of the Atlantic as well.
In any event, the solution is not to ensure that you buy meat from stunned animals or boycott places that sell halal or kosher meat.
The solution is to ask yourself: if I care about this issue; if I object to torture and needless killing, why am I eating any meat or any animal products?
The response is either to acknowledge that you do not really care, or to start thinking seriously about going vegan.
It is a shame that groups like Viva! persist in insisting that veganism is too daunting for the average person to understand. It is not, and this patronizing position becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and facilitates the characterization of veganism as “extreme.”
What is difficult to understand is how a social movement that supposedly objects to animal exploitation can refuse to promote veganism as a moral baseline and is instead content to promote “happy” meat and animal products over those produced on factory farms or to perpetuate the idea that there is a meaningful moral distinction between flesh and other animal products.
If you are not vegan, go vegan. It is very easy, better for health and for the planet. And, most important, it’s the morally right and just thing to do.
Gary L. Francione
©2010 Gary L. Francione