May 8, 2014 admin


I enjoy being a ‘Radio 4 while I’m driving’ listener. But my heart sunk as I picked up the word ‘halal’ and a new round of the debate about ritual slaughter. I felt sympathy for the Muslim lady who suggested that the way the issue was raised could be an invitation to racism. But I largely lost it when she claimed that no one would bandy the word ‘kosher’ about in the way she felt ‘halal’ was used to get at Islam.
The specific issue is the labelling of meat products so that the customer can know whether or not the animal from which dinner came was, or was not, stunned before slaughter. Kosher meat is not pre-stunned; halal meat often is. It is argued that stunning prevents any subsequent pain, while animals slaughtered by shechitah retain feeling, and therefore suffer, for a few seconds afterwards. The counter argument is that mis-stunning is widespread and that many animals suffer severely in massive abattoirs over a much longer period as a result. Animal Aid claims its investigations have uncovered terrible cruelties at a high percentage of slaughterhouses. Shechitah, righty practised, requires each animal to be treated individually, and with dignity.
As a vegetarian I should perhaps be the last person to comment. I don’t want to be responsible for the routine killing of animals in any manner. But I find it at best questionable that, amidst the vast cruelties of the meat and dairy industries, and the even greater scale of the moral issues in food production, ritual slaughter should be picked out.
I was going to write that we should add a line to the confessional liturgy of Yom Kippur about the ‘sins we commit when we shop’. But we already do confess to ‘the sins we commit in eating and drinking’. We say the words, but do we make atonement? These are some of the issues involved:
Am I causing suffering to animals and birds, not just because of how they’ve been killed to reach my plate, but because of how they are forced to live, how forced to travel, how force-fed? Even the shortest of productive animal lives is incomparably longer than the time it takes to die.
What human suffering am I causing? It cannot be right to put in my shopping trolley the products of what is effectively another person’s misery. We should be concerned not just about the hygiene standards of our food, but about its moral standards; the fairness of the labour conditions in which it was grown, harvested, processed and transported.
What environmental degradation am I causing? Am I effectively signing up to a message which says, ‘I don’t mind bequeathing to our children oceans with few fish, lands with few songbirds and a sultry, unhealthy earth full of my generation’s non-biodegradable waste?
What about those who’ve nothing to eat? Every shop should have a basket for the hungry, and it should be expected that we place something in it when we pay. In Jewish law, ‘the poor of your own city’ take precedence over all other demands of justice and generosity.
It could be argued that all these concerns are a rich person’s luxury, – aiming to buy organic, fair trade, local and so forth. That may often be so. But all the more then are they the responsibility of those who can afford it.
I’m aware that I’m expressing myself strongly. I do so not because I feel I have the right to be indignant but because I often feel ashamed. I know I will continue to fail by most of my criteria, but I would like at least to try to do better.
In all this, the issue of how meat is labelled is not morally irrelevant. But it mustn’t be a distraction from far deeper concerns.

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