A majority of MPs is now opposed to Jewish and Muslim ways of killing animals following the Labour party’s decision to support a ban.Right from the bat the recriminations of secular religious intolerance and religion-mandated backwardness flew hither and yon.
Both religions demand that slaughter is carried out with a single cut to the throat. In ordinary abattoirs, animals are usually stunned before being killed.
The proposal to ban ritual slaughter, drawn up by the pro-animal party PvdD, will be debated next week.. It claims there is evidence ritual slaughter causes animals unnecessary pain and suffering.
The three religious parties in parliament oppose the ban on freedom of religion grounds. The ruling VVD has not yet made up its mind.
As with the headscarf debate, unfortunately, both sides the debate have merit while simultaneously missing the central point spectacularly. We have atheists defending animal rights, passionately arguing that this civilized part of the world no animal deserves to die in a manner that causes undue suffering. And we have the religiously inclined arguing the libertarian view that government has no role in defining what is, and what is not, acceptable religious practice. Does the government really have a role in regulating the way animals are butchered? What vital national interest is served by the government stepping in and banning all forms of unstunned ritual slaughter? If, (and I would argue strongly against that) it is a core task of the government to ensure life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for animals, then why this ban, and not a ban on the sometimes appalling conditions under which our pigs and poultry are bred and raised?
The proximate cause of this proposed ban is the silent but whole-sale adoption of halal certification by the Dutch and European food industry (covered here and here, for instance). Since no MP wants to appear discriminatory in his or her views (our constitutions forbids it, after all), the whole halal issue is turned into an animal welfare issue, making it an issue about butchering animals without first stunning them. Lost in all the noise is the fact there is a marked difference between kosher and halal butchering.
Halal butchering means the throat of the animal is cut in a way that severs the arteries and windpipe, but specifically NOT the spinal cord, leaving the animal conscious through the whole process. The animal is quite aware (if not being allowed stunning), causing huge amounts of stress. This is intentional, as islam prescribes that an animal must die of blood loss and/or asphyxiation and nothing else.
By contrast kosher butchering includes severing the vagus nerves, making death near instantaneous. The animal still bleeds out, making for some gruesome viewing, but the animal itself isn't conscious throughout the process. Additionally, kosher butchering involves some pretty strict rules regarding the knife used: It must be razor-sharp and without nicks or serrations. No such rules exist in halal-butchering, leading to agonizing scenes of sheep being 'butchered' on a balcony by sawing of the throat with a blunt hacksaw.
However, these finer points are lost in public and political debate. The discussion has been narrowed down to the acceptability of all unstunned methods of slaughter. Hence the reason why the ban on unstunned slaughtering misses the mark in this one key aspect: Halal slaughter does not necessarily mean unstunned slaughter. What makes a slaughter halal is the islamic prayer spoken by a certified imam over the animal during its death-struggle. A ban on unstunned slaughter will only hamper the orthodox Jewish minority and the more purist muslims in the Netherlands. It will not curb halal butchering in the least. And it will do nothing to halt the creeping halalification of our own, Western food industry.
This ban will not stop halal slaughtering by the big abattoirs. It will not bring back regular (non-halal) beef and mutton back in our supermarkets and restaurants. It does pretend to address that, though. Which leads to a conclusion: This proposed ban on unstunned slaughter is a pacifier. It is a fake teat our intrepid MP's are popping into our mouths. It will produce nothing worthwhile, nothing of substance, but will hopefully shut us up for a while. This is a lack of respect we do not deserve. It is a measure of contempt that we should repay in full. Twice over.