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MAKING A KILLING - 'Humane' slaughter
Posted 1 June 2003
This extract is from the Autumn 2003 issue of Outrage - Animal Aid's quarterly magazine which is sent to all Animal Aid members. To find out more about joining Animal Aid click here.
A recent report on the slaughter of 'red meat animals' by the government's official advisory body on agriculture offered 308 recommendations as to how the annual killing of millions of cattle, sheep and pigs can be done more decorously.
Inevitably, all of the media attention settled on just one of the Farm Animal Welfare Council's recommendations - a ban on slaughter without pre-stunning, as practiced by Muslims and Jews.
On behalf of Animal Aid I joined in the debate following publication of the FAWC report - first, with a letter to The Times newspaper and then in a 15 minute debate on Sky Television with senior figures from the Jewish Board of Deputies and the Muslim Council of Great Britain.
In both forums I declared that religious slaughter is a vile and merciless way to treat animals, but that I also have concerns about the way bigots jump on the 'ritual slaughter' bandwagon. As to 'humane' British killing, I have personally visited six slaughterhouses and seen, for instance, pigs shackled upside down by one leg, their throats slashed and gushing blood. I've seen them slip from their shackles and crash head first on to the concrete, thrashing desperately and with blood pouring from their throat wounds. This is 'humane slaughter'. At one slaughterhouse I saw a man with a stick mindlessly beat every animal he unloaded from a transporter. At another, I saw a crippled pig kneed and kicked along an aisle to the place where she was subjected to electrical stunning.
The great conceit of 'humane slaughter' is that stunning renders animals immediately 'insensible' so that they feel nothing when the knife is drawn across their necks.
I am not remotely convinced that the captive bolt (used on cattle) or the electrical 'stun' is effective. The bolt often fails to hit the target square-on. And sending a massive electric shock through an animal's head seems merely to cause another level of trauma that momentarily freezes them physically. Gassing produces its own intractable problems. I base my views on what I have personally seen, on conversations I've had with a scientist at Bristol University who undertook killing experiments, as well as a reading of scientific papers on the subject.
No doubt the introduction of 'stunning' was an attempt to remove some of the horror from the killing business. But whether the frayed sensibilities of the meat-eating public was the prime concern or the suffering of the animals themselves, is difficult to judge. Equally, the introduction of Halal and Shechita slaughter - both of which call for a sharp knife and a clean cut - were also billed as improvements on the old even more nightmarish methods.
I don't know which of the 'new improved' methods is worse. But I do know that both are grotesquely cruel and unjustified. We do not need to eat meat. We are better off without it. Nor can I stomach hearing protagonists of religious slaughter claiming their method is swift and painless - when the evidence shows that animals can take minutes to die, are often cut about the neck numerous times rather than the prescribed one clean cut; and young calves can actually choke to death on their own blood.
The horrors of 'humane' slaughter are also many and palpable, as outlined above. The most dangerous element of the debate that followed publication of the FAWC report was the way the FAWC chairwoman rushed from broadcast studio to print journalist contrasting the horrors of the religious method with the caring, beneficent despatch that is supposedly the hallmark of killing factories operating the good old British system. In other words, she used the spectre of 'ritual' slaughter to sanitise a method employed to kill the vast majority of animals in this country. How convenient, given that, with a couple of exceptions, the FAWC council is composed of men and women who profit from the production, transport, dealing and killing of farmed animals.
Director, Animal Aid