In retrospect, I’m surprised that it has taken so long for animal welfare to join free speech and sexual violence on the list of them-and-us issues in Australian public discourse. Outraged stories about the cruelty of Muslim slaughter-practices have been a feature of European media coverage for some years. As Richard Farmer notes, the Netherlands is in the process of passing legislation that would ban the slaughter of livestock without stunning it first – a ban with implications for both kosher and halal observance. Demonisation of kosher slaughtering has been a feature of European racism for centuries, thus providing a convenient means by which to stigmatise contemporary Muslim communities.
Animal rights parliamentarian Marianne Thiame says that kosher and halal slaughter practices are “no longer of our time“. But “our time” hardly represents a utopia of animal welfare and the method of slaughter pales into insignificance alongside the conditions under which most poultry and livestock are held throughout their lifetime. A sheep whose only human-induced suffering is the reported thirty seconds that it may take to die during halal slaughter is a very lucky sheep indeed. The eggs on the shelves of every supermarket represent the lives of chickens who have spent their entire lifetimes in conditions that make Guantanamo Bay seem like the Ritz.
But it’s a lot more simple to point in horror at the Jewish or Muslim butcher shop down the road than it is to render one’s own diet cruelty-free. Even free-range eggs do not drop from the backsides of blissfully liberated chickens. And as the contents of your sausage pondered the meaning of life as they looked around their feedlot – well, I’m guessing that they weren’t saying “I just hope that we don’t fall into the hands of a Muslim or a Jewish butcher. I hear those barbarians are cruel animals.”