Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Netherlands set to outlaw halal and kosher slaughter

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The lower house of the Dutch parliament today voted overwhelmingly in favour of a bill which would see both Jewish and Muslim forms of religious animal slaughter banned on grounds of animal welfare.

The bill was brought forward by the Party for Animals, which holds just two seats in the Dutch House of Representatives, but received cross-party support, with proponents arguing that ritual methods lead to increased suffering for animals. The legislation must now pass a vote in the Dutch Senate later in the year.

If the bill becomes law, Holland would join Sweden, Luxembourg, Norway and Switzerland as the fifth European country to legislate against religious slaughter, something which has prompted Britain's chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks to warn of a "domino effect". Others, meanwhile, would support a spread of such legislation – animal rights groups broadly back a ban, as do groups like the British Humanist Association and the National Secular Society.

Thinking about the possibility of such a law being introduced here (which admittedly seems unlikely at present), I'm not sure it's something I'd find easy to support. In the past I've suggested that I'm against ritual slaughter (and I suppose I still am, in so far as I would like animals to be slaughtered as humanely as possible), but, having put some more thought into the matter, I'm not comfortable with the idea of pursuing a specifically religious practice in such a way, particularly when it is framed as a humanist issue.

If the humanist reason for wanting a ban on religious slaughter is animal welfare, then the implication is that animal welfare is a humanist issue. Perhaps so (one for you to debate in the comments). But if that is the case, then why should ritual slaughter be the only animal welfare issue pursued by humanists? The animal rights group VIVA state that, of the 900 million animals slaughtered for food each year in Britain, around 12 million are killed by Muslim or Jewish ritual methods. I think in order for me to want to throw my support behind a ban on ritual slaughter I'd have to be convinced that the suffering endured by that 1.3 per cent of animals at the moment of death is somehow greater than the suffering inflicted upon far greater percentages during the course of their lives through transport and living conditions. Otherwise, campaigning specifically on the issue of religious slaughter feels, for me, uncomfortably like scapegoating. As someone whose meat-eating involves plenty of ethical inconsistencies, I'm not sure I'm in a position to lecture a religious minority about theirs.

Interested in your thoughts - do share in the comments.
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