I spent an utterly miserable evening watching YouTube videos of the ways in which our meat is slaughtered. They made the whole horror movie slasher genre look very tame fare indeed. Forget halal labelling: if we were going to be fully transparent in our food labelling, it should tell us that this animal was crowded into filthy pens throughout its life, physically crippled by forced growing conditions and then subject to a form of mechanised industrial slaughter that is nothing less than vomit-inducing. Paul McCartney has a point: “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, we would all be vegetarians.”
The whole point of halal meat not being stunned before it is slaughtered is that the animal is supposed to be healthy and well before it is killed. The point about slitting its throat with a sharp blade is that we take personal responsibility for what we are doing. I take it that the point about the animal not being killed in the presence of others is that the process is not one of callous mass production. And the need to mention the name of God (by Muslim, Jew or Christian) while doing this is not some creepy religious ritual but a reminder that all creation, humans included, exist under God’s care.
Secular atheists may not subscribe to the metaphysics, but the idea that all life – human or otherwise – shares some inherent and fundamental connection is a noble position to take (and, no, you cannot catch Islam from halal food). With the exception of Hinduism, the Islamic scriptures are probably the most diligent in insisting upon animal welfare.
I am not saying that current halal practice necessarily lives up to its theological ideals. For this too has become industrialised. But reading the Qur’an carefully, it is perfectly clear that the sort of disgusting mass industrialised food production that is widely practised ought not to be regarded as halal compliant. Most of our animals arrive at slaughterhouses traumatised after months of ill treatment. The idea that we ignore a whole life of misery and then get morally exercised by what happens in the last few moments of an animal’s life is pure moral bullshit.