Undercover video footage released this week showing sheep being kicked, punched and thrown head-first into metal equipment at Bowood Lamb abattoir in Yorkshire is the reality for many animals, whether they are killed under halal conditions or otherwise.
If we want to stop this kind of egregious, intentional abuse, we must start monitoring conditions in abattoirs all the time, not just when animal protectionists manage to sneak in.
The video, which is difficult to watch, also shows sheep being pinned down, kicked, stood on and lifted up by their ears and fleece and having their necks hacked and sawed at. Many Muslims who know the truth about modern halal slaughter methods are rightly concerned about and opposed to such cruelty.
Figures released by the Food Standards Agency this week show that approximately 2% of cattle, 15% of sheep and goats and 3% of birds are killed without being stunned first. This adds up to hundreds of thousands of animals being killed every year while still conscious.
A fully conscious animal is absolutely and understandably terrified when he or she feels the cold, sharp sting of the slaughterer's knife. Cows thrash wildly in panic as they are hoisted upside down by one leg and have their throats slit. Birds flap their wings, desperately trying to right themselves and to escape the metal shackles and the pain of having their legs broken or pulled out of their sockets.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Slaughter, whether or not the animal is stunned before having his or her throat slit, is only the end of a long and inherently cruel process – much of which contradicts Islam's teachings of kindness.
The vast majority of the 1 billion animals eaten every year in the UK, after all, are raised on filthy, crowded factory farms, where they are crammed by the thousands into windowless sheds, wire cages, crates and other intensive confinement systems.
They are not able to raise their families, root in the soil, build nests or do anything else that is remotely natural and important to them. They won't even feel the sun on their backs or breathe fresh air until the day they are prodded and goaded onto trucks bound for slaughter.
To label certain slaughter practices as "halal" seems inaccurate when one considers that most animals who end up in a halal abattoir are not only roughly handled, which is against Islamic law, but also come from forbidden (haram) places of suffering (ie, unhygienic, miserable farms, where they often have their ears notched, are castrated without anaesthetics and have the tips of their beaks cut off with a searing-hot blade). Animals also suffer miserably in transit to the abattoir, something all Muslims should find objectionable.
But this isn't just about halal killing methods, because the callous behaviour displayed by the workers in this latest video footage cannot be attributed to just one type of slaughter. This kind of humiliation and barbarism goes on all the time, no matter what the label on meat packaging says.
Investigations have revealed time and time again that shocking abuse of animals occurs on non-halal farms and abattoirs that claim to have the highest standards – including those with Red Tractor and Freedom Food certifications. Examples of cruelty documented at these facilities include the following:
- So-called "free-range" hens at The Happy Egg Co were documented living in filthy, severely crowded sheds (in some cases, they never went outside) and being shocked into submission with electric wires.
- Pigs with injured hind legs struggled painfully to lift themselves out of the filth at an RSPCA-monitored Freedom Food farm in Cheshire.
- Animals were kicked, thrown, improperly stunned and decapitated at a Soil Association–approved abattoir.
Whether it's Freedom Foods, Soil Association, Red Tractor, organic, free-range, halal or any other label intended to reassure consumers, they're all meaningless. When it comes to avoiding cruelty to animals, there is only one label that really means something: vegan.
Most religions impart a reverence for life. I can't imagine any god being anything other than appalled by the way that farmed animals are treated today. The best thing anyone who is worried about the welfare of animals who have been raised for food can do is to go vegan.
PETA urges anyone who is rightly sickened by what he or she has seen in these videos to support the campaign for mandatory closed-circuit television (CCTV) in all UK abattoirs. The kind of abuse shown in this latest video, as well as in numerous others, should not be allowed to continue. If the meat industry has nothing to hide, it also should support the installation of CCTV to protect both animals and abattoir workers. Of course, the industry's fear is that, as Paul McCartney said, "If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian".
Ben Williamson is Senior International Media Director for PETA US. Williamson joined PETA in 2012 as PETA UK's Press Officer and serves as a media spokesperson on animal rights issues.