Editorial: More than labels
There has been a lot of talk recently about animal welfare, unnecessary cruelty and giving shoppers more information, since it emerged that shops and restaurants have been selling meat killed by the Islamic method dhabihah – which does not traditionally involve stunning –without labelling it as halal, or informing customers of its origin.
You can see the protesters point: There is something to be said for shoppers having more information about the suffering of the animal who was killed for their meat, before they decide whether to buy. So here is some information.
In Britain, one billion land animals are killed each year for meat. Most chickens bred for meat are allocated slightly more room in the barn than the area of this magazine page. There might be 40-50,000 in one barn, in such conditions that injuries include burning from the ammonia in their excrement, and, throughout the UK, 140,000 die of natural causes every day. The chickens are slaughtered at six weeks old; in egg farms, males are killed at birth.
In the Danish farms we get our bacon from, according to the Guardian’s Andrew Brown: “Half of the sows have open sores and 95% have their tails docked, a cruel (and under EU regulations, illegal) practice that is needed to stop them chewing and biting one another’s tails in their concrete sheds.”
As for the UK̕s non-halal slaughterhouses, where animals are humanely stunned before killing, the charity Animal Aid has released film of workers kicking, slapping and stamping on animals, throwing them by the ears, burning them with cigarettes and failing to stun them before slaughter.
In the lifetime of absolutely unremitting horror and misery that our industrial farming deals to animals, improving the moment of their death by stunning is better than nothing, but it̕s hardly the heart of the matter. If we shoppers care about the mistreatment of animals, avoiding halal – on the ground that only seven out of eight animals are stunned before slaughter – is not going to help them a great deal.
More information about the stunning or not of animals might help shoppers make better decisions. More information about their living conditions – and about the working conditions of the people who make our clothes and phones and grow our fruit – would help a lot more. But we need something more than labels to achieve that.
This article was published in the June 2014 edition of Reform.