On Halal and Kosher Butchery

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As mentioned yesterday, it's time to start working through reader responses on "bigot" issues, interesting new software, aviation innovations, beer, etc. Let's start with butchery.

Earlier this week a reader in London pointed out a Fleet Street headline on the "outrage" of (Muslim) halal rules for slaughtering animals, and suggested that the same papers would-- at least these days -- hesitate before expressing "outrage" about (Jewish) kosher slaughter practices, which are from the animal's perspective just the same thing.

Some readers have written in to say that in Europe (and New Zealand), kosher practices are coming under serious pressure too. They may not be get the tabloid front-page "outrage!" treatment of the recent halal flap in England, which in turn suggests that the UK press is less worried about seeming "anti-Muslim" than of seeming anti-Semitic. But all practices of this sort are subject to increasing criticism from animal-rights groups. For instance, reader Miguel Cardo of Madrid writes in to say:

While I totally agree with the main point of the article (typical braindead tabloid bigotry), there's something about halal, and also kosher, sacrifice rituals that pushes the limits of what kind of rules a society should allow because of religious reasons.

My brother is a veterinarian, and for a while worked in England as slaughterhouse inspector. Among his duties were making sure that hygiene regulation and animal welfare rules (i.e. avoiding unnecessary suffering) were respected; that is, as long as 'regular' slaughtering was performed. When the slaughterhouse was used for religious killing, everything was relaxed: hygiene (biblical ritual instead of a proper disinfection of the butcher's tools), animal welfare (instead of stunning the cows before, badly sharpened knives were used on still conscious animals).

Coming from a country with very little religious diversity [Spain], I was amazed about what the British are ready to put up with for the sake of tolerance. Why are some minorities exempt of complying to some quite reasonable rules? Couldn't any group of people invent their own religion to avoid some civic duty or law?

You can guess I am not much of a believer in any deity... but I would really like that all citizens have the same rights and obligations.

After the jump, two more perspectives on the same theme.

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Another view:

Regarding your reader's letter on the UK ... this kind of stuff appears in the UK and the EU in general with regularity. There is constant scare mongering about shechitah and other Jewish ritual experiences. For instance:  http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/2977086.stm

The BBC story the reader quotes is from several years ago. More recent illustrations are here and, with some differences in tone and approach, here here, here, etc. The Wikipedia site has more on current or pending regulation of kosher slaughter. And, to round things out, a Western reader who has lived for years in Asia writes to say:

Isn't it nice that so many people have enough protein in their diet that they can obsess over how the dead animal they are ingesting met its end? Living in countries where there hasn't been enough to eat within recent memory puts the "humane killing" discussion in a different light. I am certain my friend Miss Kim never questioned the source of her protein during Vietnam's last famine.
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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