Mon, June 27, 2011 | Asia Times Online | By Spengler
Poisoning the Well of Animal Welfare
A version of the essay below appeared in the Dutch-language daily newspaper De Volkskrant on June 16. For months, the Dutch parliament has debated a bill that would ban kosher slaughter on supposed humanitarian grounds. On June 23, parliament offered a compromise according to which the Jewish community will have a chance to demonstrate that this 3,000-year-old practice does not cause animals to suffer. Given that kosher slaughter is mandated in order to prevent animal suffering, the entire proceeding is grotesque. This might seem like an esoteric issue affecting a small religious minority; on the contrary, I argue, it is on just such questions that the moral survival of the West depends — Spengler.
For the first time in Western history, the physical as well as emotional pain felt by animals became a human concern three millennia ago in the Jewish Scriptures. Not only does the Hebrew Bible prohibit meat obtained by hunting — the least humane way of killing animals — but it forbids the owner of an ox from muzzling the beast while it threshes grain, or killing a calf in the presence of the mother cow.
The sanctity of all life, animal as well as human, informs all of Jewish religious law, including the painless killing of animals through kosher slaughter. The biblical heritage of the West is the well from which we draw our modern concept of the sanctity of life. Holland’s Party of the Animals now proposes to poison this well.
Jewish standards for humane treatment of animals are far more restrictive than those of the Netherlands, or indeed of any country in the world. There is no bill presently before the Dutch parliament to ban consumption of wild game, which is killed in the hunt by methods that often inflict considerable suffering. Nonetheless, there is a bill to ban kosher slaughter, which was designed from the outset to inflict the minimum of pain.
Evidence is overwhelming that kosher slaughter is just as humane as any modern method of killing animals, and more humane as a matter of practice. The standard method in today’s slaughterhouses — shooting a bolt into the animal’s forehead — has a high failure rate, and animals frequently are shot several times before losing consciousness.
Temple Grandin, America’s foremost expert on humane treatment of cattle, published the definitive study on the subject in the May 2006 issue of the journal Anthropology of Food. Professor Grandin was the subject of an eponymous 2010 feature film.
Observing the slaughter of animals by a trained Jewish specialist, she reported: “I was relieved and surprised to discover that the animals don’t even feel the super-sharp place as it touches their skin. They made no attempt to pull away. I felt peaceful and calm.” More skill is required for humane slaughter without stunning, Grandin observes, but Jewish religious law requires special implements and a very high level of skill. Muslim halal slaughter, according to Grandin, has no such safeguards.