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‘Halal Hysteria’: The Viewpoint of an Animal Rights Advocate

This article analyses the impact the focus of animals rights organisations on the banning of religious slaughter could have with regards to the long-term position of animal rights. 

Written by Eve Massie 4th Year LLB, GULS Vice-President Academic and the sub-editor of the Animal Law portion of the review



‘…the question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?[1]

 In May 2014, chain sandwich shop, Subway, issued an announcement that, in order to meet consumer demand, they would now serve halal meat only, in 52 of its outlets across the U.K. The British public was horrified. A public outcry arose as people called for the boycott of Subway and other chain restaurants which served halal meat, demanded that this ‘inhumane’ practice of slaughter be outlawed and, worryingly, condemned the Islamic faith; singling out Muslims for their support of this inhumane treatment of animals. Amidst the uproar, President of the British Veterinary Association, John Blackwell, too condemned the religious slaughter of poultry, sheep and cattle stating that the practice causes the ‘unnecessary’ suffering of animals and should be made illegal as it has been in a number of European Member States.[2] Although an immediate and natural, response from an animal rights advocate’s point of view would be to call for the ruling of illegality of religious slaughter, regard must be had to the welfare of animals in the long run. My question is, then, does the campaigning for a ban on religious slaughter truly serve in the best interests of animals?

It is beneficial to the substance of the essay to briefly explain the method of religious slaughter and the legal instrument allowing for its legality. In order to comply with Muslim and Jewish law, animals killed for consumption must be slaughtered by a particular method. The correct method consists of the slaughterer killing the animal by a single, continuous back and forth motion to the throat with a sharp knife. Pre-stunning of the animals, as is the common practice in ‘normal’ slaughterhouses, is not permitted in kosher slaughter and, although no longer ‘banned’ in halal slaughter with an estimated 88% of animals being stunned before slaughter in the U.K.,[3] is still a topic of widespread disagreement amongst Muslims. The practice of slaughter without pre-stunning is permitted via the European Union directive, ‘European Convention for the Protection of Animals for Slaughter’, which was implemented in Britain through The Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulations 1995, and which states that ‘Each Contracting Party may authorize derogations from the provisions concerning prior stunning in the following cases:- slaughtering in accordance with religious rituals.’[4] 

As an advocate for animal rights, my concern will always be primarily for the welfare of animals and the consideration of their best interests. I must be clear that at no point in this essay am I condoning religious slaughter, because as a vegan, I condone no slaughter. However, as I will be taking an abolitionist view on this topic, it is my intention to discuss the dangers of the campaigns for the illegality of religious slaughter.   

The majority of the British population consume meat.[5] There are many reasons that people use to justify their support of the meat industry, but regardless of their reasoning, it would be fair to assume that most people would like their meat to have come from ‘humanely’ slaughtered animals. A welfarist viewpoint on the matter of religious slaughter, such as that held by John Blackwell, or the government funded but independent advisory body, Farm Animal Welfare Council, who recommend that the legal exemption which allows for religious slaughter without prior stunning be abolished, appeals to this group of people. It does so because it does not condemn nor question their meat-eating habits.

The above recommendations are not isolated. Indeed, several non-profit animal rights organizations such as, Viva! and Scotland for Animals, have taken the welfarist approach on this issue and released statements condemning the practice and demanding the Government prohibit such activity. However, these viewpoints, while serving in good will, inevitably allow for the justification of the moral superiority of others, which can only be detrimental in the fight against animal cruelty. This is because condemning only one particular method of slaughter suggests that there is only a problem with the ‘extreme’ uses of animals, perpetrated by particular groups of people, and that the these other ‘normal’ uses of animals that the vast majority of the public participate in everyday are justified. This viewpoint is conflicted, as animal rights organisations themselves promote veganism as a stand against all types of slaughter. There can be no humane slaughter; the phrase itself is an oxymoron. As Gary L. Francione, a Professor of Law at Rutgers School of Law-Newark, comments, ‘it would be an absurd use of the word to characterize any slaughterhouse as ‘humane.[6] Similarly, Brian Klug, a senior research fellow in philosophy at Oxford University, in response to journalist Nick Cohen’s article calling for the ban on religious slaughter,[7] states ‘Nick Cohen attacks orthodox Muslim and Jewish methods of slaughter as cruel, as if "secular" methods were humane. Anyone who has witnessed the latter knows better.’[8]

It is because of this false moral superiority that I have struggled to support the people and organizations campaigning for the illegality of religious slaughter. By focusing on one method of slaughter and expressing support for such a method as an animal rights activist in particular, this suggests to other that there is nothing morally incomprehensible about supporting the ‘regular’ meat industry. Perhaps there is the possibility that the hysteria surrounding religious slaughter will encourage persons, already sympathetic to animals, to question the exploitation of animals on a larger scale. That said, Francione has noted that single issue campaigns on a whole do not motivate most people to look beyond the single issue at hand; in this case religious slaughter. Indeed, Francione responded to Viva!’s online statement condemning halal slaughter, questioning their failure, as an animal rights organization, to use the opportunity of having a position of expertise in the animal rights field to explain to the concerned public ‘humanely’ produced meat does not exist as, in his words, ‘all meat- and all animal products- come from nonhuman animals who have been tortured under the very best of conditions’.[9]

There is no doubt that humans exercise a moral superiority over non-human animals. Indeed, this moral superiority allow humans to define their place in society, as Taimie L. Bryant, a lecturer of animals and the law at UCLA, comments ‘humans define themselves by opposition to animals’.[10] She also notes that ‘humans reinscribe their presumed superiority over animals whenever they use animals to serve humans ends.’[11] It is already difficult to dislodge humans’ beliefs that they are superior to nonhuman animals, and although this campaign has been positive in that so many people have taken an interest in farmed animal welfare, unfortunately it may well be damaging to the social justice movement for animal rights. The focus on the campaigning solely against religious slaughter places the ‘regular’ meat industry and those in support of it in a very dangerous position of a presumed moral superiority over both the animals and religious minorities involved and affirming that their exploitation of farmed animals is humane; when, of course, exploitation can never be humane. 

I am very much aware that we live in a world dominated by the exploitation of other sentient beings: whether that is of human or non-humans animals. I understand that veganism is still a strange concept to many and that by animals rights organisations taking this opportunity to speak out against all slaughter, many will still turn a blind eye. However organisations must be careful not to latch onto popular public views for their approval and support on just one animal welfare campaign when they can use this rare opportunity of public engagement to educate the public on the inequality and injustice served for all farmed animals. In the words of Gary L. Francione, no animal consumed by anyone in Britain or anywhere else on the planet was treated and killed in a manner that could be called “humane” without making an obscene misuse of that word.’[12]


[1] Jeremy Bentham, Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, 2nd edition, 1823, chapter 17.

[2] Namely Denmark, Norway, Poland, Sweden and Switzerland.

[3] Food Standards Agency (2012) Results of the 2011 FSA Animal welfare survey in Great Britain. Great Britain: Food Standards Agency.

[4] Council Decision 88/306/EEC of 16 May 1988 on the conclusion of the European Convention for the Protection of Animals for Slaughter.

[5] Although vegetarianism and veganism is on the rise with 1 in 8 adults in the U.K. now living a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. Mintel, 2014

[6] Gary L. Francione. Animals as Persons: Essays on the Abolition of Animal Exploitation,  Reflections on Animals, Property, and the Law and Rain Without Thunder, Columbia University Press 2008, Chapter 2.

[7] Nick Cohen,"God's own chosen meat" (2004).  New Statesman 133 (4695): 22–23.

[8] Brian Klug ‘Letters- In defence of religious slaughter’ (2004) New Statesman. 

[9] Gary L. Francione ‘Message to Viva!: The Problem is Not Religious Slaughter’ (2010)

[10] Taimie L. Bryant ‘Sacrificing the sacrifice of animals: legal personhood for animals, the status of animals as property and the presumed primacy of humans’ (2007-2008) Rutgers Law Journal Vol 39:247.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Gary L. Francione ‘Message to Viva!: The Problem is Not Religious Slaughter’ (2010) 


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