Friday, August 06, 2010

Halal meat in schools fuels debate

Parents and animal welfare groups have condemned a plan to offer only halal meat in some London schools. All 10 secondary schools in Harrow, north-west London, will adopt the controversial menus from September and it has been reported that the borough's 52 primary schools might also be included in the scheme. The decision has outraged animal rights' groups and families who claim their views on the treatment of animals were being compromised to accommodate the Muslim faith.

It is thought to be the first time that a local authority has insisted on a halal-only meat menu and campaigners fear similar measures could be forced on all schoolchildren. According to the 2001 census, just 7% of Harrow's population are Muslim. Halal meat production is condemned by the RSPCA and the Government's veterinary advisers, but is permitted in Britain and across many parts of Europe.

Origins of ritual slaughter

Some 2,700 years ago God is said to have said to Moses "Only ye shall not eat the blood; ye shall pour it upon the earth as water" [Deuteronomy 15:23]. Many of the rules laid down in the Bible remain and some have bee taken up by other religions.

Many Jews insist that their meat must come from animals which have been slaughtered according to Jewish law. These strict guidelines require that the animal is killed by a single cut across the throat to a precise depth, severing both carotid arteries, both jugular veins, both vagus nerves, the trachea and the esophagus, no higher than the epiglottis and no lower than where cilia begin inside the trachea, causing the animal to bleed to death. It is a practice known as shechita.

Muslims too have long adhered to a form of ritual slaughter. The Qur'an lays down many rules about the consumption of food. Just as the Bible prohibits the consumption of animals that have died naturally, killed by a beast or carrion, so too does the Qur'an. Pork is prohibited, as in the Jewish faith, and blood is also outlawed.

To provide halal meat, Islam also requires a form of ritual slaughter known as Dhabiha. The method of slaughtering animals consists of a swift, deep incision with a sharp knife on the neck, cutting the jugular veins and carotid arteries of both sides but leaving the spinal cord intact.

It is claimed ritual slaughter results in minimal suffering to the animal as it cuts off the blood supply to the brain hence the pain centre. However many animal rights' advocates insist the animals suffer as they bleed to death. In Britain and across Europe the most accepted method for slaughter is to stun the animal, rendering it unconscious, followed by the kill where  the animal either has its throat cut or has a chest stick, cutting close to the heart, both where main veins and/or arteries are cut, and allowed to bleed causing death by exsanguination. In the United States animals may be rendered unconscious by an electrical bolt, gunshot or through the use of carbon dioxide gas [Animal slaughter].

Divisive issues

No method has been proved to cause less suffering than any other, and there are conflicting views over whether animal slaughter is humane. However ritual slaughter has attracted particular criticism. Disturbing videos have been uploaded onto YouTube [viewer discretion advised] said to show ritual slaughter of cows, sheep and goats. On face value many people may see such methods as cruel. But ritual slaughter has become a divisive issue.

Calls to the BBC's Vanessa show on Friday saw many describing the decision to only offer halal meat at schools in north-west London as being at best unfair. Some in the Muslim community were also fearful that the decision would lead to a rise in Islamophobia and the issue would be exploited by far-right groups.

But Harrow council have said the decision was up to the schools concerned. Harrow councillor Brian Gate said it would be the choice of individual schools as to whether or not they chose to use catering firm Harrison Catering Services, which serves halal-only meat. "The decision about whether to use an individual provider is for schools to make, as the funding is delegated to them," he said [BBC / Daily Mail / Daily Express]

[Picture of a cow being slaughtered in a Belgian halal slaughter house via YouTube - view discretion advised]

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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