Abattoir Blues


My dog Jess is brilliant. An unusual cross-breed, we found her by happy accident after a randy Border Collie jumped a fence and had his wicked way with an innocent wee Border Terrier. She's very much loved in our house and is an integral part of our family. I often struggle to remember what life was like without her, and at times I think she's my favourite wee thing in the whole wide world. This feeling usually follows a petty argument with my wife, when I've thrown on my jacket, grabbed the lead and stormed out the house. Jess follows, scurrying at my heels. While I murmur away to myself and try to figure out how to apologise for the umpteenth time, I marvel at Jess, bounding along the rolling hills with endless energy and poetic grace. It's around this point I prefer Jess over anyone else in the world before swiftly realising that my wife and kids are more important. Only just, though. My wife wouldn't roll gleefully in a dead crow and I suppose that's what sways it.


I'm an animal lover. I love my dog. I also have a cat, two goldfish and there's even talk of getting a couple of rabbits in the summer. And it appears I'm not alone. Britain is mad for animals. Social media is full of them. Pictures of family pets, funny cat memes, appeals for missing dogs, you can't escape them. A quarter of British households have a dog and a fifth own a cat. Animals are great as pets. But also to eat, too. I completely understand why some people choose to be vegetarian, pescatarian, vegan or however they want to be but not for me. I'm very much a carnivore and you could put any part of any animal down in front of me and I'll have a right good go at it.


Which brings us to abattoirs, slaughterhouses and butchery. Depending on your outrage scale, you may or may not have been slightly peeved to find that some of Britain's largest restaurant chains and supermarkets admitted to selling meat butchered using Halal techniques. The Daily Mail did what it does best and stirred up a lovely brew of racial tension by bellowing that we had been eating Halal meat FOR YEARS. For years, man. Won't someone please think of the children? Cue the hysterical masses.


But what exactly is everyone outraged at? People are angry, sickened and disgusted. I'm none of those, more curious than furious, and I certainly don't have a tendency to be apoplectic with rage over something of which I have little knowledge.


It doesn't take much searching to find some intriguing facts and figures. Firstly, Halal means 'permissible' in Arabic. When an animal is killed using Halal methods, it is first blessed before having its throat slit with a sharp knife, cutting through the throat, windpipe, major veins and arteries but stopping short of the spinal cord. The animal is strung up during the process, allowing the blood the drain out entirely. UK law requires all animals to be stunned before slaughter, however it makes an exemption for Muslim and Jewish communities. A Food Standards Agency (FSA) study found that although these exemptions were in place, around 88% of animals were stunned before Halal slaughter. If this is compared to the average of 10% of non-Halal slaughters that fail, then the two figures sit neatly side by side.


Failures can occur in many ways. As all Halal slaughter is done by hand, this ensures that no animal regains consciousness after being stunned, otherwise there would be a great deal of suffering, pain and distress. Non-Halal methods are mainly mechanised due to the great number of animals that pass through (over 900 million animals are killed for their meat each year). Taking chickens for example, the birds are shackled by their feet and move along a conveyor. The birds are then dipped in a water bath, which completes an electric current from the shackles, thus rendering the birds unconscious. They are then moved to an automatic machine which slits their throat. After they bleed to death, they are then put in a scalding tank, where the hot water helps loosen the feathers for plucking. An error can occur at a number of places throughout this process, due to the birds not being dipped in the water, missing the throat slitter (those that do are done by hand - but many miss this process also), waking before bleeding out or operator fatigue in general. This isn't even taking into consideration the failures that occur when cattle, sheep and pigs are electrically stunned or a bolt gun is used.


The only real difference in techniques is that a wee prayer is said for the animal. If you have a problem with that, then you may spend so long in your bitter and twisted world that you become an actual lemon. I mean, come on, did you really think that Halal meat was butchered alive by a sword-wielding maniac fresh off the set of Indiana Jones? Did you think that most other animals had their hooves held as someone whispered James Taylor songs softly in their ears? Did you think that they had the choice of a comforting last meal while they watched a video of their brief but beautiful life? And all that time, the crazy Muslim man wildly slashed the still-mooing cattle into manageable pieces, while he cursed their mother and mocked their horn size.


But is it the case that this is nothing but Islamophobia dressed up as faux outrage? And not just trackies-and-a-jumper dressed up. No sir, this is a full three-piece Savile Row suit, complimented with Italian brogues and a matching Fedora, complete with a dandy feather in it. After all, who wants food prepared by a *whispers* Muslim?


Those pesky Muslims, they get everywhere, don't they? With their loose-fitting clothes and dusky complexions, you're never tooo far away from one who's either preaching their hate or blowing things up just to spite us pure-white Christians. We want Chicken in a Basket, not Chicken in a Burka. Well, I got news for you, mister. It's estimated that only 15% of meat in the UK is Halal, so the likelihood of it landing on your prejudiced little plate is pretty low, you'll be pleased to hear. Are you happier now?


We're an odd little country. We seem to get outraged without really knowing all the facts, instead getting our information from Barry the Taxi Driver or a racist, hate-filled, pathetic excuse of a newspaper. But we are a nation of animal lovers, who tend to go berserk when any form of injustice is carried out on our furry friends, with people ironically rabidly foaming at the mouth, incensed at the outrage. "The poor wee dears," they'll say, donating oodles of wedge to the nearest animal charity whilst completely ignoring the human suffering right in front of their noses. This isn't going to be popular, but if you give money to, say, a donkey sanctuary rather than helping to feed a starving child, then you really gave to have a long, hard look in the mirror.


Animals can be fearsome, wild and wonderful. They can be cute, furry and cuddly. But they can be tasty, satisfying and nutritious. One thing's for sure though, they should be treated with respect and shown great dignity in their last moments. And most animals are, no matter what process is performed. Maybe instead of petty arguments, we should focus on refining our techniques to ensure that 100% of animals put to slaughter are never made to suffer.


As I write, Jess has ambled into the room, chased her tail for a bit, then shook herself so hard that she fell over. I love that wee thing.