On Ritual Slaughter

Par David Olivier Whittier

This text was initially published as an article in my blog, in February 2019 (in French).

Ritual slaughter is a favourite subject of the far right. Today, in France, it is mainly Muslims who are targeted by obsessive hatred on this issue. In the past, the Jews were on the receiving end, as appears in the lengthy sequence about ritual slaughter in the Nazi propaganda film “The Eternal Jew”.

In far-right publications on the subject, it is often clear that concern for the fate of slaughtered animals is no more than a pretext; this is reflected, for example, in the fact that the denunciation of the halal is often accompanied by an intense promotion of the “French traditional” butchery; and also the frequency with which, during animalist discussions, debates or demonstrations questioning the legitimacy of meat consumption are hijacked by the issue of ritual slaughter; this theme is thus used to prevent the questioning of animal slaughter. It does not follow that any sincere concern for the fate of animals is absent in these people, or at least in their targets; because if that were the case, this propaganda would simply not work. Nevertheless, the fact that this theme is invested by the far right is parasitic to animalist discourse, leading many activists to prefer avoiding it entirely.

However, I believe that the animalist movement has good reason to develop its own discourse on the subject:

  • Because it is likely that ritual slaughter does actually imply greater suffering for the animals, and it is not right that we should be forced to ignore it.
  • Because avoiding the subject in order not to risk being association with the extreme right implies giving a specist priority to the display of our anti-racism over effective solidarity with animals and the often atrocious suffering inflicted on them in their last moments of existence.
  • Because the fact that ritual slaughter is allowed in derogation of animal protection laws symbolizes and affirms the low importance given to even the most important interests of non-humans.
  • Because through this question we are creating an opposition between two groups of victims, on the one hand Muslim and Jewish humans, on the other hand non-humans, and we must be able to face this problem.
  • Because stunning has a cost for the industry, especially if it is obliged to apply it seriously.
  • Because implicitly, the existence of ritual slaughter affirms the consumption of meat as a right.

I will elaborate on the last two points.

On the cost to industry

Currently, as shown in the videos of L214 and many other testimonies, many animals slaughtered non-ritually fail to be properly stunned, and others are “stunned” with methods that, even when conducted “correctly”, imply great suffering (see for example the gassing of pigs). Imposing an effective and painless stunning on 100% of the animals would imply a significant slowdown in production rates and a significant cost to the industry. This is even more the case for fish1, who today are only very rarely stunned at all and suffer a slow agony or are skinned alive. If the industry agrees to bear this cost, and passes it on to consumers, it will make them pay a very small part of what is currently paid, and much more cruelly, by animals, and would disincentivise their carnivorous impulses. It is probably impossible to imagine that the industry would agree to comply with this requirement; emphasizing slaughter conditions is therefore a way for us to highlight the fact that it is, in practice, impossible for animals to be killed without terrible suffering, and that, as Antoine Comiti says, abolition is the realistic solution.

On meat as a right

None of the three Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) require its followers to eat meat. This statement can be challenged marginally; practicing Jews have only one ritual obligation involving meat – a bone – at an Easter-related ceremony (the seder). Many bloody sacrifices are prescribed by the Torah; but it is accepted that since the destruction of the Temple (A.D. 70) they no longer to be practiced. Muslims traditionally sacrifice a lamb on the feast of Aid. However, in all cases alternatives exist.

Much greater is another obstacle: by refusing to eat meat for the sake of animals, we necessarily consider that the moral law enacted by God, which does not ordain this refusal is incomplete or faulty; to be a vegetarian is to believe to be better – more merciful – than God himself. It is important to note, however, that there is no obligation here to eat meat; what is prohibited is the choice not to eat it out of respect for animals. A Christian, Muslim or Jewish person who does not eat meat for health reasons, or for any reason other than animals, is not at fault in this respect. In particular, not eating meat out of respect for the law of the country does not conflict with religious requirements, and therefore the prohibition of slaughter without stunning does not infringe religious freedoms.

The dietary rules of Islam and Judaism are purely negative: one should not eat this or that. Most of these rules concern animal products, prohibiting in particular the eating of non-halal or non-kosher meat. They do not require eating halal or kosher meat. When we talk about halal or kosher, we think of meat; but in fact, almost everything a vegan eats is halal and kosher. Pasta and peas are halal and kosher.

Jewish or Muslim people are quick to argue about their religious freedom when it comes to banning ritual slaughter. But this argument is in bad faith. What they are really defending is not their religious freedom, but their freedom to eat meat. If ritual slaughter were abolished, they would in no way be obliged to violate their religious precepts; they would be obliged to stop eating meat, not for the sake of animals but for the sake of the common law, and this, as I have argued, is not in conflict with their religion. It is not the Jew or the Muslim in them who speaks when they protest against such a ban of ritual slaughter; it is the meat-eater, hiding behind his or her religion, exploiting it as a shield in a way that can appear disrespectful from the very viewpoint of this religion.

Moreover, by claiming that a ban on ritual slaughter would violate their religious freedom, they presuppose that if they no longer have access to halal or kosher meat, they will eat, “by necessity”, meat from animals slaughtered after stunning; that is, they implicitly affirm that they give greater importance to their appetite for meat than to respect for their religion. A Muslim or a Jew who takes their religion seriously cannot hold that prohibiting ritual slaughter would violate their religious freedom; it would violate only their wish to eat meat, a wish he or she will willingly sacrifice to the commandments of their god.

If carnivorous Jews and Muslims can afford to speak as they do without having these contradictions pointed out to them, it is because everyone in our societies accepts as untouchable the right of each and every human to eat animals, regardless of the cost these have to pay for it. And if society as a whole accepts so easily to grant this exception to stunning laws which allows ritual slaughter, it is precisely because it does not want to see certain Jews and Muslims speak as I have suggested, renounce meat and admit that eating animals is not a fundamental right. The prime culprits for the persistence of ritual slaughter are not Jews and Muslims, but our carnivorous society as a whole.


1. Pierre Sigler informs me that stunning is mandatory in Norway.