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France and Quebec’s artificial controversy over halal meat

The lands of foie gras and puppy mills are suddenly horrified by animal slaughter


 

Le Pen: "Don't French people who don't want to eat halal have the same rights as Muslims who do?" (Philippe Wojazer/Reuters)

With the American Republican primaries in full swing, it’s easy to forget that U.S. politics doesn’t have a monopoly on ignorance. Thanks to France’s right-wing National Front party, and Canada’s very own, very left-wing Parti Québécois, it appears that SantoRomNewt may have something in common with French leaders (despite Newt’s attack ad on Mitt Romney for speaking French): a penchant for anti-Muslim rhetoric. At issue is the halal meat controversy, possibly the most bogus animal rights campaign in recent history. Its chief spokesperson is sometimes-starlet, sometimes-xenophobe Marine Le Pen, of the aforementioned NFP. Le Pen is deeply disturbed by the notion that non-Muslim French citizens are “unwittingly eating halal meat,” which she contends comes from animals that are being inhumanely slaughtered. The ritual method through which halal meat is slaughtered (as with kosher meat, using a single incision to the jugular) is just as legal in France as the secular alternative (“captive bolt stunning,” in which the animal is sedated via stun gun before it’s killed), but Le Pen maintains that halal’s “horrible cruelty” warrants special condemnation. “This is a moral point,” she says. “Don’t French people who don’t want to eat halal have the same rights as Muslims who do?” Even French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who once accused Le Pen of stirring up an “artificial controversy,” has made the alleged cruelty of halal slaughtering a cause célèbre in the upcoming presidential election—perhaps to reel in the country’s right-wing base.

In this hemisphere, the Parti Québécois is no less alarmed. Like Le Pen, the PQ is worried that unsuspecting citizens may be eating halal against their will. “This type of [halal] slaughter slams directly against Quebec values,” the PQ said in a statement recently. (I have yet to find any mention of humane animal slaughter in “The Common Values of Quebec Society,” a provincial document written for immigrant orientation.) The PQ is demanding a report on halal practices from the province, and requesting that all Quebecers be informed about the slaughter methods of their meat, even though one of the province’s biggest meat-processing giants, Olymel, admitted its halal products aren’t entirely halal: “In no way we’re practising traditional halal slaughtering—no way,” spokesman Richard Vigneault told the Canadian Press. In fact, he said, Olymel’s official halal certification process consists of nothing more than “having an imam recite a prayer in the plant and did not affect the slaughtering methods at all.” In other words, it’s Quebec Muslims who are more likely being duped into thinking their meat is technically halal, not the other way around.

Let’s forget for a moment that this impassioned animal rights campaign materialized in the lands of foie gras and puppy mills (Quebec was named “the best province to be an animal abuser” by the Animal Legal Defense Fund), and suppose that Le Pen, Sarkozy and the Parti Québécois are sincere in their concern for the humane treatment of animals. If so, are they right to condemn halal ritual?

Researchers and agriculture boards are split on the issue; some say the secular method is more merciful than halal, while others contend they’re equally humane—or cruel. When Muslims and Jews are forced to defend their dietary laws, they often cite a German study published in 1978 by veterinarian Wilhelm Schulze. After subjecting cattle and sheep to EEG measurements during both slaughter techniques, Schulze concluded that, if performed properly, religious slaughter is no less humane than captive bolt stunning. Likewise, some religious leaders insist that the swift cut to the jugular required in halal and kosher methods acts as its own stunning sedative, rendering the animal unconscious almost instantly—thereby mimicking the standard method.

Among animal rights activists, however, religious slaughter is decidedly unpopular. Britain’s Farm Animal Welfare Council has lobbied for its ban since 1985, and PETA contends that animals are subjected to “prolonged torment.”

There is no argument that when the methods were first adopted, in Biblical and Quranic times, halal/kosher slaughter was by far the most humane method available. The method’s chief defenders believe it still is. So if opponents are truly concerned about the undue suffering they believe the ritual causes, why not appeal to religious groups on the grounds that captive bolt stunning isn’t in violation of their orthodoxy, but in direct keeping with it?

Because that’s not what this debate is really about. Nicolas Sarkozy’s heart doesn’t bleed for cattle. The PQ doesn’t care about meat-packing procedures. And Marine Le Pen is not Temple Grandin. These French leaders are in the grip of subtle but ugly identity politics—one that mistakes xenophobia for cultural values. The greatest indignation in both France and Quebec has not been directed toward the animals’ treatment after all, but toward the possibility that the meat from ritually slaughtered animals might be inadvertently eaten not by Muslims, but by more truly French, ancestrally French, people. So a final word to any politician who has recently jumped on the slaughterhouse bandwagon: expose your preoccupation with religious dietary laws for what it really is—a lingering appetite for racism.


 

France and Quebec’s artificial controversy over halal meat

  1. The NFP are right here and this is a serious issue. The writer of this article could not be any more ignorant.

    • I saw this video three years ago.  I have NOT eaten a steak since.  I am now 80% vegetarian and when I walk by a meat counter, I see the video in my mind.  Chicken and ham once in the odd while and fish.

      There are so many videos on You Tube re hallal.  Anyone would be disgusted.

  2. I’m sorry, but it sounds like these politicians are more concerned that non-Muslim’s might be eating Halal meat than they are about animal rights. If they want to attack slaughtering methods, why not get upset about Kosher slaughtering and the current methods used by their respective secular industries? It sounds like this is an attack on religious beliefs than it is on animal rights.

  3.  I don’t want to pay, knowingly or unknowingly, a cent that would go towards an imam’s salary, a rabbi’s salary, or a minister’s salary, etc. I recently stopped eating meat and dairy because of the horrific cruelty reported by Canadians for the Ethical Treatment of Food Animals and many other organizations. If animals have a good life, maybe I would consider it again, but I really don’t agree with the killing either.

  4. Halal traditions already minimize the suffering of the animal. Bleeding them out is the fastest method to death, it also drains the blood from the brain rendering the animal unconscious. 

  5. The journalist is ignorant and a biggot.

     She forgets to mention that the european comission considers that ritual slaugtering makes animal suffer  without serious motives. Also the pratic is illegal in Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, New Zeeland and is debated and questioned in England. All the previous country mentioned are probably ignorant and racists too I guess.

     Also, in 1959 Canada adopted a law to prevent cruelty when slaughtering animals. It gives exeption to religious ritual but still ask that the animal be rendered unconcious immediatly. (art 77).

    The Halal process requires the animal to be concious while it bleeds out. So should the canadian law be change? If so why?

    Don’t have any good arguments just say that the others are racist and proclaim debate won. Sounds to me that the journalist here using classic american debate tactics.

  6.  Is halal slaughter any different from kosher slaughter?

     AFAIR, kosher slaughter was even more cruel.

     Good luck selling war on it in Montreal.

  7. Animal rights are NOT the issue here.
    It’s about people’s RIGHT to NOT have a religion and to NOT finance religions.

    • No, the issue is that halal meat is an artificial decoy topic for the public. The issue is that it’s a non-issue. 

    • You split your infinitives there.  It’s about peoples RIGHT NOT to have a religion and NOT to finance religions.  But you’re not financing religions when you eat halal meat, you’re financing a butcher shop.  What about your right NOT to finance Monsanto?  You don’t have that right. Virtually every grocery product you buy puts money in their pocket.  You lack that right.  Why care about the right not to fund a butcher whose method of killing a cow differs from the method of killing a cow more routinely practised?  It’s still a dead cow. Does the meat taste muslim to you?

  8. Well lets see. We have some schools here that force kids to eat snak food that is halal. The parents complained but the school admin tells them too bad don’t like it bring your snack. Here is the thing, in the religion of Hindus apparently they are taught specifically not to eat halal food. Teitel, what do you say about this little problem? Would it not make sense to tell the Muslim kids to bring their own halal snacks instead of letting other kids eat the stuff unsuspectingly? Hiding the fact is that not a racist act? Who cares if its about what the Hindu’s believe, ehh Teitl. . What king of reporter are you anyway?
    The issue is not how the animals are killed more so it is we have to eat it period when we do not want to.  Thats the story that needs to be read here.

  9. A pathetic opinion piece from the usually great Emma Teitel. She plays the racism card because she has no better argument. Very disappointing.

  10. The comments under this article demonstrate the prevalent racism/bigotry and ignorance very clearly. Sad, indeed. 

  11. Animals are not “sedated using a stun gun” as the article states.  They are shot in the face with a gun.  The difference is that the bullet is “captive”, that is, it doesn’t fully leave the gun and enter the animal.  It remains attached to the gun. This saves on the cost of bullets.  Animals are not killed by this process, instead, a large portion of their brain is destroyed, leaving them incapable of freaking out while you skin them alive.  Halal practices involve actually killing the animal with a quick incision.  Which is more humane? I think if they want to talk about animal rights, the first place to go after would be factory farming, Monsanto, etc. Corn subsidies and the runoff from that, feedings pigs vegetarian feed when they are omnivores, making them fat and sick and incapable of moving, pumping them full of chemicals. Chicken so fat they can’t move ,beaks melted off. Male chicks dumped in garbage containers to die. Meat sterilized with ammonia because it’s harvested in shit filled buildings where workers routinely die from the high pace and low safety standards. And you think nicking an animal’s jugular with a knife is inhumane?

  12. I LOVED THIS ARTICLE!!! This is an article to keep!  I am a vegetarian and against all kinds of animal torture and killing.  However, I do want to stop and say that before we all judge Islam, let’s really read all what we can find about the religion and not just videos that are probably out there to show what a terrible religion it is.  Remember a good rumor goes so far…a bad one OH LORD!  Emma, thanks for this.  You are a real reporter and saw this from an angle that many would have probably not seen or just avoided.  As for Quebecors…I am living in Quebec and all I see is bashing of the rest of Canada….so stop calling the kettle black!

    • Mira, you say: “However, I do want to stop and say that before we all judge Islam, let’s really read all what we can find about the religion and not just videos that are probably out there to show what a terrible religion it is.”
      I did just that: I read the Quran (Coran), the ultimate source on islam. The biggotry and hatemongering in that book freaked me out… and also convinced me that THEY don’t care about the lives of animals, or of the “infidels” for that matter. Read it: you will understand what I am talking about.
      As for the Canada-bashing in Quebec… yeah, I live in Quebec, and it makes me ashame!

  13. Il est à la fois consternant et réconfortant de constater que l’obsession antiraciste obère le bon sens au-delà de la francophonie.
    Si Emma Teitel souhaite vivre sous supervision islamique, ce n’est pas le cas de la plupart des français ou des québécois. Que ceux qui le veulent s’y plient.
    Les objections sont:
    1 – À défaut d’étiquetage, la logique économique fait que TOUS les abattoirs deviennent halal.
    2 – Dès lors l’autorité sanitaire civile est supplantée par l’autorité islamique dans l’élaboration des normes d’abattage;
    3 – L’abattage halal place un métier sous supervision islamique, et ceux qui l’exercent dans une inégalité flagrante en fonction de leur religion.
    4 – Les consommateurs n’ont pas à financer l’islam à leur insu.

    Le Pen n’exige que l’information des consommateurs.

  14. It is both shocking and heartening that the racist obsession hampers common sense beyond the Francophonie.
    If Emma Teitel want to live under Islamic supervision, this is not the case for most French or Quebecois. Those who want can submit to it, France is a free country.
    The objections are:
    1 – In the absence of labeling, the economic logic will make ALL slaughterhouses comply to islamic rule.
    2 – The civil health authority will therefore be superseded by islam;
    3 – People working in the butchery industry will not be equal regardless of their religion (muslims being more likely to know muslim rules and comply to them).
    4 – Consumers do not have to finance Islam without their knowledge.

    Le Pen does not require that information to consumers.

  15. Reading such blatant anti-French racism in a respectable Canadian magazine made me sad. I’m a francophone Canadian of foreign origin living in Quebec. I hope this kind of francophobia is not representative of how most anglophone Canadians feel, because I love Canada.

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