Recent proposals to reopen an abattoir in Skegness have attracted local opposition, with a facebook group and online petition set up. The Heath Road abattoir closed down in January after it ran into financial difficulties , and the proposed re-opening has generated opposition because slaughter methods used there would be halal. Although the initial opposition was not overly linked to the far-right, fascists have been quick to take an interest in the issue, with the BNP’s Lincolnshire Coastal branch adopting it as their main campaigning theme. Other groups have been sniffing around the issue as well, and it’s certain that none would have criticised the abattoir reopening if it were to be staffed by “indigenous” knifemen.
Ritual slaughter for halal is becoming an important focus for the far-right, with the BNP in particular targeting it; they recently held a (piss-poorly attended) national picket of a branch of Subway in Sunderland which sells halal meat. They aim to portray their opposition to halal on the grounds of animal welfare, but unsurprisingly this rings rather hollow on investigation; there is no opposition from the fascists to factory farming in general, nor is there any indication of what they consider acceptable practice in a slaughterhouse might look like – the latest fundraising dinner of the Lincolnshire Coastal BNP featured Lincolnshire sausage, presumably obtained from consenting pigs who died quietly in their sleep, or something…..
The halal meat issue is (of course!) more complex than it is painted by the BNP. It is often argued by muslims that slaughter without pre-stunning (which is the central issue giving grounds to accusations of cruelty) is actually less distressful for the poor animal than the conventional methods of stunning – although almost every animal welfare organisation disagrees, and what scientific evidence there is suggests that stunning is less traumatic. For what it’s worth, this writer would guess that pre-stunning is indeed “less cruel”, but hopefully I’ll never know for sure.
However, it is important to note that, contrary to general impression, halal rules do permit the pre-stunning of animals, as long as the stunning itself does not kill the animal. It is also important to note that there are several interpretations of halal rules in practice – for example, there are differences about which methods of stunning are acceptable. The RSPCA cites an estimate, from the Meat Hygiene Service, that around 90% of UK halal-slaughtered animals are in fact pre-stunned – in other words, from a welfare standpoint, they are treated much the same as the majority of animals killed in non-ritual abattoirs. (The majority killed for kosher consumption are also pre-stunned, incidentally).
The BNP are yet again displaying their opportunism in portraying halal as “truly barbaric” and “un-British”, whilst showing no analysis of its complexities, nor any campaign on factory farming in general. Their failure to mention kosher slaughter, which is very similar to halal in most practical aspects, also shows their expediency – it’s not considered strategic to be overtly anti-semitic at the moment. A more progressive strategy for ensuring animal welfare in halal and kosher is not hard to imagine, perhaps involving campaigning for universal application of stunning to all ritual slaughter, for example. Of course many would argue that a slaughterhouse can never be “humane”….and non-halal abattoirs are certainly not exempt from shocking breaches of welfare standards.
The key point here is that any worthwhile campaign on animal welfare must be careful to deprive the far-right of another opportunity to demonise British muslims. The BNP and other fascist hangers-on will be unable to make political capital out of the Skegness abattoir controversy if they are opposed, and we hope that – yet again – they will be shown for the two-faced opportunists that they are.