Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Barry on the inhumane slaughter of animals to meet religious requirements

In the news this week: moves in the Dutch parliament to ban the slaughter of unstunned animals (BBC discussion article).

A brief synopsis of the issue:

  1. Slaughtering animals without stunning / rendering them unconscious beforehand is increasingly considered to be inhumane, and there is a growing move in many countries to ban the practice.
  2. This is in conflict with Jewish and Muslim religious doctrine. Their counter arguments are roughly a) such laws inhibit their religious freedom, and b) their way is just as / more humane than the other proposed methods.
And a side issue that often goes unremarked: in the West there is a growing distaste of 'ritual slaughter' and a growing desire to use methods that are considered more humane. Where ritual slaughter is allowed it can be considered to be allowed on an exception basis, i.e. "we don't like this, but we realise that slaughtering animals in this way is important to some segments of our population". A problem however is that because according to at least one religious doctrine not all of the animal is fit for consumption, so the rest of it finds its way into the 'mainstream food supply chain' in order (allegedly) to make the practice economically viable. This means that people who are against the practice of religious slaughter are financially supporting said practices. There have been moves at the EU level for meat not slaughtered to a standard considered humane by the mainstream to be labelled as such so that it can be identified by the discerning shopper. Apparently such moves have been resisted on the grounds that it would inhibit religious freedom. It is not clear why this should weigh more than the freedom of others to choose not to support practices that they consider inhumane.

Anyway, on with Brian Barry and what he had to say on the matter (p45):

"...we must insist on the crucial difference between a denial of equal opportunities to some group [..] and a choice some people make out of that from a set of equal opportunities [..] as a result of certain beliefs. [...] We all constantly impose restrictions on ourselves in choosing among the options that are legally available to us according to our beliefs about what is right, polite, decent, prudent, professionally appropriate, and so on."
and (p45),
"Assuming that killing animals without prior stunning falls below the prevailing standards for the humane treatment of animals, the point is that those who are not prepared to eat meat from animals killed in any other way cannot eat meat without violating these minimum standards. It is not the law but the facts (assuming the facts bear it out) of neurophysiology that make this so. The law may condone the additional suffering of animals killed without prior stunning, but if it does we should be clear that what it is doing is accommodating the tastes of a subset of carnivores, not observing the demands of religious freedom."
"Consider, for example, the way in which people's beliefs may make some job opportunities unattractive to them. Pacifists will presumably regard a career in the military as closed to them. Committed vegetarians are likely to feel the same about jobs in slaughterhouses or butcher's shops. Similarly, if legislation requires that animals should be stunned before being killed, those who cannot as a result of their religious beliefs eat such meat will have to give up eating meat altogether."
From Barry (2001). Culture and Equality. Polity Press.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

On equal respect to cultures and ways of life

On liberals (allegedly) having to give equal respect to cultures because liberals are committed to equal respect for persons:

"The obvious problem with this argument is that illiberal cultures typically—I am tempted to say necessarily—are committed to violating the cannons of equal respect. Equal respect for people cannot therefore entail respect for their cultures when these cultures systematically give priority to, say, the interests of men over the interests of women."
- Brian Barry (2001). Culture & Equality. Polity Press. p127