Covertly filmed video has emerged that shows huge animal rights abuses in a British halal slaughterhouse. The footage was released by Animal Aid and filmed in the Bowood Lamb facility in Thirsk, North Yorkshire, over three days in December.
The clips include video of sheep being hurled around, and kicked in the face and head, being thrown head-first into a solid structure, a worker jumping up and down on the neck of a conscious animal, and staff laughing as a sheep bleeds to death with the painted outline of green spectacles drawn around its eyes.
Since the secret footage was released on Tuesday morning, one man has lost his job and three others have had their operating licenses removed.
WARNING: THIS VIDEO CONTAINS GRAPHIC IMAGES
The British Food Standards Agency (FSA) has begun an investigation and confirmed that they taken action against four workers so far.
"The Food Standards Agency takes animal welfare at abattoirs very seriously which is why we immediately suspended the licenses of the slaughtermen involved," the organization said in a statement. "There is no excuse for treating animals in the way shown on the video and we are therefore investigating the footage with a view to prosecution. We are also continuing to investigate all the circumstances around the incident to ensure proper safeguards are introduced to stop this happening in the future."
Halal in Arabic means "permissible" or "lawful." Meat is only halal in accordance with Islamic law if it has been slaughtered using a particular method that involves an animal being killed with a cut to the jugular vein, while still alive and healthy, and for a blessing to be recited while doing so.
Many animals killed in this way are stunned before being bled to death, something which is also common practice in non-Halal practice.
A 2012 FSA report found that in total about 88 percent of animals slaughtered by halal methods were stunned before being killed. The Bowood slaughterhouse is a non-stun facility, something that Animal Aid say they were not aware of before they planted the cameras inside.
'The last thing we want is an anti-Muslim backlash. There's enough hate directed at Muslims, and ignorance, and we're mindful of that.'
This is the tenth slaughterhouse filmed in this way, he said, and in all but one they found evidence of huge cruelty and law-breaking. The latest is the first that deals with Halal meat, the others were all "traditional humane" plants. One of these, he said, was organic, another was approved by animal welfare charity RSPCA.
"So this is not about halal being different from other slaughter," Tyler said. "This is about cruelty in slaughterhouses which we found over and over."
Tyler said that the footage was captured after an investigator working for Animal Aid snuck into the slaughterhouse in the dark of night and planted cameras in order to capture what was going on. This is a common trespass, Tyler said, and Bowood was welcome to take a civil case against his organization if they wished.
However, he said it was vital to make the public aware of the treatment that animals are subjected to before they are killed. Some of the things his group has filmed have included animals being burned by cigarettes and being punched in the head, he said.
"What we're talking about is animals suffering, and it's a bloody pitiless business." Tyler said that the coverage of their footage so far had virtually ignored the fact that this investigation was one of ten and that the cruelty is widespread, rather than limited to halal meat.
"The last thing we want is an anti-Muslim backlash," he told VICE News. "There's enough hate directed at Muslims, and ignorance, and we're mindful of that."
When asked whether — minus any abuses — it is crueler to slaughter an animal with the halal method instead of using a non-halal method, Tyler said that he wouldn't be willing to make a judgment on that. However, he did say that he believes that regulators are culpable, along with those responsible for the action.
"When you pay someone to kill non-stop, it's going to do something very odd to their head," Tyler said. "It's not a healthy pursuit, and (the slaughterhouse workers) end up being contemptuous and hateful towards these animals."
Tyler said that Animal Aid is campaigning for compulsory CCTV in slaughterhouses, which they hope will help with monitoring and halting any abuses. "Not every minute, every working day" needs to be watched, he said, but the footage should be readily available and used to deter workers from committing acts of cruelty.
Timothy Pachirat is a political science professor who spent six months undercover in a slaughterhouse in Omaha in the US. He worked in the chutes as a cattle driver, in the cooler as a liver hanger, and on the kill floor as a food-safety quality-control worker
He told VICE News that — after viewing this footage — his starting point would be condemnation of the actions seen on screen, but added: "This kind of release of footage always causes a kind of momentary shock among the people who are viewing it but it generally does not cause people to question the larger system of violence against animals more generally."
Pachirat said that by scapegoating a particular slaughterhouse or a particular religion, society is absolving itself of complicity, when "the real tragedy is the fact that we delegate this kind of labor to a small group of people who are kept out of sight, and so we respond with shock and horror when very routine footage is released from activist groups but the fact is it's not just an indictment of that particular slaughterhouse, it's an indictment of the whole system.
"If you look at the working conditions of slaughterhouse workers it is absolutely predictable that they will — in some proportion — take out their frustration on creatures that have even less power than they do, but these workers are not in any way well-treated by society as a whole."
He said that — from his experience — slaughterhouse workers are often paid low wages, and sometimes those who turn to this kind of work are undocumented immigrants.
"We set that up structurally, to give the most disempowered workers the dirtiest and most morally questionable jobs and then it's a little bit hypocritical to act with shock and horror when predictable outcomes occur."
Dr. Taj Hargey, chairman of the Muslim Educational Center of Oxford, told VICE News that it is important to use the most humane method to kill animals.
"Halal slaughter is not incompatible with humane killing," he said. "We need to embrace modern methods while at the same time observing Islamic rule of letting the blood drain from the animal."
Hargey also noted that this footage might encourage a backlash towards Muslims and added that this is a wider problem than an Islamic one. "Either we as a society should curb all meat eating to ensure that animals are not suffering, but most people in this society — in the UK — they eat meat," Hargey said.
"At some point killing is involved. At that point we should make killing as humane as possible and there's nothing in the Quran or in Islamic law that says that animals should not be killed humanely."
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