December 20, 2007

Sheep for Eid

A safe and happy Eid to Muslim students, friends, readers: have a "meatful" Eid ;~)

I was talking to a San Diego sheep rancher yesterday about this holiday and about what is commonly referred to as the "ethnic market." Both of us sold sheep for Eid [she sold quite a few; I sold just a few] and it turned out both of us had seen the same article in the news about sheep, Eid and a controversial legal decision:
The Rowes have long been in a tangle with the state over the mass slaughter of lambs on their 300-acre Princeton farm. State agriculture officials say the Rowes must build a custom slaughter facility, which the family says would cost $740,000. State officials say mass slaughters conducted any other way are unsanitary and threaten an outbreak of disease.

"When engineers, lawyers and students who have limited contact with animals come down from suburban centers to slaughter an animal, that's exactly the kind of high risk of spreading disease we're talking about," Barry Bloch, a lawyer with the state Attorney General's office, told Johnston County Superior Court Judge Tom Lock, who issued a 10-day injunction against the slaughters.
Yet it is perfectly legal for these same "engineers, lawyers and students... from suburban centers" to take a live sheep home and slaughter it in the kitchen. The irony wasn't lost on members of the Sheep Production Forum:
[Moderator/Shepherd Bill Fosher]: "Regarding poultry: there's an exemption in federal law for people who produce fewer than a certain number (and I think that number is 10,000) birds per year that allows the birds to be slaughtered at home and sold without inspection. They must be sold from the farm (not even a farmer's market) and they must carry the legend: "for home use only."

I've seen some pretty scary operations selling chickens off the farm, but that's the thing: you can make the judgment and drive away if the place scares you."

[Sheep rancher Janet McNally]: "and my point would be, if one can slaughter 10,000 birds on the farm and sell them, then why can't we have something similar with lamb? In the name of preventing disease, just what is being accomplished by banning lamb slaughter, that evidently is not necessary with poultry?"
Two things make me a strong proponent of farm slaughter. The first has to do with transport: I believe shipping livestock long distances to be slaughtered is terribly stressful. Animals are confused, frightened, uncomfortable and sometimes injured. The second reason I favor on-the-farm slaughter is that I've seen it done, and I'd bet money that it is vastly more humane than death in a slaughterhouse environment. The cattle I've seen butchered weren't stressed. They were in a familiar environment, handled by familiar people, and killed instantly. I suspect most Thanksgiving turkeys suffer far more stress than sheep killed at Eid.

Is some farm slaughter inhumane? I'm sure there are cases where it is, but prosecute those cases --- don't ban on-the-farm slaughter. Making every food animal suffer a long ride to a slaughterhouse is neither humane nor healthy. For a bit more on the interesting laws regarding U.S. food safety, see [again] this article from one of my favorite sites, The Ethicurean:
Welcome to one of Cowboyland’s greatest ironies: Unless you make direct arrangements with a farmer or rancher, it’s fairly difficult to purchase beef (or any other meat, for that matter) that has been both raised and processed in the state of Wyoming. That’s because there are no USDA-inspected processing facilities in the entire state — a state where agriculture employs nearly 20% of the working population and where cattle production beats out the next-highest value agricultural product, hay, by a factor of 15.
[Factoid: 7.4% of jobs in California are in agriculture (25% in the Central Valley). Agriculture is the state's biggest industry -- some $30 billion a year. We have more cows than Wisconsin. We really should secede.]

Edited to add: The L.A. Times covers the Rowe controversy:
Other families took their animals, saying they had plans to kill them somewhere else. State agriculture officials determined that such slaughter fell into a legal gray area and said they would not prosecute anyone who did so [...]

And so the doctors and scientists -- most lured to the region by research firms, hospitals and major universities -- chatted on cellphones in Arabic, Bengali and Uzbek, trying to find someplace to kill their lambs. Young sons and daughters stuck their noses through fences, staring at animals that were unaware they may have won a reprieve.

Families with a plan backed their vehicles into Rowe's barn. There, a farmhand named Dwayne would bind an animal by its ankles, then dump it into a trunk.

Many of the Muslims said they felt no ill will toward the Agriculture Department -- the law was the law; they just wanted a place to practice the ritual.

Mannan suggested they might lobby for a way to do it legally next year. "I think we will have to go to the governor," he said.
Beats me how anyone could think it's safer, or cleaner, or more humane, or something, to toss a live sheep in the trunk and butcher him in a suburban backyard than to kill the sheep on the farm.


Bill Fosher said...

Hi Luisa,

While I generally agree with you that on-farm slaughter can be humane and sanitary, it very often is not. What would seem to make sense to me is to have some sort of basic minimum standards and training for farmers who want to offer this service to their customers.

Transport to slaughter and slaughter in a slaughterhouse needn't be stressful. By the time they go to slaughter, my lambs have usually been trucked four of five times -- always to greener pastures -- which gives them positive associations with getting on the trailer. I use only plants where I am confident that animals are handled humanely and are killed promptly and correctly.

I suppose you could make the case that the strange surroundings, loud sounds, and presence strange people and animals that are part of a slaughterhouse environment are per se more stressful than restraining an animal in a familiar environment and turning out the lights, and you'd be right. The problem lies in whether people operating the switch know what they're doing.

I will not sell animals to people who want to take them home and slaughter them in their back yards because of transport and quality control issues, and I will not sell animals for slaughter on the farm because I can't provide sanitary conditions and a means of disposal of blood and guts that I feel would be acceptable.

Eventually, one of these suburban doctors or scientists is going to get sick from eating lamb that he has slaughtered himself -- a nick of the paunch is all it would take -- and it is going to come back on the farmer. Suddenly all those Eid al Adha sales will look a lot less attractive.

Luisa said...

What would seem to make sense to me is to have some sort of basic minimum standards and training for farmers who want to offer this service to their customers.

Excellent idea, and I would be first in line for certification. I want to follow up on this [and will run over to the Sheep Production Forum for more advice]. Thanks for writing.