Monday, January 12, 2009

SPOTLIGHT on ETHICS: Factory Farming

This article is an important read for all Muslims concerned with adhering to Islamic law which mandates the humane treatment of animals. There is no guarantee that zabiha-slaughtered cattle did not also live under the questionable conditions imposed by large-scale agro-business.

If you've ever bought meat from your local supermarket, chances are it was raised in the environment of a large-scale agrobusiness, known as Factory Farming. In fact, according to the Worldwatch Institute, 74 percent of the world's poultry, 43 percent of beef, and 68 percent of eggs are produced this way.[1]

What is it?

Cows in a U.S. factory farm
Factory farming is the practice of raising farm animals in confinement and 'high stocking density'. Factory Farming is the practice of operating a farm as a factory, as is typical in industrial farming by agribusiness.

Factory farms hold large numbers of animals, typically cows, pigs, turkeys, or chickens, often indoors, typically in crowded conditions. The aim is to produce as much meat, eggs, or milk at the lowest possible cost. A wide variety of artificial methods are employed to maintain animal health and improve production, such as the use of antimicrobial agents, vitamin supplements, and growth hormones. Animals are physically restrained to control movement or actions regarded as undesirable.

There is a continuing debate over the benefits and risks of factory farming. The issues include food production; animal welfare; the environmental impact and health risks.

Is the Meat halal?
As pertains to the feeding, raising and care of animals meant for food, some of the basic Islamic requirements for halal meat are:

Islamic Requirement: Cleanliness of feed.
Under Islamic Law, animals fed unclean food or garbage are called Jallalah. Muslims are temporarily forbidden from eating or drinking meat or milk from jallalah animals until that animal's diet can be cleaned. This cleansing period is commonly around 3 months.

Practice: Feed
The main ingredients used in commercially prepared cattle feed are: corn, soybeans, sorghum, oats, and barley. Up until the spread of BSE (mad cow disease), cattle feed contained meat and bone meal (MBM). MBM is the product of bones and waste tissue from the meat processing industry. Having a formula of about 50% protein, 35% ash, 8-12% fat, and 4-7% moisture, it was used in animal feed to increase the protein content. In most parts of the world, including America, MBM is no longer allowed in feed for ruminant animals such as cows and sheep, however it is still used in pig feed.[2, 3]

Practice: Cleanliness of Environment
One of the main features of densely populated factory farms is that waste, feces and urine, from animals is constantly being produced. Perpetually caged animals such as chickens are often urinated on by chickens in cages above them.

Islamic Requirement: Ease and Well-being of the Animal
In both Quran and Hadith, Islam mandates humane treatment towards animals. The Prophet Muhammad forbade people to capture and cage birds, burn anthills, and whip or brand animals. Muslims are forbidden from eating the meat of al-mujathama (مجثمة)—animals penned in and killed under duress for sport.

Muslims are responsible for the care of animals. So much so that an ill-treated animal will testify against the one who abused it on the Day of Judgment. It is such a serious matter that in Islam, one could gain Heaven or Hell due to one’s treatment of animals. Even in slaughtering animals for food, Islam requires that the slaughtering be done according to Islamic procedure, which aims to cause the animals as little suffering as possible.[4]

Practice: Animal Welfare

        Breeding sows in gestation crates
The large concentration of animals, animal waste, and the potential for dead animals in a small space poses ethical issues. It is recognised that some techniques used in industrial agriculture can be cruel to animals.[5]

Raising a large number of animals under confinement in crowded conditions often requires that certain animals, such as veal calves, and pregnant cows or pigs be confined in cages where they cannot move or change position.[6]

In factory poultry farming, particularly for eggs, birds are kept in rows of cages, and their environment, ventilation, heating and lighting are dictated automatically.[7] The small confining cages reduce stimulation of the poultry, which often results in chickens pecking each other or themselves.[8] A study by the Agricultural and Food Research Council in 1992 also found that 50% of battery farmed poultry had bone disorders such as osteoporosis[7] or breakages. In some farms, chickens are debeaked, their beaks removed so they will not be tempted to fight each other or to resort to cannibalism.[5, 9]

Because the aim of factory farming is high-output at low cost, animals are unfortuntely regarded as a commodity to be optimized. This objectification of animals can lead to mistreatment, abuse or neglect. There have been several documented cases of such animals being mistreated, even when using the industry's guidelines as a standard.

It is AMNA's stand that meat, eggs and milk from animals coming from such an environment cannot be considered halal. The challenge, then, facing the Muslim consumer is knowing if the meat they are purchasing, whether supermarket meat, or zabiha slaughtered, is from one such animal. The growth of free-range and organic cattle farming practices, and the availability of organic and free range meat, whether at the supermarket or the local halal butcher, has made it easier for Muslims to buy meat that is truely in-line with Islamic law, from birth-through-slaughter.

[1] "State of the World 2006," Worldwatch Institute, p. 26.
[2] Wikipedia: Meat and Bone Meal.
[3] Adedokun, S. A. and L. Adeola. 2005. "Metabolizable energy value of meat and bone meal for pigs." J. Anim. Sci. 83(11): 2519-2526.
[4] "The Love of Animals." Hediyah Al-Amin,
[5] UK DEFRA comment on de-beaking recognising it as cruel.
[6] Wikipedia: Factory Farming.
[7] Animal Liberation NSW Battery Hens
[8] VEGA Laying hens, free range and bird flu
[9] Wikipedia: Poultry Farming.
[10] "Best Practices for Beef Slaughter," 2003. Edited by: National Meat Association, Southwest Meat Association, American Meat Institute, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. [PDF]

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