The animals must come first

Why does the documentary film Farm and Red Moon need to be made? Haven’t we already learned about the horrors of the slaughterhouse (Earthlings), the trouble with factory farming (Food, Inc.), the global warming contribution of intensive animal agriculture (Conspiracy), and the heath hazards of eating animals (Forks Over Knives)?

What else is there to say?  What else needs to be done? I respect each individual’s food choices and I’m not getting involved head-on in the debate whether we should eat animals or not (at least not in this film), although I believe it’s one of the most important questions facing consumers today from an environmental sustainability, health, and animal welfare perspective.

I started out making this film as a vegan and for the time being I’m a seriously conflicted omnivore who continues to identify as a vegan. Where I end up at the end of the film remains to be seen, the story is still in progress. My focus with Farm and Red Moon, along with my co-director David Tamés, is that we want everyone, omnivores, vegetarians, vegans, etc. to learn about the missing link between pasture and plate. The issue of “decent death” has been kept out of the public conversation for way too long.

Meat-Market

Those who choose to to eat animal flesh often find comfort in the images of happy animals on pasture next to labels like “Humanely Raised,” “Certified Humane,” or “Animal Welfare Approved” in store displays and on food packaging. Many people sincerely believe that animals should lead a good life and be afforded a humane death if they are to become the food on our plates. Yet lurking behind these labels and “humane slaughter” rhetoric is a serious problem that we should not turn away from, regardless of whether you’re an omnivore, vegetarian, or vegan: All but one of the major certification/labelling systems conveniently avoids the process of slaughter.

rating-system-logos

In spite of “humane slaughter” being mandated by federal law in the United States and growing concern about where our food comes from, too many people wants to avoid dealing with what goes on behind the closed doors of the slaughterhouse. It’s outrageous when you think about that an organization will certify a product “humane” while ignoring what goes on in the slaughterhouse. We believe that everyone, regardless of their food choices, should understand how animals die to become our food.

If you’re going to eat meat I believe you should be aware of everything that’s involved in the transition from sentient animal to food. A focus on humane abuses is not enough. What happens when conscientious people committed to doing it right kill animals? Watching undercover videos of things gone wrong was not enough for me, it was not the whole story. I wanted to know and see for myself what goes everyday in industrial slaughterhouses, boutique abattoirs, and farmer’s backyards. These questions and the desire to see lead my co-director and I to begin production of Farm and Red Moon.

Precious Beau with Goat

The film will take you to the farms and slaughterhouses of different scales that I visited over a five-year period, several of them two, three, or four times. I gained unprecedented access to film legitimately so we did not have to sneak our cameras onto the kill floor.  Some of the animals I met had a horrible existence from birth, being caged or crated or chained. Others had a more comfortable fate, like at a small farm with children playing in the yard and giving names to the animals. Regardless, all of their lives will be cut dramatically short and they will be killed. That I was painfully aware of.

But what consumers don’t know is how the animals I met were killed in the best of circumstances. The well-traveled road for most consumers is lined with the deception of “humane slaughter” that is poorly understood, under-regulated, and often practiced incorrectly for a variety of reasons that we get into in the film. When I showed my footage of people trying to do it right to Temple Grandin (who serves on our advisory board and appears in the film) she said to me, “I don’t see any bad behavior in these videos, what I do see is that people don’t know what they are doing.” It’s often a murky grey area between unintended abuses and agregious abuse.

Farm and Red Moon takes you on the road less traveled. This road leads us to look at the suffering animals experience being slaughtered when no abuse is intended. This road will make all the difference to many animals. It’s not enough to turn away from animal agricultural and adopt a vegan diet. Animals continue suffer and something must be done, and for things to be done we must all take the time to see and engage in dialogue.

Constantly on my mind are:

Chickens, like the “humanely slaughtered” chickens I saw who gasped for air as they bled out.

Chicken

Goats, like the “humanely slaughtered” goat I saw who despite being stunned with a captive bolt gun, insisted on standing up and fighting for his life.

Goat

Cows, like the “humanely slaughtered” cow I saw who kept regaining consciousness as his throat was cut, and cut again, and hacked to the point of his head coming off.

Number 70

Lambs, like the “humanely slaughtered” lamb I saw die all too slowly and painfully on a kind and gentle farm by kind and gentle people who really care about their animals and want the best for them.

Shiva

Hal Herzog, acclaimed author of Some We Love, Some We Hate, and Some We Eat: Why It’s So Hard To Think Straight About Animals,  says that Farm and Red Moon is an “extraordinarily intelligent and moving documentary on the human-meat relationship” that will have “wide appeal to both committed vegetarians and omnivores alike.” Because the animals can’t wait any longer for you to learn the truth about what happens to them between their FARM and their RED MOON.

The animals come first, we must see, understand, and respond on a personal level what they endure, and then we’ll be better informed when we debate our food choices and decide for ourselves what we make of the notion of “humane slaughter” and its discontents. Your comments on this post are welcome or you may contact us directly.

Audrey Kali, November 14, 2015.

Minor edits were made to this post on November 19, 2015. Image credits and acknowledgments:  Meat Department Design by I-5 Design & Manufacture, CC Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs license; all other images from the film Farm and Red Moon, © 2015 by Audrey Kali and David Tamés. Trademarks referenced herein belong to their respective owners.

Reflections on the Vegan backlash

This past Friday and Saturday were pivotal days for me in the course of our Kickstarter Campaign. My request for funding from the vegan community resulted in a social media Blitzkrieg that is still reverberating as I write this.  First there was backlash from vegans about our Kickstarter Fundraising trailer posted on their Twitter Feeds. Here are some examples of the comments made on Twitter:Ruby1

  • Chantal:  You might want to pick other funding targets than me! I absolutely WILL NOT fund your film supporting ‘humane slaughter’
  • David Lewis Miller: Beware vegans.  Do not support Farm and Red Moon . Disgusting!
  • Farm365: We need documentaries showing that animal products are UNNECESSARY which makes every USE unacceptable
  • NonPorkPerry: Will the documentary explain that killing is unnecessary and therefore unethical?
  • Ellen H. Ullman: Do you support the animal welfare philosophy over an abolitionist one and see Temple Grandin as an expert?

Then, there was an outcry from vegans against Ruby Roth, also a vegan and the world’s leading author and illustrator of vegan and vegetarian books for children. She agreed to post news about our film Kickstarter on her Facebook Page. She said, “You’ve seen the power of film to change hearts and minds — fund Farm and Red Moon — with unprecedented access to slaughterhouses, this film takes an unflinching look at the moral quandaries between pasture and plate.

There were many replies and comments along the lines of the following:

  • Rachelle Belcourt: Is this some kind of sick joke?? There’s no way in hell that I would support a film in which a passionate vegan becomes an omnivore.
  • Rose Gallant: What the Fuck is going on here??????? Are you insane??? I think you made a huge mistake when posting this video.
  • Bibi Asgher: I hope they don’t get their funding… this woman seems deranged… a good death. . . WFT!
  • Helen Mackenzie: WTF. I’m not watching this, you stupid woman. Take it down! Page UNLIKED.

Ruby2I was mistaken to think that the vegan community would be one of my strongest supporters since they so strongly advocate for animals. Apparently,  wanting to assure that animals do not suffer when they are slaughtered is not as significant to most vegans as being an abolitionist. The ideology is not to participate in animal agriculture at all. Unfortunately, the fallacy of this false dichotomy is only going to perpetuate the continuance of humane violations in the slaughterhouses.

However, it is promising to see that Chantal is willing to engage in the dialogue:

Chantal 1

Chantal 2

Wanting animals to have a painless death does not mean wanting them to die. Similarly, being pro-choice does not mean wanting fetuses to die. There is something intrinsically wrong with these equations. I don’t get the logic where advocating for the abolition of factory farming could be incongruent with wanting to stop abuses in slaughterhouses.

Farm and Red Moon is a nexus for all food factions  — vegan, vegetarian, and omnivore — to come together and have a conversation, with solidarity, for the welfare of farm animals in slaughterhouses.

Many vegan organizations have worked together with vegetarians and omnivores for initiatives that are taking hens out of cages, veal calves out of confinement, and pigs out of gestation crates. Even PETA and the Humane Society of the United States are on board with those actions. Is it because I am asking for people to look at animal welfare when the animal is being killed rather than when the animal is being raised? In both cases, farm animals deserve our attention in order to limit the extent of their suffering.

I say in this video clip that I believe that all animals have a right to life and the right to express their own instincts. I believe this if I am a vegan or an omnivore. They also have a right not to be subject to unnecessary suffering in any circumstance. I became a reluctant omnivore during the production of this film, and I continue with my identification as a vegan, and remain deeply conflicted. Where I stand at the end of the film remains to be seen.

Please support our crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter with a pledge right now so that David Tamés (my co-director) and I can finish this five year journey to make a film about humane animal slaughter the is non-propagandist and philosophically sophisticated.

Audrey Kali, November 10, 2015.

Reuniting with Eric Shelley

At the end of the summer we took a lovely road trip to visit Eric Shelley at his farm in Cobleskill, New York.

Me Eric Duke Cow

We started our day with Eric (and son Duke in tow) taking us to see the cow & calf herd. We hadn’t seen these animals for over a year so it was amazing to see that the calves we met before are now full-grown cows nursing their own calves. It was quite the contrast to recently being at the Cornell University Dairy Barn where the cows are all in a barn without their calves. Of course the main distinction is that those were dairy cows at Cornell and Eric’s herd is raised for meat, not milk. Nonetheless, it is impossible to make a judgment about the animals’ collective happiness. They all seemed content to us.

Calf Nursing

While in the pasture with the cows, Eric introduced us to Audrey the cow! He sent us pictures of her last year and said that if it was a male they would call him David and if it was a female they would name her Audrey. So, Audrey got to meet Audrey and it was quite the honor!

Audrey Meets Audrey

We didn’t really hit it off at first since I was wearing perfume and she acted like I smelled repulsive and sneezed when she smelled my hand. Eric explained to us that scents like perfumes are unnatural and unpleasant to them and if I had more of a pasture/barn type of smell she would have not been as suspicious. Audrey and Audrey were able to stay on neutral terms and accept each other’s differences.

Closeup Audrey Cow

One thing that absolutely amazed us was how fearless Duke was around these majestic animals. At not much over four years old, he is as big as one of their heads and yet reached out to them as friends. But never without Daddy’s hand attached. Eric explained to us that as docile as they can appear, they are still prey animals with a “flight zone” and will react quickly to any perceived threat by collectively running to avoid that threat — not considering that one of us might be in the trajectory of their fleeing.

Duke with Cow

After visiting with the cow-calf herd and meeting Audrey, Eric took us to his barn to see the new additions to his animal family — pigs!  We loved watching Duke playing with the pigs like they were puppies! At such a young age Duke has been able to embrace the contradiction of loving and caring for what you know you will kill for your food.

Duke with Pigs

Eric’s older son, Beau, was also fascinating to watch as he interacted with the animals. He was only four in October of 2011 when he watched an on-farm slaughter of a lamb with us — his first experience of slaughter. He has grown so much in the past three years, yet he is affectionate as ever with all of the animals on the farm. It was really heart-warming to see him with one of his Aunt Cindi’s dairy goats.

Beau with Goat

One thing that we’ve always enjoyed about visiting Eric at his farm is the vast array of fresh meats and produce. It was a lovely end-of-summer day and we got to have lunch together with his family at a picnic table outside. Eric served us his famous recipe of chorizo along with freshly harvested vegetables and other homemade delights.

Me Cindy Beau Luch

At the end of the day we were able to sit with Eric and reflect on how far Farm and Red Moon has come over the past four years. We would not be where we are now with the film or been able to experience what we experienced about animal agriculture and slaughter had it not been for Eric’s generosity and willingness to educate us.

Me Eric Outside Interview

We are always honored to visit Eric’s farm as it is a place where animals are cared for with the highest standards of husbandry and stewardship. Yet it is bittersweet because we know these animals will die prematurely to be our food. But what is important – and what we have found in making this film – is that the animals should be treated as humanely as possible while alive, and to be killed as humanely as possible when slaughtered. Eric lives this and teaches this. And we can see this reflected in his sons.

At Cornell University with Dr. Joe M. Regenstein

Learning about humane kosher and halal slaughter and the Cornell Kosher and Halal Food Initiative

Audrey Joe Cows 2

Halal symbol kosher_symbol

cornell logo

Cornell Dairy Barn Sign

On August 1st we traveled to Ithaca, New York and spoke with Dr. Joe M. Regenstein, Professor in the Department of Food Science at Cornell University . He is also the director of the Cornell Kosher and Halal Food Initiative. This program provides research, teaching, and extension programming in the area of religious foods, particularly kosher and halal. The program is contributing to efforts towards religious slaughter that fully meet the needs of the various religious groups while fulfilling modern animal welfare requirements.

Close Joe with Hands Explaining

As Dr. Regenstein explained the guidelines of religious slaughter, he stressed that as with any method of slaughter, the key is to do it right. However, he clarified that kosher and halal slaughter requires a lot more attention to detail.  With standard slaughter methods (non-religious) the animal is stunned so it is insensible to pain when its neck is cut to be bled out. Typical methods of stunning used in the developed world include a captive bolt gun, electrocution, a CO2 chamber, or a gun shot. The traditional methods of slaughter in Judaism and Islam customarily prohibit a pre-slaughter stun. Rather, the animal dies by the cut to the neck causing a rapid loss of blood pressure and unconsciousness from 10 seconds to 33 seconds. Therefore, the time from cut to unconsciousness is a critical factor in assuring humane treatment.

Cows Walk Toward Us

Interviewing Dr. Regenstein at the Cornell Research Center Dairy Barn also brought up the topic of how little the public knows about animals in food production. For example, he strongly dislikes the advertisements that show cows out in the field of a farm chewing grass, because that is not how most dairy cows live. They live their entire lives in barns like this one and do not make any attempt to run outside if given the opportunity. As Dr. Regenstein eloquently said, “Animal welfare is about animals, not what looks good for us. Some things don’t make good visuals. They are not meant to make good visuals. They are about making an animal comfortable. And what makes an animal comfortable may not be what we want to see – like dairy cows indoors.

Cows in barn in arow

In closing our interview, Dr. Regenstein declared the following: “I believe strongly that when done right, religious slaughter can be equal to or possibly even better [that slaughter with stunning]. But I also admit that it is more difficult to do and there is more bad slaughter out there. You are dealing with cultures that have not developed the American and European sensitivity to animal welfare, so we have lots of work to do.”

HERE ARE SOME USEFUL LINKS TO LEARN MORE ABOUT HUMANE SLAUGHTER AND RELIGIOUS FREEDOM:

Michigan State University Animal Legal & Historical Center
https://www.animallaw.info/article/detailed-discussion–methods-slaughter-act

United States Code, 2011 Edition

Title 7 – AGRICULTURE
CHAPTER 48 – HUMANE METHODS OF LIVESTOCK SLAUGHTER

Section 1902 – Humane Methods of Slaughter – includes ritual slaughter
http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/USCODE-2011-title7/html/USCODE-2011-title7-chap48-sec1902.htm

Section 1906 – Exemption of Ritual Slaughter for Religious Freedom
http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/USCODE-2011-title7/html/USCODE-2011-title7-chap48-sec1906.htm

 

A visit to White Oak Pastures with Eric Shelley

In August of 2013, David and I had the pleasure of taking Eric Shelley with us on our second visit to White Oak Pastures in Georgia to meet with Will Harris. Having these two phenomenal farmers meet each other was rewarding for us. Will Harris graciously gave Eric a tour of the farm and the abattoirs. He never skipped a beat in regard to explaining his passion for being the herdsman and the land steward that he is. He and Eric saw eye-to-eye on every aspect of animal welfare and humane slaughter.

While driving through White Oak Pastures in Will Harris’ Jeep, we had a lot of time to talk about what it means to raise animals for meat. Eric spoke about how he ethically believes that if he is going to eat meat, he needs to understand what goes into it. He doesn’t feel that he can make any judgments about it unless he is aware of the whole process. Will expressed how animals don’t voluntarily sacrifice themselves to be our food and fiber and leather, but they do make the sacrifice. And he is glad that some consumers are willing to learn about meat production in detail.

Eric was fascinated by the precision and skill evident in Will’s poultry abattoir. Will was sure to give Eric the time he needed to take it all in.

Will Harris graciously gave his entire day to us so we could understand all aspects of his farm and the abattoirs. He took a special interest in “talking shop” with Eric about  what it means to be a land steward, herdsman, and environmentally conscious meat processor.

We relished when we got to go right into Will Harris’ cow herd.  They were very curious and even took turns in “tasting” the Jeep! As Will explained to us, “Their noses and tongues are their hands.”  He also told us about how it is a “closed herd on the maternal side.” That means, as Will told us, that “all female cows on the farm were born here, and their mamas were born here, and their grandmamas were born here, and their great grandmamas were born here – for hundreds of generations back to 1866 when my great grandfather brought a herd here.” The important feature of this is that the “cows fit the land.” Will doesn’t need to use fly control or antibiotics. The cows don’t get sick because they have a great immunity to any pathogens on the farm.

We were also very fortunate to meet Brian Sapp, the Director of Operations.  Eric and Brian had a lot to talk about in regard to how much skill and perseverance is needed when working with live animals in the processing plant.

Brian took time out of his busy day to show Eric all aspects of the meat-cutting operations. It is amazing how many details go into assuring food safety.

When we were at White Oak Pastures in August of 2012, Will Harris was just beginning to make arrangements to raise hogs. It was lovely to finally see them, particularly in this wooded habitat where they could root around freely and wallow in the mud puddles.

At the end of the day, we all sat down in Will’s office and reviewed some of the footage from previous shoots. We were happy to be able to share our work with both of them present and appreciated their feedback.

Eric Shelley Visits Audrey Kali at her Home

On March 12th, 2013, Eric Shelley, instructor of meat processing at SUNY Cobleskill who is featured prominently in Farm and Red Moon, came to visit us at Audrey Kali’s house to talk about the film.

Audrey was happy to be able to show Eric the hide she had tanned from the lamb slaughtered on his farm in October of 2011. She also got a chance to show him her study where she does a lot of her research on humane slaughter issues. Seeing Eric in the context of her home was a refreshing change from seeing Eric at his farm or meat processing lab.

Eric and Audrey sipped coffee in her dining room, and Eric explained how he showed some clips of the film to his students in his meat processing certificate class, and how two of the Muslim students were so excited to see that halal slaughter is included in the film. Eric stresses to his students that the film is trying to help people see what goes on behind slaughterhouse walls, especially since most people don’t really know what happens.

As Eric says, “It goes back to the fact that in the past 30-40 years, we have, as a society, become separated from where our food comes from. We put up concrete walls so that people don’t see. All they see is the final product. And they’ve got the images of chickens out running around in pastures and crowing at the sun.

Eric also conveyed that he liked the idea that someone who wasn’t raised in farming is doing the film. He and his family were raised around farm animals and understand that animals are raised for meat, and when the animals pass, they are meat. However, he wonders about Audrey being sheltered from it for all those years, and if looking at it all of the time now is affecting her in adverse ways, causing many sleepless nights.

He noted that the students in his class wondered, “Why is she so wound up about this thing? Was this a surprise to her that this was going to happen?”  Eric explained to his students that Audrey willingly stepped into the role of being around it all of the time, and then on top of that was spending a lot of time reviewing the footage.  He explained that Audrey has been dwelling on it.

But, as Eric expressed, in his profession, one does not dwell on that moment. As Eric said, “I think about the moments before, and how much the farmer has given them the best possible life that they can have” instead of dwelling on those couple of seconds when the animal may have felt some pain. He said, “All of those seconds before, it was in bliss with the way it was raised; it was healthy, doing what it wanted to do.”

Eric also told Audrey that it is important to make Farm and Red Moon for people who haven’t had the experience that his children have have witnessing the full cycle of life and where their meat products come from. He said that through the course of making this film, he has come to realize that people need an accurate view of where meat comes from, what goes into it, and what happens to it, before it makes it to our plates. He believes that in order for people to make an educated decision about whether to consume meat and what kind of meat to consume, they need to understand the process of slaughter.

And he stresses that “we do everything we can to make it happen right.”

Eric explains how he teaches captive bolt stunning to his students.

Eric meets Audrey’s greyhound, Vico.

Audrey shows Eric the print of Chagall’s Farm and Red Sun which inspired the new title of the film.

 

Observing a Halal Slaughter in Oman

At a farm in Ghala, I watched a halal slaughter of a goat by a farmer and his son.

On the first day of January, 2013, I was honored to be invited to the beautiful farm of Mr. Hilal O. Al Siyabi, in Ghala, Oman. It is situated among gorgeous date trees.

Image (Audrey Kali witnesses halal on-farm slaughter)

It is also amazingly irrigated by the hot mineral springs of adjacent mountains. The water travels through irrigation channels throughout the farm.

Image (Audrey Kali witnesses halal on-farm slaughter)

Of course, I relished the opportunity to put my feet in the warm, flowing water!

Image (Audrey Kali witnesses halal on-farm slaughter)

It was truly an education to witness how this resource of water is managed in this arid country. Hilal eloquently explained how the water is dispersed and shared among the villagers.

Image (Audrey Kali witnesses halal on-farm slaughter)

Hilal was also kind enough to let me observe the halal slaughter of a goat on his farm. Mr. Nasser Issa Al Auofy and his son, Moosa Nasser Al Auofy, were patient as they explained each step of the halal process to me. As they spoke only Arabic, and I, only English, a family friend who was fluent in both languages was happy to translate for me. I was very impressed with how gently they handled this goat and proceeded with reverence. Here Nasser is showing me where he is going to cut the neck of the goat.

Image (Audrey Kali witnesses halal on-farm slaughter)

As is commanded in Islam, he sharpened the knife away from the eyes of the goat, and gave the goat water to drink. He put the goat on the ground in the direction of Mecca, and spoke the name of Allah. After the blood had drained out, he prayed while washing the blood from the neck. The prayer said that “we bear witness that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is his messenger.”

Image (Audrey Kali witnesses halal on-farm slaughter)

After the head was removed, Nasser hung the goat up and proceeded to peel off the skin.  Moosa worked on removing the horns from the head.

Image (Audrey Kali witnesses halal on-farm slaughter)

As most parts of the animal are eaten and it is important for all of the blood to be removed, Nasser showed me how he assured that all of the blood is removed from the lungs. He blew into them while making small cuts into them.

Image (Audrey Kali witnesses halal on-farm slaughter)

After the evisceration was complete, it was time to wash the goat with water.  In Isalm, the right hand is considered to be more blessed, so Nasser was sure to wash the carcass with water, only using his right hand. After this was complete, Nasser cut the goat into sections for cooking, and placed them in the green bowl.

 

Learning about Halal Slaughter in Oman

I spoke with Assistant Grand Mufti, Sheikh Dr. Kahlan Nabhan Al-Kharusi, about the humane treatment of animals in Islamic teachings.

On December 31st, I had a wonder interview with Sheikh Dr. Kahlan Nabhan Al-Kharusi, the Assistant Grand Mufti and Jurisprudential Advisor in the Office for the Issuance of Fatwas, the Ministry of Awqaf & Religious Affairs in Oman. He completed both his masters & doctorate in Islamic studies at the University of Oxford. In 2010, by Royal Decree, he was appointed as the Assistant Grand Mufti of Oman. Muftis are Muslim religious scholars who offer influential legal opinions – fatwas – interpreting Sharia – Islamic law.

I was grateful that he took time out of his busy schedule to answer my questions about halal slaughter and the treatment of animals in Islamic teachings. I had many questions about this type of religious slaughter because the animals are not permitted to be stunned unconscious prior to the throat being cut.  In the United States, under the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, livestock is required to be stunned and rendered insensible to pain (unconscious) prior to the throat being cut and the animal bled out. The stunning can be done with either a captive bolt, electrocution, CO2 gas, or gunshot. The parameters of these requirements are extensive as per species and are monitored by the USDA. Religious slaughter in the United States, which includes halal (Muslim) and kosher (Jewish) practices, is exempted from the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act stunning requirement and both halal and kosher slaughter is deemed to be humane. Many respectable veterinary studies by non-Muslims have shown that when the carotid arteries and trachea are cut swiftly with an extremely sharp knife (as required in both halal and kosher methods), quick blood loss will lead to the animal’s unconsciousness before it is able to feel sensations of pain in the neck from the cut.  Other valid scientific studies argue the contrary, and say that an animal will feel the pain of the cut regardless. This is why the topic of religious slaughter remains so contentious and controversial in the United States and the European Union today.

Sheikh Dr. Kahlan Nabhan Al-Kharusi was well informed in regard to all of these scientific studies; however, as he is a trained religious scholar and not an animal scientist, the task of our conversation was to explore the guidelines of halal slaughter as they have been revealed to Prophet Muhammad by Almighty God. First of all, Muslims must sharpen their knife so it will not cause pain to the animal, and to do so away from the animal’s line of sight. One must also not slaughter an animal in front of another animal. This may harm the feelings of that other animal. He continued to explain the other parts of the process: “And when they take the animal for slaughtering, they have to be very kind. They have to drive them gently. And one of the main conditions that we have to observe is mentioning the name of Allah while slaughtering the animal. And this definitely has its spiritual influence because animals are creatures created by Almighty God as the whole universe is, as we as human beings are also created by Almighty God. And we have been given permission to consume meat, and because we have been given this permission, the guidelines of Almighty God, which have been revealed to Prophet Muhammad, who commanded us to mention the name of Almighty God while we are slaughtering the animal. And then we have been shown the way to cut the throat, the windpipe, the vessels around the neck, and then to leave the blood to drain from the animal. This, according to Islamic teaching, is the most humane, most merciful way of slaughtering an animal.”

“Almighty God has written kindness on everything,” he stressed. “If you are to treat an animal, you are to be kind. If you are to slaughter an animal, you must be kind.”  The term, halal, actually means “permissible.” It covers a wide range of permissibilities in a Muslim’s, life. In regard to food, it is a label for food that is prepared in a correct Islamic way.  As was further clarified for me, the Arabic term used for the process of slaughtering an animal has nothing to do with killing. It is call tazkiyah, which means “purification.” The animal’s meat is purified in the process.

Changing the Name of the Film to Farm and Red Moon

Abattoir Rising, although an appropriate title in the beginning of making this documentary, became less and less adequate in regard to capturing the direction of the film. When we started production, we centered on New England farmers and the challenges they were facing having their animals processed humanely, but the more we researched about the topic of humane slaughter, the more we realized that this is not an issue endemic to one particular region.  Meat production, and along with it, animal welfare, are global concerns of increasingly vast proportions, especially since contemporary consumers know so little about it.

Farm and Red Sun ChagallIn December of 2012, we decided that the film was not so much focused on the infrastructure of slaughter in New England, but about engaging consumer audiences in the complexities and challenges of humane slaughter, an issue that goes beyond the slaughterhouses themselves. Around this time we also realized that the story of the film needed to be told from Audrey’s perspective and what she had encountered over the past four years as she investigated the issues of humane slaughter and spoke with farmers and slaughterhouse workers.

On the wall of Audrey’s home study hangs a print of Chagall’s 1945 painting, Farm and Red Sun. Often, while working on the film, she’s looked up at the painting and thought the blue goat reminds her of the goats she has seen slaughtered, at times with great suffering. The inordinately large chicken on the roof of the wooden house, peering onto the farm with suspicion, makes her think about the chickens she has watched being killed, many remaining conscious and trying to breathe for minutes as they bleed out in the silver cones. A mother, with an open mouth aghast, holds a naked child to her bosom, and seems to look out of the painting for help. Looming over the scene is a huge red sun, bleeding out into the sky.  To Audrey, it is a moon with a dark side that cannot be seen, although she knows it must. These reflections led to the new name of the film, Farm and Red Moon. Just as the moon reflects the light of the sun in order to illuminate an otherwise dark night, the film illuminates a topic that for most people remains shrouded in darkness and mystery.

Image credit: Marc Chagall, Farm and Red Sun, 1945, © Christie’s Images Ltd – ARTOTHEK

Janet Riley and the American Meat Institute

Janet Riley, Senior Vice President, Public Affairs and Member Services, speaks to us about transparency and animal welfare in the meat industry.

On August 23rd of 2012, the American Meat Institute released a video on YouTube that features Temple Grandin explaining the humane slaughter of cattle at a typical beef plant. The AMI initiative is called The Glass Walls Project. Here are links for both the American Meat Institute website and the Glass Walls Project video:

We travelled to Washington, DC on November 30th to speak with Janet Riley about the new meat industry focus on transparency. She is also the Animal Welfare Liaison for the AMI and has worked extensively with Temple Grandin over the past two decades. As she explained to us, one of the reasons for transparency is that many animal activist undercover videos of slaughterhouses show the animals’ hind legs kicking and claim that these are live and sentient animals. However, these movements are autonomic reflexes that occur after an animal has been rendered insensible to pain and is unconscious. What is important is to look at the head to see that the eyes are open in a wide blank stare, that the tongue is distended, and that the head is floppy.

I asked Janet to explain how the transparency video project was initiated. She said, “For so long we’ve heard Paul McCartney make his claims that if slaughterhouses had glass walls [everyone would be a vegetarian], but I started to say, why don’t we test that?”  She told us that the response to the video has been very positive and that there are now over 25,000 views.  The AMI also sends free DVDs to educators who want to use the video in their classrooms.

Janet also took the time to show us the AMI insensibility grid that she personally developed: Signs of a Properly Stunned Animal by Stunning Method. The grid looks at all of the signs of insensibility based on species and stunning systems. Species included are cattle, pigs and sheep. Stunning methods included are captive bolt, electric, and CO2.

“There are really good reasons to ensure humane treatment,” Janet explained. “Everybody feels better in a plant where animals are respected. And typically, if you respect animals, you respect people.”