Changing practices of animal slaughter

Animal slaughter at home may be a long-standing tradition, but it poses unacceptable health risks.

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The tradition of slaughtering animals to celebrate or show generosity to visitors (or even, dare we say it, to boast) is deeply rooted in Islamic culture. Rituals from slaughter to food preparation have a significance beyond simple sustenance.

That cultural meaning has even been conveyed in poetry: "The maidens began throwing the camels' meat into the kettle," recited the sixth-century Arabian poet Imru Al Qais. "The fat was woven with the lean like loose fringes of white twisted silk."

But today, in the urban environment, those traditions have to be modernised. As The National reports today, the practice of slaughtering at home remains widespread despite a government ban. There are obvious public health concerns, both with food hygiene and the disposal of remains.

The demand for meat is increasing as Eid Al Adha approaches. And people say it is easier, more convenient and customary to bypass the licensed abattoirs. Unlicensed butchers also charge less in most cases.

"Most Emirati families prefer to slaughter at home," one student said. "People have been slaughtering animals at home for hundreds of years. Why should we stop now?"

The law is one reason to stop, as are the public health concerns that underpin the regulations. Another question is how to convince people to break such ingrained habits. Authorities have promised serious fines for violations but there must be an element of encouragement too. Municipal authorities across the Emirates can do more, and not only in the months that precede Eid. More regulated slaughterhouses are needed, particularly in rural areas; and, wherever possible, well-regulated abattoirs should cater for traditional practices.

As in so many public health issues, the real solution is awareness efforts that highlight the health risks. Those campaigns can include government authorities and health officials, but the most effective voices would come from advice at mosques.

Last week, the Ministry of Interior warned against home slaughter after a sheep fell five storeys to the street during a botched butchering. The story was dramatic, but the public health threat is more prosaic. Animal slaughter at home poses an unacceptable food safety risk.