|Thursday, 24 January 2002|
Construction of a new abattoir
by G. Perera
I have read with concern the recent newspaper report that a new abattoir is to be constructed for 'humane slaughter' of animals in Colombo by the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) with part of the funds coming from the government of the Netherlands. It is not clear whether the latter is an outright grant or a loan.
There are a number of valid and compelling reasons, both religious and in the public interest, to object to the decision of the CMC which is a local government organisation obliged to follow the provisions of the Constitution of Sri Lanka in the matter of governance of the city.
The primary reason is that the Constitution of Sri Lanka provides for the State to protect and foster Buddhism, and the CMC being an organ of the government, is also bound to conform to this Constitutional provision.
In this situation it is inconceivable that the government does not appear to have taken cognizance of the CMC's decision to actively involve itself in the process of killing animals, whatever the means adopted, which is against one of the basic tenets of Buddhism and Hinduism. Both Buddhists and Hindus to whom the cow is a sacred animal, will join in condemning the decision of the CMC which is seen to encourage the killing of animals, and opposing an organ of the State which has no duty or obligation to do so directly involving itself in such a project, be it a commercial venture or for the other reasons.
One of the CMC's main reasons for providing a modern abattoir is to permit the 'humane slaughter' of animals. It is a universally accepted fact that no form of slaughter is humane, although one may concede that while all forms of slaughter are inhumane, one form may be a little less inhumane than the other.
The agony that an animal goes through in the process of transporting him and leading him to the slaughterhouse, lives through the entire process regardless of the method adopted to finally take away his life, and is clearly visual in the animals's expression and the physical resistance he offers up to the very last stage. The animal endowed with a sixth sense that is sharper than that of humans.
If a new abattoir is to be installed in order to make slaughter humane, then it must necessarily follow that from the time the CMC and other local authorities commenced the granting of licences to operate slaughterhouses using the present methods of killing, they have been aiding and abetting the butchers to slaughter animals in a manner which is unnecessarily cruel and thus to perform a criminal offence in terms of Section 4 of the Cruelty to Animals Act which reads, "If any person kills any animal in an unnecessarily cruel manner, he shall be punished with fine, which may extend to one hundred rupees or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to 6 months, or with both".
The CMC must therefore by their own logic accept that at least now they are legally bound to withdraw the present licences granted for slaughtering animals with methods presently adopted as they must be deemed to be unnecessarily cruel and avoidable due to the claim that the so-called humane or less inhumane methods are available. Even if the carcasses brought into Colombo are of cattle killed by such cruel methods outside the city, the CMC must be deemed to be guilty of aiding and abetting an illegal act by turning a blind eye and approving such meat for sale within the CMC.
It appears that the CMC plans to raise a loan for constructing the new abattoir. This project will provide persons and companies who are engaged in the business of selling or intends exporting meat, a facility to kill in a manner which may be acceptable under the present law.
A large majority of the ratepayers are Buddhists and Hindus whose religious principles do not encourage the killing of animals, and Christians who do not consume beef for health and ethical reasons, and they will naturally be against the CMC committing them to repay a huge loan. It is understood that at present the official figure of cattle slaughtered per day is of the order of 10 while the new abattoir will cater for about 450 animals a day.
This projection is inconsistent with the reality that more and more people are giving up beef eating for diverse reasons. It only shows that the CMC's intention is to encourage meat eating and cater to those businessmen who will develop the consumption and export of meat.
Although there is no legal or other obligation for the CMC to provide an abattoir as a service to persons engaged in the business of killing animals and the sale of flesh, we accept that they are required to grant licences to slaughterhouses under the Municipal Ordinance and accordingly they have a duty to ensure that killing in such slaughterhouses is carried out without unnecessary cruelty and in accordance with accepted standards.
If such is the case, the proper course for the CMC is to lay down strict standards and specifications consistent with humanitarian considerations and internationally accepted norms with regard to the methods to be adopted not only for killing the animals to meet the city's needs and for treatment of the waste, but also for transporting animals brought from far away places to the abattoirs, which are all an integral part of the operation and dealt with under the law, and require those in the business to provide their own facilities to conform to such stipulations.
The CMC's role must be limited to stopping meat into the city from other sources, controlling a proliferation of slaughterhouses and approving and monitoring their activities and taking firm action against those who breach such requirements.
All laws relating to cruelty to animals and the granting of licences for slaughterhouses must also be reviewed, clarified and brought in line with the new requirements, with the ultimate aim of discouraging the killing of animals and reducing the consumption of beef which is fast receiving world acceptance as a health hazard.
Apart from the above considerations, it is understood that there are serious technical concerns and controversy over various aspects of the project, its procurement procedures and its feasibility. It is well-known that a fair quantity of the city's requirements of beef are brought from outside sources.
What valid assurances are there that the butchers will not continue with this practice which will be beneficial to them and that the present abuses relating to categories of cows permitted to be slaughtered under the Animals Act and legally acceptable methods of transport, of which we hear so often but which the CMC has failed to control, will not continue?
Before undertaking a new abattoir the laws should be amended and this unsatisfactory situation throughout the country which will have a direct bearing on the viability for any abattoir must be brought under control first, instead of placing the cart before the horse and rushing a decision to have a modern abattoir of unjustifiable capacity while all the related abuses and breaches of the law are prevalent.
In the instant case has an independent and competent group examined the project's need and viability and satisfied themselves that the project is based on reliable data, and is not being undertaken to serve certain vested interests, which unfortunately has become the norm for approving projects.
Lastly it must be stressed that there are many other serious issues to be addressed for upgrading the environment, which must take priority over an abattoir.
Refuse disposal, eradication of the mosquito menace which has reached unbearable proportions, blocked drains and flooding, inadequate recreational facilities and medical care for the needy and slum clearance are some of the pressing problems on which the funds of the CMC can be better invested.
Unless the motive of the Netherlands government is to make facilities in Sri Lanka conducive for more slaughter of cattle, encourage beef consumption and see Sri Lanka as a beef exporting country despite the worldwide trend of beef consumption reducing, the Netherlands' government should be happy to permit the CMC to utilise their funds on some of these more pressing problems.
The provision of an abattoir for one or more of the above reasons, is seen as an ill conceived project which in the best of circumstances will enrich a handful of persons engaged in the business of killing the animals and the sale and probable export of animal flesh, at the expense of the ratepayers and in breach of the Constitution as referred to above.
Therefore the CMC and the Government must call off this project forthwith and act immediately to curb the present abuses within the industry which are resulting in untold cruelty to the animals being slaughtered.
Produced by Lake House