17 August 2008

Henry S. Salt (1851-1939) on "Humane Slaughter"

The plea that animals might be killed painlessly is a very common one with flesh-eaters, but it must be pointed out that what-might-be can afford no exemption from moral responsibility for what-is. By all means let us reform the system of butchery as far as it can be reformed, that is, by the total abolition of those foul dens of torture known as "private slaughter-houses," and by the substitution of municipal abattoirs, equipped with the best modern appliances, and under efficient supervision; for there is no doubt that the sum of animal suffering may thus be greatly lessened. There will be no opposition from the vegetarian side to such reform as this; indeed, it is in a large measure through the personal efforts of Vegetarians that the subject has attracted attention, whereas the very people who make this prospective improvement an excuse for their present flesh-diet are seldom observed to be doing anything practical to carry it into effect. But when all is said and done, it remains true that the reform of the slaughter-house is at best a palliative, a temporary measure which will mitigate, but cannot possibly amend, the horrors of butchery; for it is but too evident that, under our complex civilisation, when the town is so far aloof from the country, and pastoralism can only be carried on in districts remote from the busy crowded centres, it is impossible to transport and slaughter vast numbers of large and highly sensitive animals in a really humane manner. More barbarous, or less barbarous, such slaughtering may undoubtedly be, according to the methods employed, but the "humane" slaughtering, so much bepraised of the sophist, is an impossibility in fact and a contradiction in terms.

(Henry S. Salt, The Logic of Vegetarianism: Essays and Dialogues [London: The Ideal Publishing Union, 1899], 51-2 [italics in original])

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