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The meaty debate

Where is my country heading?

Dear Prime Minister,

I write to you as a concerned Bhutanese on the issue of starting a meat-processing unit, in other words, slaughterhouse with the rationale to meet the growing demand while curtailing cash outflow to boost economy.

I understand the overall intention and government’s subsequent endeavour to balancing trade payments. But what I do not understand is the approach being adopted to achieve the objective, in this case, slaughterhouse. Such advancement raises more questions than simply ‘meating’ demands. This approach is a worrying reflection of where my country is heading. We are also concerned about the information the Prime Minister is provided with that provokes such decision. Among others, has the Department of Livestock presented a holistic picture about the socio-cultural and psychological implications of this initiative in addition to fulfilling their economic mandate?

My country is neither a fairy tale land nor the last Shangrila but it is a land, where my Kings and forefathers, made deliberate choice and toiled tirelessly in our own terms and conditions, to mould a society in pursuit of happiness, which is sustaining not-so-easy balance between the humans, animals and nature. My country has a compassionate soul and wisdom. It is not just another heartless marketplace where forces of demand and supply are the ultimate game changer.

My Prime Minister, the slaughterhouse you approved has many implications. There are many studies conducted to prove the adverse impact in a small community like ours.

A study on social history and implications of slaughterhouse Amy J. Fitzgerald, Professor in department of sociology and anthropology at the University of Windsor, Canada (2010) conducted reveals negative socio-cultural implications in small communities. There are empirical evidences to prove trends of increasing levels of violent crime rates within five years of opening slaughterhouse in a community. Fitzgerald, Kalof & Dietz (2009) conducted another empirical analysis on slaughterhouses and found positive effects of slaughterhouses employment levels on crime rates.

Such trend is also reflected in Erik Marcus’s (2005) book on Meat Market: Animals, Ethics and Money, where “the impact that the facilities have on communities is every bit as disturbing”.  Additional quantitative studies undertaken by Donald Stull & Michael Broadway in 2004, and Orazem Arts & Otto in 2007 show evidence about higher rates of violent crime in slaughterhouse communities than other communities.

Professor Amy J. Fitzgerald also cautions the changing sensibilities and relations between humans and animals. He underlines the shift or break in the symbiotic sensibility and relation between humans and animals. This is of grave concern and relevance to us where majority of our people live on farms with animals and share close bond.

This shift or break happens, when the institution of slaughterhouse would deliberately try to distance people, physically and psychologically, through strategically choosing farm locations away from the public view and constructing slaughterhouses, which would architecturally depict business-as-usual structures. This approach is already visible in the layout of livestock department’s plan. Philosopher Nancy Williams (2008) warns such act of alienation as “affected ignorance” which would have critical ethical implications.

In addition, my Prime Minister, you are the head of government of a Buddhist country, subject to the Dharma Kings and the upholder of the compassionate soul and wisdom of my country. My country does not need to take slaughterhouse as a national project to aid the economy. Already, some so-called literate people are taking advantage of such approval to interpret the teachings of Buddha to suit their economic pocket and also to push their weight to assert that reality now is just demand and supply.

Some even go far to ask monks and nuns to take up mundane jobs to sustain. At this rate, I fear soon we would label offering butter lamps as waste of national resources, monks and nuns as unproductive citizens and the old people as a burden to the society. It would be a mark of great disrespect to the Dharma Kings and their noble efforts if you allow such onslaught to happen.

 

Tashi T. Dukpa

Brisbane, Australia

trashi006@gmail.com

 

 

 

Conflicting moralities in need of a happy medium

The highest per capita meat consumer in the region giving the thumbs down to a meat-processing project got to be the latest morbid joke. The logic to impetuously axe a well-meaning project without an iota of moral imagination is casual, fatally short of realism, and heavily driven by cloying religious sentimentality.

If we have no control over our carnivorous impulse yet insist slaughter couldn’t happen in our land, even the butchers would be left gobsmacked. We cannot be fighting against slaughterhouses in Bhutan yet give a pass to those across the border. If it’s wrong in our backyard, it’s wrong elsewhere too.

Bhutan did not wake up to the slaughterhouses yesterday. It was only a decade ago that even Thimphu had households that practised pig husbandry. Pigs were slaughtered in the most gruesome manner, often with homemade spears, repeatedly stabbing the neck and side of the pig as it wallowed in blood amidst squeals of pain it made with each brutal strike.

It was the same Bhutan, but we didn’t run a social media movement, nor did the Central Monastic Body file a petition to stop that. So it’s baffling to see the project stoking outrage.

If not in the proposed project, slaughter will still continue in our rural villages and nomadic communities. It’s unlikely import will show any signs of diminution as demand would remain undeterred. So then what’s the use of all the kerfuffle.

The voices are valid, rightful ventilation. But if we think we have a right to say no, we also have a responsibility to offer something better. Let’s not criticise the government for trying to solve a problem that we have created. And we are now protesting to leave it unresolved. This is not only unacceptable but irresponsible too. Scraping the project won’t change anything. It’ll only be seen as a whitewash.

The profundity of the issue deserves much more than the shouting match over who is the greater hypocrite. Our moral intuitions of the issue will differ, but it would be a terrible decision to snub our public health and economic imperatives for the sake of a misplaced sense of compassion.

If the economic rationale pales in comparison to the moral or spiritual reasoning, what about potential public health risks and related deaths due to insanitary conditions of slaughterhouses and meat from diseased animals? Public health is a serious issue and morality standards should equally apply to it too. Further, shouldn’t we be equally concerned about the treatment of animals in those unknown slaughterhouses and how they are slaughtered? The end result may be the same, but the treatment of livestock in the proposed project will definitely be better.

So it’s possible that a moral rule against the proposed project could slam into conflict with an immoral decision that it might potentially lead to. There is therefore a need for us to expand our moral imagination so that we can work through this conflict by looking at the issue through the eyes of others in order to explore all possible angles to arrive at our moral judgment.

We need to motivate ourselves to an unbiased appreciation of the rationale behind the government’s decision to embark on such an unpopular project and a fair consideration of the opposing views. It isn’t about climate change here. It isn’t about making a business case either. It’s about a status quo that is both detrimental to the health of our people and our economy, and which needs to change. We need to work towards a common ground and agree on a happy medium.

A possible happy medium could look something like this: the project meets all ethical considerations for the treatment of livestock; it ensures its products are of good quality with no risk to public health and priced at the same level as the current import, if not less; it’s sized only to replace the import supply and not for export; our institutions, opinion leaders, and social media activists initiate measures encouraging consumers to reduce their meat demand; finally, we cannot have the government running a meat shop. Let the private sector handle the business with proper regulation.

If we are serious about saving animals from slaughter, then let’s do it in a way that actually helps save them from getting slaughtered in the first place. It’s more sensible and meaningful than what we are engaged in at the moment.

 

Dorji Tshering

Canberra, Australia

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