A while back I was picking up my fall/winter meat order from my meat farmer. He raises cows, pigs, lambs, goats, and poultry. He calls himself more of a grass farmer, than a meat farmer. Whatever is required to comply with reasonable laws he does so. He is also a compassionate man who can get a wee bit stubborn.
For quite a few years, he has been one of the few resources in the area that has been open to providing a space for the ritual animal slaughter held during the holiday, Eid al-Adha. I’m not Muslim, but to my understanding the holiday recognizes the time that Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son Isaac at God’s behest. When Abraham was about to do so, God stopped him and instead a sheep was sacrificed instead.
During this holiday many Muslims choose to complete a ritual act of sacrifice by slaughtering an animal, most commonly a sheep or a goat. They have to do it themselves, in a prescribed manner. Obviously, this isn’t the same as a USDA approved meat-packing facility is supposed to do it. So it has become harder and harder for devout Muslims in the area, to be able to practice this act of sacrifice.
Last year our local, nationally recognized paper ran a story on this man, his farm and this practice. I had seen the story at that point, thought, how nice it was that this man and his farm were helping to cater to religious freedom, whether I agree with the practice or not and it dropped from my mind. Until I went to pick up my meat recently.
He and I talk for a while when I pick up my order. We talk mostly about food and practices. This time, he told me that he very much regretted having allowed that story to be run. Because it sicc’d the USDA on him.
The USDA regulates the slaughter of meat animals in the United States. As with most aspects of our government, the rules are made for the many and don’t take into consideration the few. The USDA decided to harass my friend rather than take direct action.
They sent him reams of paperwork, sent agents out to inspect his farm (its spotless, let me tell you). They kept trying to get him to agree to stop allowing Muslims to slaughter their own animals for their holidays. He kept pointing out that they were trying to stop someone from practicing their religion.
As he complied with their first request for inspections and paperwork, but not complying with their request to stop the practice, they kept upping the ante. More inspections, more paperwork. After a year, he got tired of it. So he told them to take him to court. That he was helping people practice their religious freedom and he wasn’t going to stop. He pointed out that he would make sure that the press was there, that activists were notified.
Three weeks after he told them to take him to court, he received notification from the USDA that he was now “certified” to allow for the religious sacrifice of meat animals on his property.
I’m glad he won, and I’m certain that his customers are glad as well. But what irks me about this entire situation is how underhanded the USDA was. They had to understand that they were trying to infringe on a religious freedom, and rather than fine this farmer for allowing it, or take him to court, they tried to pressure him into just stopping. But like I said earlier, he is stubborn.
There is a lot wrong with our country and our food policies. I’m heartened when I hear stories like this.