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Swiss butchers publicly slaughter pigs to revive tradition

October 29, 2017

A Swiss butcher wants to revive a tradition of public slaughter, but protesters have compared him to "IS." He says he is demonstrating more humane methods of killing, but activists say it's just a public execution.

Swiss butcher cuts open a pig
Image: picture-alliance/Keystone/C. Merz

Swiss butchers hoping to revive a tradition of publicly slaughtering pigs drew the ire of animal rights activists at the weekend.

Workers of the Häring butcher's shop in the town of Sissach near Basel slaughtered two pigs in front of about 150 curious onlookers and about 20 protesters Sunday morning.

The butchers said they wanted to highlight more humane methods of slaughter and to demonstrate how the public receives their meat. But animal rights activists said they had turned the act of killing an animal into a public spectacle.

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Onlookers watch the pig slaughter
About 150 people turned up to watch the spectacle in a private tentImage: picture-alliance/Keystone/C. Merz

Traditional slaughter

Butcher Rolf Häring helped organize the slaughter as part of the autumn tradition of Metzgete. Pigs were traditionally fattened during the summer, but keeping them through the winter was difficult. So, many pigs were slaughtered before the cold came.

Parts of the pig that spoil quickly are dished up to eat on the same day, including blood, offal, belly and head meat. The word Metzgete refers to both the slaughter and the dishes that follow.

Metzgete dishes are still served up today in Switzerland, but the slaughters typically take place inside.

On Sunday morning at 8 a.m., Häring and his colleagues began the process, dispatching two sows from an organic farm with a bolt gun and then carving them up. Elderly onlookers told national tabloid Blick that it used to be commonplace to see Metzgete take place in public.

Young onlookers Tabea Bischof, 24 and Dominique Müller, 24 from Basel said they appreciated the demonstration. "People should once again get a feeling for where their meat comes from," Bischoff said.

Nearby, animal rights activists carried signs saying "Animals feel, animals suffer" and "Their pain for your pleasure."

Protesters hold signs  (picture alliance/Keystone(C. Merz)
'Who to pet and who to kill' protesters askImage: picture alliance/Keystone(C. Merz

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Alternative to factories

Häring told regional daily Basellandschaftliche Zeitung he was inspired to become an artisan butcher when confronted by the idea of industrial-scale slaughterhouses, which kill as many as many as 25,000 pigs a day.

"We don't want to amuse people, but to show them that there are more humane alternatives to slaughtering on the conveyor belt and that a pig is not just made of fillets and ham," co-organizer Heiner Oberer told "Basler Zeitung." 

'Unnecessary stunt'

Basel animal-welfare group Schweizer Tierschutz (STS) told Blick that it was important to educate the population on where meat comes from, but "we think publicly slaughtering two pigs is the wrong way to do it."

Häring said he had received threats and had even been compared to "Islamic State," which garnered notoriety for their throat-slitting, public execution videos. Protesters started legal action and unsuccessfully lobbied authorities to stop the spectacle.

Read more: The unhealthy history of meat and mankind


One of the more dramatic protests was planned by former priest Lukas Baumann. The vegetarian theologian said in a statement he planned to protest by flaying himself in the town square on Monday. Just as butcher Häring was reviving old traditions, Baumann said he was reviving the "terrible" medieval act of self-flagellation.

"I oppose the cruel traditions of the public Metzgete with another cruel tradition," he told Basler Zeitung.

Despite the opposition, Häring told Blick the only thing that made him nervous was being watched by his former teacher.

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