Our View: Are we a slaughterhouse city?

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We offer no opinion on the advisability or morality of meat consumption.

Happily, we live in a free society where people make decisions about diet based on their own health needs and belief systems. Within that freedom lies the ability of different religions to approach food in their own way – or for people to take an entirely secular approach to food. Keeping kosher is the right of practicing Jews, or anyone else. The same goes for halal practices under Islamic law.

Nor do we think companies involved in the process of bringing animal flesh to our dining tables are necessarily unethical, though certainly some are.

All of this is relevant because city council will consider a special use permit at its public hearing on Saturday that would allow a halal poultry butchery to operate on Colvin Street, which runs off Duke Street in an industrial section of Alexandria.

As odd as it sounds, to kill or not to kill really isn’t the question at hand. Instead, it’s whether animal slaughter should be allowed within Alexandria city limits and at this particular location.

Residents are already allowed to have free-range poultry on their properties in Alexandria. It’s reasonable to assume that at least some of these chickens have been butchered and consumed by their owners. So, some form of poultry slaughter has likely been happening in Alexandria for years.

But there is a difference between personal consumption and profit from distribution, in this and other matters.

We are sympathetic to the argument that commercial animal slaughtering is an inappropriate business for a densely populated city like Alexandria. We are a city of 15 1⁄2 square miles with a population approaching 160,000 – and growing rapidly. For comparison’s sake, neighboring Fairfax County has about 1,150,000 people in 406 square miles.

This means Alexandria is more than three times as densely populated as Fairfax County, where an animal slaughterhouse operation would be much more appropriate.

As our page one story, “Down on the farm,” about an Alexandria family with an organic grain farm in Westmoreland County illustrates, commercial farming is generally done outside of a city like ours, even if the owners live here. Animal slaughtering is also more appropriate for a farm.

The final, and most important, consideration about the appropriateness of the proposed slaughterhouse is its potential impact on existing neighbors. This should always be the final determinant in planning decisions and special use permits.

We find it amazing that this basic fact of livability and fairness for existing neighborhoods and businesses – for the people who have been living and operating in our city for years – is so often disregarded by city planners in their eagerness to grow the tax base.

So, no, a slaughterhouse should not operate in close proximity to other existing businesses that provide care for pets. The very concept is repulsive. And yet this proposed butchery on Colvin Street is surrounded by animal care providers.

Maybe the proposed slaughterhouse could operate in another section of the city, but we doubt even the most industrial sections of Alexandria, off Eisenhower Avenue or Edsall Road, would be any more suitable if closely scrutinized.

The proposed butchery needs to be in a rural location – and Alexandria is anything but that.

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