BIG DEBATE: Battle lines drawn over religious slaughter of animals
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Jewish and Muslim communities have reacted to the British Veterinary Association calling for religious slaughter of animals to be banned. They argue there are far more pressing animal welfare issues and fear they are being singled out. The Association claims there is scientific evidence that animals suffer if they are not stunned before slaughter, a claim hotly disputed by both communities challenging the industrialised non-religious methods such as electrocution, gassing, shooting, trapping, drowning and clubbing. Religious slaughter, they point out, is clean cut and instant.
Robin Hargreaves, President, British Veterinary Association, argues:
Our prime concern as veterinary surgeons is the health and welfare of animals and as scientists our views are always science-led.
The pre-stunning of animals to render them insensible before they are slaughtered is enshrined in European and UK law to reduce animal suffering. This is because scientific evidence demonstrates that slaughter without pre-stunning compromises animal welfare.
There is a derogation from this legislation to allow slaughter without stunning for religious communities – namely Muslims and Jews – in recognition of their beliefs about food preparation. But the suggestion that the non-stun Shechita and Halal methods by throat cutting without stunning are humane is wrong.
Studies of brain activity show animals will feel the cut without pre-stunning. They will feel the massive injury to the neck, and will perceive the aspiration of blood before losing consciousness. Research shows that sheep remain conscious for two to 20 seconds after the throat is cut. In poultry, it is 12-15 seconds, while the average time for loss of consciousness in cattle is 20 seconds, but can be up to two minutes.
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We must remember that this affects tens of millions of animals in the UK every year with 100 per cent of Shecita slaughter carried out without pre-stunning and around 20pc of Halal slaughter.
Concern for animal welfare at the time of slaughter is a major issue for our members and for many members of the public. We are calling for an end to slaughter without pre-stunning. But if that isn’t possible, we want to work with others to find practical solutions, for example clearer labelling and the introduction of post-cut stunning. So we must keep the dialogue going.
Animal slaughter is never a pleasant issue to discuss, but we believe strongly in the concept of a good life for animals in our food chain.
That includes a good death that is as humane as we can make it.
Jonathan Arkush, Jewish community leader, responds with a shared view by Dr Shuja Shafi of the Muslim community:
It is unfortunate that the British Veterinary Association and other animal welfare organisations see religious slaughter as incompatible with humaneness.
Quite the contrary is true—compassion and animal welfare stand at the centre of the entire process.
Shechita and Zhabiha are Jewish and Muslim humane methods of slaughter of animals for food with sincerely held, religiously-mandated care. They refer to the body of religious law which talks not only about the last two seconds of the animal’s life, but its treatment from birth.
Both methods carried out by trained practitioners quickly dispatch the animal by severing the structures at the front of the neck, the trachea, oesophagus, carotid arteries and jugular veins.
The speed and precision ensures no stimulation of the severed structures and results in immediate loss of consciousness. Blood flow to the brain is completely halted immediately. Irreversible cessation of consciousness and insensibility to pain are achieved.
There is no delay with death—the animal cannot regain consciousness, as with conventional slaughter.
Traditional methods of stunning by captive bolt, gassing or electrocution by pincers, or for poultry a water bath with an electric current running through, paralyse the animal so it is unable to display outward signs of pain—it is impossible to know if the animal is feeling pain.
Many studies suggesting religious slaughter causes unnecessary pain have been agenda-driven and flawed.
It is remarkable that religious slaughter can generate such a huge amount of scaremongering when animal numbers affected are extremely low. Kosher and Halal meat are a tiny fraction of the cattle slaughtered in Britain.
It is deeply troubling that the Veterinary Association chooses to focus on religious slaughter, rather than more pressing animal welfare issues. Animal Aid, for example, found evidence of cruelty in eight randomly-chosen slaughterhouses where animals were kicked, slapped, stamped on and even burned with cigarettes. We are yet to hear of a campaign to root out this kind of cruelty.
There will always be a debate on religious slaughter. The Jewish and Muslim communities stand ready to have that debate in any constructive forum.
But let us not pretend that religious slaughter represents a key battleground for animal welfare.