Islamic method of slaughter

Over the last month there’s been quite an uproar over the reality of the production of halal and kosher meat, which has finally been brought to forefront of the public eye after the controversial decision to ban slaughter without stunning in Denmark.

There has been nationwide outrage and horror at the claims that slaughter without stunning (i.e. slitting the throat of the conscious animal) causes prolonged pain and awareness of aspirated blood before losing consciousness.

I have to say, I’m not as shocked as most people seem to be, including fellow vet students. Religious slaughter was mentioned during anatomy lectures last year with regards to blood supply to the brain. During ritual slaughter, the vertebral artery is not cut (only the common carotid arteries and jugular veins are severed when the throat is slit). In cattle, the vertebral artery is one of the main sources of arterial supply to the brain, and so they lose consciousness more slowly than other species, such as sheep, when slaughtered in this manner.

But after those lectures, nobody in our class expressed the level of disgust and anger that currently seems to be sweeping the nation. Evidently, Denmark’s drastic move to ban all slaughter methods that do not include stunning has brought the facts to public attention. Perhaps many people simply didn’t realise exactly what is meant by halal or kosher meat.

A goat slaughtered at the Kashgar livestock market according to the laws of dhabīḥah ḥalāl. Image ©

This sudden understanding has resulted in many people, including vets, voicing their opinions and calling for the UK to follow Denmark in banning such practices. However this suggestion was more than a little ambitious, and was put to bed unequivocally when Prime Minister David Cameron said, in Israel, that kosher will never be banned in the UK.

Personally, I think it was unrealistic to ever entertain the idea that the UK would do the same as Denmark. This country’s culture is extremely broad and mixed in the present day, and so could never allow for the banning of religious slaughter without offending a considerable proportion of the population. Religion is always a touchy subject and political correctness, along with fear of being labelled as racist means the Government would never allow a complete ban.

Ensuring animal welfare is the moral priority of any current or future vet, and I am no exception. Yes, I do think that slaughter without stunning is cruel. However, I don’t believe that it is entirely unacceptable, because I respect the fact that it’s not quite as black and white as banning these methods outright.

This might seem defeatist, but I’m just being realistic.

Instead of fruitless protests and campaigning for a ban, I feel that it would be more productive to raise awareness of animal welfare issues such as this instead. The vast majority of the UK public would probably still be blissfully ignorant to what goes on in our very own abattoirs if it wasn’t for Denmark’s recent actions. Slaughter without stunning has been happening for thousands of years, and it seems like the general public are only just beginning to understand what is involved.

Kosher or not?
It’s not just the species or method of slaughter that makes an animal product kosher. Further laws govern which parts of it can be eaten.

If we want to tackle this issue directly, the best result we could hope for would be better labelling of meat products to enhance public knowledge of how they’ve been produced. Perhaps then, those who are not Jewish or Muslim would be more inclined to buy products from animals which have been stunned, allowing a refinement of the market so that minimal animals are subject to the methods used to produce halal and kosher meat.

Looking at the bigger picture, those of us within the veterinary community should take it upon ourselves to raise public awareness of similar welfare issues that those outside of the industry are not necessarily aware of. It can be difficult for us to distinguish between the issues that the public are or are not aware of because we are immersed in the animal produce industry to a much greater level. However, it is our responsibility to realise this, and bring future welfare issues into the public eye, when they otherwise might go unnoticed for years to come.

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3 Comments on "Ignorance is bliss"

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2 years 6 months ago
How reliable is stunning? I have tweeted questions but here are three possibilities: 1: Animal dies and carcass won’t bleed fully so is rejected. Quick end of life. OK. 2: Stun fails and animal is clearly inconscious but presumably has a hell of a headache. Brief discomfort but presumably more than from an electric prod, dare I say. Not humane. Marginal. 3: Stun is partially successful but failure is not spotted so animal is tossed about as if unconscious. Anything but humane. Unacceptable. Correctly executed with a long very sharp knife, checked for blemishes, the drop in blood pressure is… Read more »
2 years 6 months ago
Defra has just released figures on this issue, which prompted a BVA press release this weekend (April 5, 2014). The information released claims that, in 2013, there were only 9 reports of mis-stunning incidents in cattle (0.0004% of cattle slaughtered) and 3 reports in sheep (0.00002%). These reports are made by Official Veterinarians working in abattoirs and collated by the Food Standards Agency on behalf of Defra. Talking about these figures, BVA president Robin Hargreaves said: “These new official figures reveal that mis-stunning is extremely rare in British abattoirs and expose the myth that mis-stunning is a greater animal welfare… Read more »
2 years 6 months ago
Before reading the statement I expressed surprise that a reputable body of scientists would so rapidly use non-peer reviewed data to support a very weak policy statement. I have an open mind. Stun slaughter is most likely essential in industrial settings but is non-stun slaughter really so wrong? Apparently the government data refers to mis-stuns observed by the visiting OV. I do not doubt considerable improvement has been made in the past decade but these data are the only ones in the public domain. They include figures for the past five years. If the methodology was unchallengeable it would… Read more »

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