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.
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.
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.