Production of halal and kosher meat can be made less cruel, vets say
1. “The practise of slaughtering animals without prior stunning is unacceptable under any circumstances” is now a final opinion pronounced by the 32 members of the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe (FVE). The FVE’s Position Paper states an unequivocal opinion closely in keeping with the views of the British Veterinary Association (BVA) and Veterinary Public Health Association (VPHA) to which many vets involved in the State Veterinary Service and in farming and the meat and dairy industries belong) and of well-informed animal welfarists with some knowledge of the subject (eg the RSPCA and Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC), a government appointed body. The statements rely on scientific evidence, some of it presented by VEGA on our website and in consultations with the FAWC; and we look forward to debate with the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and the consortium of associated interests (cross-department and cross-agency) that it will be assembling to assert authority over standards, claims, practice, training, and labelling.
2. The FAWC has suffered 2 rebuffs in its efforts at persuading Government to ban the slaughter of animals for their meat that permit “sticking and bleeding” as a means of killing a fully conscious animal in the UK (eg by slitting of the throat and or stabbing into the chest cavity) and exsanguination until death supervenes. These are methods insisted upon by most Jewish authorities and Muslim Imams for the preparation of Kosher and Halal meat; such products may enter the normal supply unlabelled and in accord with the customers’ expectation that such practises cannot rate as “humane killing or slaughter” (whatever they may wish to understand about such terms).
3. According to the FVE code of Good Veterinary Practice, “veterinarians shall endeavour to ensure the welfare and health of the animals, in whichever section of the veterinary profess they work”. We interpret this vow to include supervision by vets in practices applied to fish and in testing and experimentation, as well in culling with the intention of “mercy killing” or limitation of the spread of diseases. The FVE has undertaken a review of “the scientific aspects of slaughter without stunning, in relation to animal welfare and food hygiene.”
4. According to Council Directive 93/119/EC “animals shall be spared any avoidable pain or suffering at the time of slaughter or killing. Therefore, solipeds, ruminants, pigs, rabbits, and poultry shall be stunned before slaughter or killed instantaneously. However, as certain religious groups require that animals should not be stunned prior to slaughter, the directive allows limited derogations to take account of the particular requirements of certain religious rites.”
5. Most Member States did use these derogations to allow the slaughter of animals without prior stunning. Outside the EU, however, in countries such as Switzerland, slaughter without stunning is prohibited. The FVE’s Position Paper continues: “It is also noteworthy that in other parts of the world, in New Zealand in particular, protocols have been developed, which allow specific methods of stunning whilst meeting the requirements of some of the religious rites”. (We adduce for comparison our notes on the latest Hajj Pilgrimage).
6. The FVE is “of the opinion that from an animal welfare point of view, and out of respect for an animal as a sentient being, the practice of slaughtering animals without prior stunning is unacceptable under any circumstances for the following reasons:
• Slaughter without stunning increases the time to loss of consciousness, sometimes up to several minutes. During this period of consciousness, the animal can be exposed to unnecessary pain and suffering due to
- exposed wound surfaces
- the possible aspiration of blood and, in the case of ruminants, rumen content
- the possible suffering from asphyxia after severance of the phrenicus and vagus nerves
• Slaughter without prior stunning requires in most cases additional restraint, which may cause additional stress to an animal that is almost certainly already frightened.”
Now for Real Validation of the Quality of Mercy
7. Adoption of vegetarian standards of abstinence would avoid much of the sophistry that attends the debate and argument that frustrate a resolution of these problems and a number of others. Caterers would be spared preparations of multiple versions of menus in, say, state schools and hospitals; likewise, a veggy “health” option would satisfy the requirements of many travellers on trains and planes with a single menu that would not offend consumers with some common individual dietary aversions.
Jews and Muslims already practise aversions in furtherance of religious rites and waive them in medical exigencies; during WW2 the Chief Rabbi lifted the observance required of strict Jews to eat only Kosher-style – and meat consumption was lowered almost to vegetarian levels; many slaughterhouses were closed (but the human killing continued unabated) and the slaughtering and butchery industry was state-controlled.
8. Therefore, exercise of self-restraint by individuals is achievable in modern life and it is made much easier by developments in good alternatives to the outputs of the objectionable live/deadstock industry. People calling themselves veggies probably outnumber those observing strict Jewish and Muslim practices; and even among these populations there are orthodox, liberal, and reformed versions, as well as “occasional” practitioners, rather as some veggies lapse at festivals by eating eggs, fish, or dairy products. As parallels may be taken with exceptionable practices and habits such as smoking and alcoholism, we have to accept that reformers have a hard job in instigating a determined decline in the activities and products of the live/deadstock industry; and likewise, fiscal and commercial factors will come into play.
Veggies Set a Feasible Alternative and Important Example
9. However, veggies have a special function in setting a special example in actually practising what they preach in animal welfare. Vets have a special responsibility to demonstrate their respect for animals and the kindness therewith when they congregate at official conferences and especially if they attempt to foist changes of habit on consumers for whom respectful consideration – and even a little forbearance – would augment a spirit of harmony. Enlistment of Jewish and Muslim Vegetarian Societies would contribute greatly but, alas, they are feeble and faint-hearted. People of no organised faith or religion may, disillusioned, see the clerics and scholars creating laws, rights, and sophistries to keep themselves in jobs. Muslims following the principles of the Qur’an abstain from hunting as sport and they profess adherence to the FAWC’s Five Freedoms for non-human animals. There seems to be no specific injunction against stunning prior to slaughter in the Qur’an – the first and longest chapter is headed the Cow (and the last and shortest goes in the name of the Elefant).
10. Commerce and the workings particularly of the European sheep industry engaging with the growing and profitable demand for “halal” meat have found the British farming and meat industry trying to incorporate stunning into the process without violating the insistence that the act of killing itself is accomplished by a lethal agent (eg the knife or electrical shock or a particularly destructive blow on the head, following by the bleeding out of a victim unable to return to consciousness).
11. The Muslim’s misunderstandings over the differences between stunning and killing and the disagreements among rabbis and shochets (slaughtermen) even within the UK, let alone in commentators in other areas of the world, hinder attempts at reaching merciful accommodation. The present Chief Rabbi in the UK speaks and writes a lot about ethics but exhibits little leadership and example for his own wide congregation. He, like the shochets and shomers involved with the Hajjis cannot find a clear definition of the fitness of livestock for the ritual act, and a Muslim lawyer and scholar maintains that none of the Islamic texts prescribes stunning in preparation for the immediate bleed out. And the halal market is rife with corrupt practices that frustrate serious attempts at authorization and harmony.
12. Further, preslaughter treatments and handling entail stress and cruelty between the farm, at markets and auctions and in transit and lairages. Animals chosen for ritual slaughter may come through any food chain, and they are not specially reared or chosen. Some traditional butchers would not deal in dairy-bred calves killed for white veal and a supposedly superior bleed-out, making them especially suitable for the catering trade. Developments in the general markets for “young beef” and rose “welfare veal” confuse some of these reservations; but, at the other end of the scale elderly animals killed for mutton are adequate for human populations content to buy and eat meat that is unpopular in meat markets and unprofitable as a source of wool and other by- and co-products.
13. Although the Soil Association and RSPCA, as well as the “ethicists” condemn the Jewish and Muslim procedures, we can evince no assurances that “spent” livestock, e.g. barren cows, old breeding stock and laying hens and other poultry (as well as day-old male chicks, most of them destined for foods for pets and zoo animals) are killed expeditiously by commonly-practised “humane” procedures with prior stunning or by newly acceptable methods of gassing (asphyxiation) or by maceration (total chopping when dropped on to a rapidly and horizontally rotating blade). It is doubtful whether such practices would be allowed for killing, sanctioned by the Home Office, of spent animals from scientific procedures and would not be allowed for the euthanasia of domestic, companion or wild animas in applications of mercy killing. We have been unable to ascertain the fate of spent livestock from Prince Charles’ approved dairy-herds and flocks, as well as of game shot and fished on his estates. As he patronizes sales of mutton, elderly sheep (and goats) from his farms may end up in a ritual killing for the royal tables (and Prince Charles likes to be regarded as Defender of the Faiths, plural).
The Science of Distress and Bad Taste
14. Appearances of meat and 5th-quarter products and biochemical tests, sided by tastes and the effects of hanging, give some idea of the animals injuries and stress before they succumb to total unconsciousness and become insentient. Experiences of human survivors of epileptic fits add further relevant evidence. Improved biochemical evidence and application of non-invasive tests and assessment of the stricken animals’ conditions in life and in the final hours can yield comparisons of the different methods of slaughter, based on scales like the FAWC’s 5 Freedoms ratings or by a traffic light system. Meat inspectors’ post-mortem reports, which offer measures of pathology, injury, and distress, must be publicly available and the place and method of killing, as well as of the farm of rearing must be declared on packaging or on websites and on food served or sold in restaurants, cafés, and takeaways. The costs will be steep and the policing subject to cheating that needs rigorous monitoring. The animals suffering in the avoidable cruelty of the rituals of farming, mutilation, and sacrifice in all forms in the production of food deserve the respect and contrition by our species for which there is no atonement, but for which some mercies can be exercised.
15. Two recent reflexions on Muslim life and Face to Faith, published in the Guardian newspaper, caught VEGA’s eye (28th and 29th November). In the first Noorjehan Barmania who, “like many other Muslim children, attended a madrassa for much of my childhood”. She writes: “Here we were taught how to lead good, upright Islamic lives based on strictures that ranged from the prosaic (‘how to drink a glass of water’) to the sublime (‘how to free the soul’). In between there was a lot of everyday pragmatism. One of the earliest lessons we learned was that debt is a no-no. If you can’t afford to buy what you need, then you should go without; Islam is highly critical of loans with interest because they raise a profit without any real labor. It is impossible to avoid paying interest in a modern-day economy, so I make monthly interest payments in an “attempt to own the roof over my head… ” She asks: “Have we the debtors simply lost touch with the true value of what we need to exist.” She, sharing dilemmas familiar to Christians over moneylenders in temples, concludes: “I believe we need to stop, take stock, and work out what we truly value.”
16. “In some ways, I envy them”, she continues. “So steadfast are they in their belief that they travel thousands of miles to participate in archaic rituals that they believe will wash away their sins. They talk of life-changing experiences and epiphanies. I’m just not sure that I would experience similar emotions or be strong enough to really change my ways… In an age of atheist proselytizing and widespread Islamophobia, I, like many other young British Muslims, spent years feeling displaced. If we believe nothing, we are apostates destined for hell. If we believe a little, we are derided for being hypocrites and by atheists for believing in fairy stories. If we believe too much, we are labelled as extremists. It is difficult to work out where we are on the scale of belief, and for a long time I feel disconnected from the values of the Hajj.”
17. The following day Kia Abdullah, author of Life, Love, and Assimilation, rates the Hajj as the “perfect opportunity for Muslims to put our anger behind us”, citing a short-lived marriage in which “we were two people in completely different places mentally and spiritually, for me the Hajj has always been something that I will do ‘one day’. It requires a change of attitude and lifestyle that I’m just not ready for. The 2 million Muslims who will take part in the World’s largest pilgrimage next week have to be open in mind and soul. As they engage in the rituals of the Hajj, they must ready themselves for a life of piety when they return home”, she writes.
18. Kia Abdullah goes on: “With maturity, however, I have realized that the pilgrimage doesn’t have to be polarizing. It isn’t designed to make moderate Muslims feel guilty. In reality it fosters solidarity and a sense of community, and has a positive effect on pilgrims’ wellbeing. According to a 2008 report conducted in part by Harvard University, the Hajj ‘increases belief in equality and harmony among ethnic groups and Islamic sects, and leads to more favourable attitudes toward women, including greater acceptance of female education and employment’”.
19. “In addition, it provides us with the opportunity to assess and change our spiritual path. As the world’s Muslims give to charity, exchange gifts, and celebrate Eid-ul-Adha, we can make a conscious decision to put the troubles of recent years behind us, to start afresh”, writes Kia Abdullah... ”we are full of resentment, but this is the perfect chance to put our anger behind us… This is a good time for us to review our personal and communal obligations… we must foster better relationships at a global level.” She perceives a conjunction of various favourable factors as “the perfect reason for us to open our mind and help catalyse change… while I won’t be heading to Mecca this year to circle the Ka’ba or wash my sins, I am vowing to let some of my anger go. I may be a cynical Londoner who would rather sun my body then purify my soul but even I recognize an opportunity for spiritual progression – and this is the perfect one.”
Let’s Prepare to Rituals of the Preprandial Grace
20. While the Hajj didn’t impress VEGA with the spirit of Let Live and Live, its effect on Kia Abdullah may swing her to some consideration of the numinous, the environment shared with all manner of animals, human and non-human, furry and slimy, we must hope that her willingness to change entertains abandonment of vicious assaults on innocent animals defenceless in bloody rituals. We hope that she will welcome a spirit of change that will spread to the reforms that the FAWC will have the honor to orchestrate with no dishonour to the congenial rituals of mercy professed by Islam. In both halal and kosher killing some form of ritual prayer at slaughter precedes the deadly
21. All formal corporate occasions and gatherings, and especially at communal and official meetings a quiet minute of gracious thanksgiving is due, silent or recited, each according to his or her own respect for “what we are about to receive” and for the producers, toilers in vineyards, farmers, merchants, and caterers in the whole food-service chain whose care and skills we each in our individual ways give pause to refresh our respect and acknowledge our shame in complicity in disgraceful deeds. It would mark an armistice in the onslaught waged for too long in the cause of unworthy greed, comfort and convenience.