VEGA News Item

Law, Lore, Mores, Government, Slaughter, and Horse Trading - 03/06/2004
We examine hot topics on the welfare of farm animals.
The Government’s draft response to the ‘Farm Animal Welfare Council’s Report on the Welfare of Farmed Animals at Slaughter or Killing- Part One: Red Meat Animals’ addressed the 94 recommendations made in the report. Of these 56 were fully accepted, 18 were partially accepted, decisions on 2 were deferred, and 18 were not accepted. The draft response gives detailed reasoning behind the attention given to each recommendation and in some instances a partial acceptance or not accepted was tempered with some further action on the Government’s part. The draft response published by DEFRA was on behalf of England and Wales; the Scots have published their own draft response.

FAWC will be responding to the Government’s draft response in due course. Our comments on the situation follow.

1. History

1.1 Seven decades of “humane slaughter” cover the massacre of billions of animals in one of the most brutal depredations perpetrated in the civilised don’t-want-to-know innocence of a species protesting its eminence in science and objectivity yet still in the thrall of dogma, euphemism, and religion. So it is that we have to review in the year 2004 the deliberations on the killing for meat that have engaged yet another report on this relentless and brutal industry. In this exchange the Government has responded to the latest set of reforming recommendations from the Farm Animal Welfare Council (which it appointed) on the welfare of livestock at the time and place of the intended killing. The FAWC is informed by the principle of the Five Freedoms, which seems singularly unapt in application when the intention is to deprive the animals of the freedom to live a life, and the reforms, like so many arrived at over the years by so many self-styled welfarists, are couched by bodies dominated by complicity as customers and consumers in many of the routine shortcomings and cruelties they expose for the government to act on. Freedom’s just another word… Well-meaning these bodies purport to be, but they are still as compromised in their calling as reform and abolition of the slave-trade would have been enfeebled by committees of slave-owners and slave traders without representation by slaves themselves; and how content would the trade-unions be if industrial relations were decided by the employers with barely a voice from the workers? Inability to understand an alien language does not deny foreigners a voice.

1.2 VEGA tries to put the animals’ case, uncompromised. The present FAWC has been praiseworthily active, and a few animal welfare causes, such as VEGA, have seized opportunities to testify at open meetings, or by invitation, or by request on the topics FAWC elects to examine. The Government may also set the FAWC tasks. The FAWC’s latest batch of recommendations to the Government on reforms to benefit the lot of food animals at the time and place of killing (or in plain language, to relieve a little of the persistent infliction of unnecessary suffering) have received short shrift. And these 94 recommendations apply only to production of red meat and by products (or co-products or sub-products as they are increasingly being called in these days of added-value speak); nothing daunted (we hope), FAWC is persevering with its review of the killing in the production of white meat (i.e. poultry and game). (VEGA seems to be the only animal welfare organization that has asked the FAWC to assess the means of killing farming and horticultural commensals- pests in other words- which would include rats, mice, pigeons, foxes, badgers, moles, and some deer; and these considerations should also embrace pastimes, some commercialised, such as hunting, shooting, and fishing, with or without some yield of food); and means of killing in other commercial exploitations of animals must be covered, e.g. in zoos, racing environments, and on premises rearing animals for the pet trade, experimentation and medical supplies, as well as casualties and fallen stock in all categories. These comprehensive considerations comply with DEFRA’s intentions for a Bill to reduce the complications in a century of diverse legislation connected with animal welfare).

1.3 Recent events have introduced excuses for dithering and delays. Such are:

1.3.1 Devolution- while thoughts of an expanding Europe occupy much thought,
little devolved Britain has assemblies that have variously to be convinced
of change, in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.
1.3.2 Europe- after devolution comes accession and the consequent extension of writ, policing, and avoidance, as well as in the responsibilities of a further set of border-posts to the Community. This entails developments, cultures, and traditions in farming well beyond those familiar to us, and stretches even further the resources of independent NGOs, such as VEGA, who seek to assert shop-steward and union status in representing the animal and environmental causes. Trade with countries outside the Community makes these considerations international, especially as the European Community becomes subsumed in the free market of the World Trade Organization.

1.4 The 1930’s saw the ousting from British slaughterhouses if the pole-ax. This implement was a heavy long-handled hammer with a pointed attachment at the head used to fell the bigger animals, usually free standing, with a stunning blow prior to cutting the throat and bleeding out for some minutes, when death was assumed to supervene and butchery on the floor could begin. Wielding the weapon required great skill and strength, and the blow could miss the intended spot and injure sensitive parts of the head and face without accomplishing a stun but terrifying the animal and requiring another and even more difficult attempt. Words have to be chosen and interpreted carefully here: stunning implies a temporary loss of consciousness like a sock on the jaw; the subsequent cut (“sticking”) entails a further shock and loss of blood that proceeds to the final throes of death, which may take some minutes. Expedition between stunning and sticking is essential to maintain continuity of unconsciousness through the bleed-out until both brain and heart cease to function and further muscular activity can be assumed to be involuntary twitching. The process can be likened to an induced epileptic fit from which there is no recovery. The stunning blow alone is not enough to accomplish an outright kill- any more than a boxer can go down for a count but return to his corner of the fight before the next round. The word slaughter comprises a process, usually of several stages, carried out on a big scale.

1.5 Development of the captive bolt stunner was hailed as the “humane” alternative to stunning and felling by pole-ax, as well as avoiding dangers to workers in slaughterhouses from guns shooting free bullets (which, if they lodged in the carcass, raised the risks if contamination with lead in the meat of offals). The captive bolt in the pistol penetrates the skull by an inch or two (provided the charge is suitably adjusted). The blow, like the boxer’s punch, jolts the brain sufficiently to render the animal senseless (at least for a short time. Abattoir (actually from the French to batteldown) was introduced as a discreet synonym for slaughterhouse. The euphemism 'chevaline' was devised as a frenchified description for horse- meat, but it hasn’t caught on- nor, in the UK, has consumption of horse-meat.

1.6 Acceptance that the slaughter of animals (fish being excluded, as well as animals such as game killed by shooting with live ammunition) should begin with an immediate and not-too-temporary stun (induction of insentience, unconsciousness, senselessness) prior to the lethal attack (e.g. by throat cut or electrocution) was enshrined in laws and procedures, interpreted and practised variously in the thousands of slaughterhouses and by local authorities involved in the manifold activities of the live/deadstock industry.

1.7 An originally minor exception was made for the slaughter of animals for meat sold as kosher for Jews and Halal for Muslims, who insisted on practices indicated to them in their scriptures that prescribed any interference immediately prior to the ritual cut and subsequent bleeding out. This provision has endangered much controversy, which has increased latterly as the physiology of brain and pain in various species has been scientifically and objectively explored. Aspects of comparative anatomy illuminate these matters further. Slaughterhouses are not temples of technological excellence by any standards: in earlier days the jobs were categorised as offensive trades, a description that befitted the honest words describing workers such as slaughterers, butchers, knackers, gut men, hide strippers, fell mongers, and so on, no matter that the Jewish ritual cut, for instance, had to be executed, with appropriate palaver, by a rabbi. The local parson was not be found counselling on such premises before he repaired to the pulpit to lead a few roundelays of All Things Bright and Beautiful and shepherding his human congregation of consumers into Crimond and the 23rd Psalm.

1.8 The original exceptions were made to accommodate needs in the victualling of ships engaged in international traffic in passengers and freight, among which were famed examples of the British mercantile fleet. Many of such posh vessels (port out, starboard home, for experienced travellers looking after their comforts on journeys to and from the East and the Antipodes) were manned by crews numbering lascar seamen recruited from countries with Muslim persuasions, for whom Halal provender was necessary. Pens of live animals were carried in ocean-going ships to be slaughtered en route to furnish fresh meat for passengers and crew- that dummy funnel would serve for some of the smelly purposes the passengers declined to savour- until refrigeration rendered such catering unnecessary and meat could be provided ready-killed in the Halal fashion from British ports.

1.9 Although international trading by sea has changed a lot, a demanding population of land-based Muslim customers has arisen and the need for the exception has not only persisted, but has become one of the brightest prospects for the British meat industry, with the Meat and Livestock Commission and the supermarkets keen to exploit it. Muslims are advised by their authorities that kosher meat is acceptable, but orthodox Jews refuse Halal as not satisfying their dietary custom. The pet food industry is another lucrative part of the meat-industry, adding value to some otherwise unattractive co-products and by-products, and products of ritual slaughter find their ways into the diets of dogs and cats pitched into adherence to Jewish and Muslim custom. Last year Jewish goodies for pets as presents for Chanukah came on to the market as Christian communities heralded the seasonal celebrations with the tingling of the tills and the redoubled efforts of slaughterers, butchers, and feather pluckers.

1.10 The exceptional provisions for slaughter without pre-stunning procedures run into contentious wording, especially in the writ regarding Jewish practice. The law implies that the exemptions are intended for meat to be consumed by Jews or Muslims, but an essential part of the Jewish ritual in the UK entails the profitable sale of hindquarter cuts from animals killed in the Jewish fashion (shechita) into the general trade and manufacturing with no indication of their exceptionable origins: meat-eating “animal welfarists” of the RSPCA, British Veterinary Association, Farm Animal Welfare Council, and many farmers can thus be implicated as unwary accomplices in practices they profess to abhor.

1.11 These doctrinal rejections of what is the most valuable part of the carcase reflect the concerns of a slaughter and butcher to achieve an efficient bleed-out, which depends on prolonged pumping from the heart after the throat has been cut and on “porging” of the carcass of blood vessels and nerve tissue, followed by washing and salting. In Britain shochets and butchers deem the cost of porging the hindquarters too steep to satisfy Jewish customers when the meat can be rejected as 'treif' (or trefa), i.e. non-kosher, and sold at a good price on the ordinary market; orthodox Jews complain that they pay heavily for easily-porged forequarter meat, further devalued by the requirement for heavy salting. These prescriptions affect the Muslim market much less and may not be observed by Jewish authorities in other countries. Although traditional butchers in the UK have entertained a preference for the no-stun Jewish cut (i.e. a slashing severance amounting almost to a beheading) for white meat (e.g. veal) evidence has been adduced that bleeding out after the usual stabbing plunge of a dagger-like knife into the chest cavity and the main vessels therein results in an equal blood loss. (Recent correspondence in the Times, Q & A, 31 March 2004,on beheading and guillotining of people and the persistence of evoked responses, as well as VEGA's comments, offer relevant insights into the suffering expected in animals).

1.12 Animals destined for Jewish or Muslim slaughter are run-of-the-market livestock. The Muslim trade can accommodate, because of culinary treatments, more-than-average numbers of spent breeding animals (e.g. tups and old ewes- mutton rather than lamb- and end-of-lay hens). The animals may go to slaughter in poor condition; VEGA and now the FSA have warned Muslims that they are at enhanced risk if BSE, masquerading as scrapie, enters sheep and goat flocks. As far as we can see, FSA’s grant of special services of advice to Muslim authorities failed to warn them of the FAWC’s complaints over the standards of welfare in the slaughterhouse and the cause for banning production of Halal meat (VEGA has found this discrimination very disappointing: the head of the FSA is an eminent zoologist and VEGA’s repeated attempts at achieving similar consideration from the FSA to answer the Agency’s own requests for a better understanding of veggie attitudes have been ignored). Production of “smokies”, which are cuts from illicitly slaughtered sheep and goats, whose carcasses are torched to burn off the hair, entails the distribution of meat in main cities in the UK where African and Muslim communities are increasing in numbers and purchasing power. The animals are mostly Welsh livestock of lambs and breeding ewes is the best condition; their fate as smokies at least saves them transhipment live to slaughterhouses in southern Europe. DEFRA and the FSA are trying to legitimise and control the lucrative trade in smokies, primarily on grounds of safety to human consumers: pigs are the only livestock allowed in British slaughterhouses to be killed for sale as meat unflayed).

1.13 Jewish and Muslim scriptures devote much teaching that can be construed as advocacy for animal welfare (“the good man’s care for his beast”); some, however, bears witness to rules of hygiene learnt the hard way, as now, as the results of plagues, murrains, pestilences, and epidemics. Omnivores and scavenging animals (including fish) were thus exempted from the massacre inflicted on the gentler cud- chewing herbivorous ruminants. Jewish and Muslim stipulations require in common some evidence that the animal must be presented in a fit and healthy state for the ritual and lethal cut (which may entail a prod to elicit a response from a doomed animal); an unconscious animal felled by a blow or electric shock or by administration of a drug will be rejected as being “physiologically unsound” (one of the interpretations often adduced by practitioners of religious rituals of slaughter) and therefore ineligible for shechita. Elements of respect for animal welfare appear in the parve restrictions (“not seething the kid in its mother’s milk”) of consuming meat and dairy in the same meal (hence the frequent need for taking coffee at the end black or with a non-dairy creamer) and the insistence that a cow and her calf shall not be killed by shechita on the same day (although this may add to the cow’s suffering, because she will have to be taken away for return on another day or transferred to other premises).

1.14 Twenty years ago the FAWC reported specially on religious (ritual) slaughter and called upon the then Government, which had appointed it for advice, to ban killing of animals for food without prior stunning to render the doomed livestock instantaneously insensible and to remain in this state until death supervened as a result of a lethal blow or other shock; or, at least, to label all meat not slaughtered without these preliminaries. The Government yielded, as has happened on previous occasions, to Jewish and Muslim protests of unfair discrimination, and rejected the advice from its own appointees. The FAWC has returned to the issue in coverage of all methods of slaughter. The advice remains the same and the present Government, in its draft response, has budged little from its predecessor’s reaction. In the interim the slow process of reform, particularly market-driven production of Halal meat, has seen some efforts at reducing suffering, notably the replacement of the casting pen to overturn and restrain in a crush an animal being readied for the ritual cut, with a pen with a head restraint to enable a shochet to do his task with an upward thrust of his knife. Jewish slaughtering had a reputation for a stricter supervision of the procedures, but investigators in both FAWC studies reported a number of violations even in the ordained procedures.

2. Parleying and Prevaricating

2.1 In preparing its review of the slaughtering industry the FAWC has diligently conducted consultations with many interests, including committed animal welfare organizations, such as VEGA and the RSPCA. VEGA and its predecessors have been representing the animals’ voice on these issues for many years and well before the appointment of the FAWC; indeed, we were given the responsibility to direct a day’s shooting for one of the first FAWC training films. We emphasize that we are a tiny minority among other welfarists who think nothing of buying and consuming animal-derived products obtained by methods they continually audit and condemn. This complicity and the lack of will to advocate restraint or even boycott undermine the power of their evidence and the impression created on the public. If only the RSPCA’s experts would enjoin the Society’s members to confine their purchases of animal-derived foods to those covered by the Freedom Foods monitoring scheme! If only vets purporting to honour professional vows to do their utmost for the well-being of animals in their care would declare to their clients, retailers, and the government a refusal to have any truck with a trade that continually and avoidably flouts the very principles of animal welfare that is supposed to inform the profession! What a small sacrifice to secure the probity of these so-called animal welfarists!

2.2 At a recent meeting of vets in the Meat Hygiene Service, which is charged with both hygiene, and welfare in slaughterhouses, an FAWC vet explained the Council’s report and recommendations on the treatment of animals killed for food and the draft of the Government’s rejection of the proposals with a special emphasis on the FAWC’s condemnation of religious slaughter. The day’s conference ended with the vets’ annual dinner, where they had the opportunity to specify their choice for this special occasion- of pate de foie gras!


Association Dinner @ 20.30

Served in the Pendoylan suite


Duck Foie Gras Parfait

With Pistachio Nuts, Served with Brioche and Apple Compote

Main course

Medallions of Welsh Black Beef

With Celeriac Mash and a Pink and Green Peppercorn and Cream Sauce


Hazelnut and Praline Cheesecake


A Selection of Traditional Welsh Cheeses

With Celery, Grapes and Biscuits, with Gooseberry and Elderflower Chutney

2.3 Speakers at the meeting included David Henderson, a vet of the Farm Animal Welfare Council, speaking on Welfare of Animals at slaughter, and Dr D C J Main, of the British Veterinary Association’s Welfare Unit at the University of Bristol, speaking on Assuring Consumers on Animal Welfare. Another speaker at the meeting giving views of the Farm Animal Science Unit at Bristol University, challenged an audience comprising mainly veterinarians, that their training might not be the best qualification for professional judgements on animal welfare in the meat trade. The audience manifested signs of disquiet at this.

3. Tackling Challenges Actions Not Words

3.1 Vets must treat their professional vows more seriously and impressively. How could they expect the public to trust doctors intoning the received wisdom on smoking and the need for abstinence form the objectionable habit while reaching for a cigarette themselves! Vets must accept the duty of informed example to their clients and public as an expression of continence in a greedy consumer-dominated world almost indifferent or ineffectual in allaying the relentless rapine we inflict on those other animals.
3.2 The immediate, practicable, effective, and salutary reform, unequivocal in its expression of the FAWC’s objectives, is reduction of the abuse we inflict on animals. That means the self-discipline of denial (which has many benefits) and development of alternatives for products and by-products derived from methods of farming and manufacture in many contexts of all health and animal welfare, the environment, and the protection of wildlife. Reduction of consumption of meat, dairy-products, and eggs is eminently feasible with a modicum of commitment by our species, but it must now be magnified into clear commercial warning that industry must reverse- as the report of the BSE inquiry indicated- the lamentable resort to intensification and the over-production of cheap (and truly nasty) food. The very massacre (in millions of livestock) taken for granted in countering and containing pestilences such as BSE, foot-and-mouth, swine fever, viral epidemics in poultry and thinnings in broiler “crops”- not to mention the exclusion of fish, farmed and trawled from the open seas (very free range), from even the meagre provisions of care in slaughterhouses- requires armies of slaughterers, ill-equipped and untrained, to perform subsidized acts of terrorism in the production of animals devalued as a source of food or manufacturing materials and likely to become an environmental embarrassment for disposal.

3.3 Research organizations such as VEGA are toiling to retain their objectivity in defence of the animals against the efforts of well-meaning welfarists free-ranging with appeasement of production and markets with euphemisms and even assurances to achieve untoward contentment among customers ducking the full import of the researchers’ message. Uncritical welcome to value-adding-ploys such as free range, and vegetarians’ ignorance- and even approvals of the dairy/beef/veal industry- tell our opponents that they can enjoy untutored appraisal and market security in forcing output with scant informed resistance. The place for animal welfarists to demonstrate is at the till of their local supermarket, whose statisticians will soon descry from their data that a number of their customers demonstrate a loyalty to buy many products but manifest a reluctance to purchase meat, fish and dairy and their derivatives and resist the marketing lures for their whey-in and egg-bound choices. At the moment all the supermarkets are weighing in with welfare endeavours to make methods of killing fish “acceptable” to the public (i.e. to allay searching enquiries). The British poultry industry BC- before Curry (Edwina) cholesterol and campylobacter- met the nation’s then excessive needs and the subsequent decades of decline, but it is now staging a recovery in an enormity overlooked by customers innocent of the free-ranging and totally avoidable damage this reversal has wrought on the cause for animal welfare.

3.4 Jewish and Muslim authorities were among several vigorous objectors to the investigations by FAWC’s sub-committee on conditions at the time of slaughter. Threats of walk-out arose during consultations; on one occasion Jewish representatives actually quit the discussions. Jewish and Muslim followers, like Christians, include orthodox, reformed, liberal and other denominational groups, and some committed Jews- even among the shochets and advisors to the Shechita Board- entertain a switch to a vegetarian lifestyle, which is consistent with their tenets and avoids unpleasantness over matters on which they descry good evidence for concern and disrepute. Certainly the presence of rabbis with their distinctive tonsure and garb and holding a holy book and picking their way through the bloody premises of a slaughterhouse strikes an incongruous expression of the quality of mercy. However, the trade and some customers are irked by the unavoidable cost of forequarter meat, which needs heavy salting, and the possible loss or devaluation of hindquarter “product” sold to non-Jewish customers learning of its origins. The international Jewish Vegetarian society has no time for any of the methods for slaughtering animals for meat.

3.5 Jewish apologists resort to some ignoble defences. They excuse shechita as a minor insult to the animals when they observe major failures in operation of the pre-kill stunning (“the animals die two deaths”) and they plead- with ever-decreasing conviction- that the ritual cut ensures instantaneous loss of consciousness, which is maintained until death supervenes. They plead unconvincingly their earnest in animal welfare, evidence for which can be cited from their holy books; however, those same texts and practices contain some controversial comments on attitudes to odd balls (or no balls with undescended kit) and to women.

3.6 On the other hand a review on “shechita and a moral dilemma” in the Jewish News (16 April 2004) included some support for the governments preference to leave customers, the market, and labelling- and, we would say, determined example- to solve problems without the strife that, say, a proposed ban on hunting is causing. The expert in the Jewish paper ended with the declaration that he didn’t eat meat anyway.

3.7 Over-riding considerations of welfare in the production of animal-derived foods and other commodities for consumption and use by Jews and Muslims can be set aside on the following grounds (which indicate that hygiene is the dominant factor in requirements for koshered and Halal food-products).

3.7.1 Insistence on the presentation of physiologically-sound livestock for
ritual slaughter is flouted by the very arrival of the animals at the abattoir: many are presented because they are broken-mouthed, barren, dehorned, castrated, and bruised, as the subsequent inspections of the carcass and offals bear witness and provide further confirmation of infringement. Some animals arrive filthy, a sure sign of impairment due to poor husbandry.
3.7.2 Religious slaughter is not required for animals yielding leather, vellum, wool etc for clothing, footwear, cosmetics etc. The cows yielding kosher milk are not consigned (at the moment being killed under the over-thirty month-old scheme) for slaughter in the Jewish fashion.
3.7.3 Neither Jewish nor Muslim observances are applied to the killing of fish for consumption (and fish are excluded from the general conduct of this slaughter, which is appallingly overlooked in common practice on an enormous scale).
3.7.4 At the beginning of WWII the Chief Rabbi in the UK suspended the requirements for ritually-killed meat for orthodox Jews. The government made special arrangements for vegetarians; many families included a veggie member, recruited to add some variety to normal rations. Here was a missed opportunity for Jews professing disquiet with the normal methods for animals to make broad their phylacteries by becoming veggies and animal welfarists with scant disadvantage to themselves.
3.7.5 Orthodox Jews break none of their religious tenets by selling non-kosher meat, killed by methods they disdain and abstain from eating, into the ordinary market.

3.8 Elements in the Muslim world, abetted by interest in the UK and the
Antipodes seeking outlets for their sheep farmers, have contrived
accommodations with potential importers and with animal welfarists in
their own countries anxious to replace the traffic in live meat on-the-hoof
with the less objectionable transport of “product” on the hoof slaughtered
in the country of origin. The drive for these developments has been the
exportation from New Zealand to the Middle East, where Muslim
customers dominate, and in the traditional trade to Europe, where halal imports would be suspect. New Zealand maintains now that it can satisfy both markets, the meat for Middle East being labelled and verified Halal, while the same products can be sent unlabelled and without demur to Europe. These developments have drawn attention from British sheep farmers and the MLC and elements of the Muslim trading community displaying enterprise in fostering the Halal trade and offering some respite to sheep farmers losing financial support from the CAP and trying to recover from the ravages of foot-and-mouth disease. British livestock farmers seeing their stock going “down the road” would stoutly aver to the curious (and gullible) that the animals would never go for ritual slaughter, but latterly such protestation has been muted and officials of the NFU have gone on gung-ho record welcoming prospects in sales of halal meat and smokies.

3.9 Stun-killing, in which electric shocks are applied simultaneously to the brain and heart, offer one means of satisfying the Muslim meat-trade, as well as animal welfarists demanding evidence of stunning prior to killing; or the throat-cut followed immediately by a stunning blow or shock might be construed as avoiding the two-deaths dilemma while meeting the clerics’ stipulations for performance of the ritual cut. Some animal welfarists are satisfied that these accommodations are practicable in commercial operations. It seems unlikely that Jewish authorities will accept this option. The FAWC heard reports of shochets waving away an operator with a captive-bolt gun for at least 20 seconds after the ritual cut. (It should always have been the case that the stunning equipment be at the ready lest a failure in the procedure miscarries for some doctrinal reason, the normal procedure being followed thereafter; the meat is then not kosher but eligible for postmortem inspection and sale- unlabelled- on the ordinary market). VEGA has visited Jewish slaughterhou  

Registered Charity No. 1045293
© VEGA - 2008