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Religious texts set down traditional methods of slaughter; simply using a knife to kill the animal. The right to continue using these methods is strongly contested between members of the Jewish and Muslim faiths and animal rights / welfare activists.
Opponents of the practice feel that animals should be stunned before slaughter – stunning; which is a standard industry practice worldwide – if undertaken properly, this makes animals unconscious and reduces the pain as they are cut (stuck / sticking) and bled to death. We say ‘if undertaken properly’; because there is a lot of evidence and undercover footage in existence which shows that in the ‘stun usage’ environment; many animals are not being stunned correctly or for long enough; thus regaining consciousness before their throats are cut.
However, there is no definitive scientific evidence that an animal does not feel pain whilst unconscious. Indeed, a counter argument put forward by ritual slaughter advocates is that stunning may only stop an animal from displaying pain.
While the Jews accept absolutely no stunning, some Muslims have accepted it as long as it can be shown that the animal could be returned to normal living consciousness.
EU law requires animals for the food chain to be stunned (made unconscious) prior to killing, so that death should be ‘painless’. Is any slaughter ‘painless’ we ask ?
Saying this, there are within the EU exceptions to stunning prior to slaughter for religious reasons, notably for Shechita (the Jewish method of killing animals for food – Kosher meat) and Muslim Halal. The Muslim and Jewish communities, totalling nearly 25% of the world population, have similar philosophies in this regard.
The recommended position which a captive bolt gun should be located on cattle’s head.
Stunning tongs deliver an electric charge. They must be positioned either side of the head to be effective.
Animals are generally made unconscious by stunning and then killed by cutting their main blood vessels; the carotid arteries in the neck.
Just prior to slaughter, individual animals are supposed to be separated as they are walked into a stunning box. Within seconds an operator stuns the animal. Separation is not as common as the industry would like people to think.
There are three different methods of stunning, each used for specific animals.
Captive bolt: a gun-like device delivers a concussive blow to the skull. Usually used for adult cattle and sometimes sheep and calves,
Electrical: A current is applied across a sheep’s (or sometimes cattle’s) brain allegedly rendering it senseless. Electrical stunning is undertaken using ‘tongs’ held by the slaughterman. It is essential that to produce the required result, the tongs are positioned correctly on the animals head. Again; a lot of video evidence shows that tongs are either positioned incorrectly in the first place; and / or they are not held in position for long enough time to render the animal unconscious.
There is very much a risk that some cattle, pigs and sheep may not be stunned effectively, causing them to regain consciousness before they die from blood loss during sticking Therefore, for stunning to be effective it is vital that:
the stunning equipment such as tongs are working properly – they should be regularly checked and maintained
the stunning equipment is positioned correctly on the animal’s head/head and back. In large processing facilities; this is not always correctly undertaken.
during electrical stunning, enough current is applied for a long enough period
during captive bolt stunning, the correct charge cartridge is used to fire the captive bolt
the time between stunning and sticking (cutting) is not too long to prevent an animal regaining consciousness
A sheep is electrically stunned using tongs.
Waterbath: Used for the killing of chickens. Birds are hung by their feet in metal holders (shackles) on a moving belt and their heads are supposed to be dipped into electrified water.
Above and Below – Chickens hanging on shackles.
The problems involved with the stunning of poultry are complex. Welfare concerns include the following:
the shackling of live birds – which is painful.
Waterbathing can result in some birds raising their heads and subsequently missing the water bath stunner.
Can result in the birds receiving painful pre-stun shocks as they enter the stunner.
Can result in an insufficient electrical current flowing through the bird’s body to ensure the bird is unconscious (effectively stunned).
Can be designed so birds passing through an automatic neck cutter only receive a single cut to the neck, which reduces the rate of blood loss.
Can result in birds accidentally missing the automatic neck cutter. If these birds are not noticed by the slaughter person, they may still be alive when entering the scalding tank – a tank of boiling water that helps to loosen the feathers prior to plucking.
Chickens going through the scalding tank.
Above and below – A pig still alive within the scalding tank.
Gas: carbon dioxide or other inert gases are used, mainly for poultry; but also for pigs.
Stunning with CO2 gas is in our opinion terrible, but it offers some benefits over electric stunning including the ability to stun animals in groups, with minimal restraint, less handling, and therefore potentially less stress before stunning. There is also less reliance on the skills of the people operating the equipment.
However, recent studies have revealed a number of welfare issues with CO2 stunning. These include:
the gas is very unpleasant for pigs (who are highly aversive animals)
there is variability between individual pigs’ responses to CO2
pigs are not rendered unconscious immediately
high concentrations of CO2 gas can cause significant pain and distress to pigs when inhaled (by causing acute respiratory distress)
Studies of pigs’ behaviour have found that most pigs will avoid high concentrations of CO2 gas if possible, and that almost 90% of pigs preferred to go without water for 72 hours than experience exposure to CO2 gas.
Further research is urgently needed to develop stunning systems which retain the benefits of CO2 stunning while minimising the disadvantages. Evidence suggests that potential alternatives to be investigated may include:
non-aversive (not unpleasant and do not cause pain) gas mixtures such as argon, nitrogen, or nitrous oxide
a combination of argon with CO2
anaesthesia with non-aversive gases, followed by killing by CO2 or electrical methods
genetic selection for pigs which do not find CO2 to be painful.
The RSPCA (in the UK) recommends that stunning/killing pigs with high concentrations of CO2 should be phased out quickly, and replaced with a more humane alternative. The development of more humane gas mixtures and suitable equipment should be urgently prioritised.
Pigs being killed by the use of CO2.
Bleeding out comes from having at least both carotid arteries in the animal’s neck severed (“sticking”) to ensure maximum blood loss.
Cutting actions required
In poultry and sheep the throat is cut behind the jaw.
The knife cut for chicken cuts muscle, trachea, oesophagus, carotid arteries, jugular veins and major nerves.
For cattle, the skin is opened at the neck through a 30cm longitudinal cut. A clean knife is then used and inserted at a 45° angle to cut the jugular and carotid blood vessels.
Slaughtered Cattle hung and bleeding out.
According to the ‘system’, the knife should be ‘very sharp’, without blemishes or damage and be at least double the width of the neck. It should be used in a fast, aggressive cut across the throat with the least number of strokes in order to bring about immediate and massive blood loss.
The animals are then inverted, having been shackled by a back leg – attached using a metal fastener – just after stunning (except poultry which are already inverted), to allow the blood to drain away faster.
For cattle there was no stunning in Italy and most Belgian and French slaughterhouses, unlike in Germany and the UK. Cattle were restrained upright in Italy, the UK and 80% of abattoirs in Belgium, but turned on their back in a pen in Spain. The most common stunning method was the penetrating captive bolt.
For sheep, there was no stunning in Belgian, Dutch and most of the Italian, French and Spanish abattoirs surveyed, whereas stunning was the most common practice in the UK and Germany. The animals were upright in the UK, on their sides in Belgium, France and Italy and mainly hoisted in Spain. The most common stunning method was head-only electrical stunning,
Sheep hoisted for Halal slaughter.
Poultry were not stunned in Italian abattoirs surveyed, but stunned in Germany, Spain and the UK. The stunning method used was the waterbath.
Data from French, Italian, Spanish and UK abattoirs showed that no stunning (pre- or post-cut) was used. For cattle, slaughter was in the upright position in Italy and the UK and with animals on their backs and restrained in Spain and France. For animals such as sheep, they were turned on their sides in the UK, but hoisted in Italy.
Of importance for any slaughtering, but more so for Halal and even more for Shechita, is secure restraining. This particularly relates to the head and neck since movement results in a poor cut, slowing death, reducing meat quality and possibly retaining blood and ‘spoiling’ meat.
The Qur’an sets out the rules with respect to animals and slaughter and teaches that animals should be well treated:
Restraining equipment should be comfortable for the animal, whatever ‘comfortable’ is for an animal about to die !
Invoking the name of Allah immediately before the slaughter is either compulsory or highly encouraged, although (in the UK) it is known that the name of Allah is simply continuously played via a tape during the daily process.
The cut must sever at least three of the animal’s trachea, oesophagus and the two blood vessels on either side of the throat,
Multiple acts of slaughter on one animal are allegedly prohibited, so the knife must not be lifted off the animal during the act of slaughter: a single continuous back and forth motion is required, and animals should not be shackled and hoisted before bleeding, and further actions on the carcass must wait until there are no more signs of life.
It has been claimed that the Qur’an contains nothing forbidding the consumption of stunned animals. However, there is no single authoritative body that can definitively rule as to the Muslim law on the issue of stunning before slaughter. Some Muslim authorities have approved stunning so long as the animal can regain consciousness and eat within five minutes.
Jewish rules are set out in the Talmud and Midrash:
Shechita slaughter, necessary for orthodox Jews, always requires no pre-stunning. This reflects a need for animals to be healthy and without injury at the time of slaughter. No pre-stunning for the Shechita method has yet been accepted,
Appropriate animals must only be slaughtered by a specially trained person, and traditionally slaughter has been with the animal on its back, but an upright position has been approved.
Correctly performed conventional slaughter procedures (stun then cut) results in animals rapidly becoming unconscious, and remaining so during cutting, until their death by bleeding out.
However, animals can feel stress when being prepared for slaughter, for example during restraining, and in the case of poultry there are concerns about their shackling before stunning.
In large, high-volume slaughterhouses with a focus on fast, cost-effective throughput; some personnel can be poorly trained and animal welfare regulations simply ignored, with low levels of inspection. Religious slaughter brings extra challenges to these abattoirs since it requires more attention in animal handling, specialised equipment, greater slaughtering skill and overall the process is slower.
In practice, animals may suffer pain, a slower death and stress through procedures in religious slaughter not being carried out as laid down:
A sheep is slaughtered on the street during Muslim Eid.
Stunning procedures in ‘normal’ slaughter procedures are also not always performed correctly,
During slaughter, operator and general factory competence is very important,
A lack of experience or skill may mean that more than the required one or two movements of the arm for cutting. There have been reports of 3.2 cuts being required for Jewish and 5.2 for Halal slaughter.
Death for the animal takes longer where arteries were not correctly severed (generally reported as occurring for one out of ten animals).
The determination of the exact point; if any; when an animal becomes insensible to pain is the key animal-welfare issue. Though it is clear that animals do not lose sensitivity to pain immediately on stunning, the state of consciousness of an animal and its level of insensibility cannot be quantitatively measured.
One side argues that although science cannot provide a definitive position no-stunning slaughter is more likely to cause pain given the many nerve receptors in the neck and time taken to bleed whilst the animal is not unconscious.
However, some counter arguments put forward are that stunning:
may only paralyse an animal, preventing it from displaying pain,
Does not always work – due to operational problems, and
May be painful and the process cause stress to the animal involved.
Certainly, most people observing the process would suffer less discomfort through seeing animals first stunned.
A concern is that after stunning, animals regain (some) consciousness. This is particularly so for electrical stunning. Periods of less than one minute are considered desirable for “stun-to-stick”, though the UK’s Farm Animal Welfare Council considers the maximum legal interval should only be 15 seconds.
In ritual slaughter, non-stunned animals can be conscious after neck-cutting for up to 2 minutes for cattle, 20 seconds for sheep and 2.5 minutes for poultry, according to the European Food Safety Authority.
If correctly and properly performed, Shechita results in calm cattle collapsing within 10 to 15 seconds. Observation shows in 30% of cases however, that animals remain conscious for more than 30 seconds.
Most people would never want to witness and animal being slaughtered; yet meat eaters are seemingly happy to let someone else do the job for them behind high walls.
Fortunately, many people in the Western world especially have now decided to ditch meat for a plant based diet instead. Religious slaughter is one reason why so many people are opposed to live animal exports – all Australian sheep exported live to the Middle East are slaughtered using the Halal method. The general treatment of live animals is another.
A Major Cause of Concern – Australian sheep on a ship destined for the Middle East.
According to PETA, 198 animals are saved each year, per vegan person, but technically, none are. Animals are not saved or spared due to the amount of vegans in the world. However, less animals are “produced” to be slaughtered. So, maybe 198 animals per vegan are not produced to be killed is a very reasonable statement.
And get this: One person who goes vegan can save approximately 219,000 gallons of water a year. It takes 1,000 gallons of water to produce just one gallon of milk, and beef has an overall water footprint of roughly 4 million gallons per ton.
So, make the change to a plant based diet and do not have this terrible suffering on your conscience.
Regards Mark (WAV)