My debate on religious slaughter is in the New Internationalist
New Internationalist invited me to have a debate on religious slaughter with a Muslim spokesperson via an exchange of emails. They have now published it on their website (see a copy of their webpage below).
Viva! campaigner Tony Wardle and social commentator Mohammed Ansar go head to head.
For over a decade I have been campaigning to end unstunned religious slaughter [stunning animals before they are killed renders them immobile or unconscious] and over this time, Viva! has filmed different forms of slaughter; they are barbaric and we campaign against them all, urging people to go vegan. But some methods are more barbaric than others and cause extraordinary suffering.
Religious, unstunned slaughter is justified on entirely false claims: that animals are killed with a single cut and are immediately rendered insensible to pain. Scientifically, this is nonsense. Let me describe the fate of a beef cow that we filmed being killed by the Jewish shechita (kosher) method.
The cow was driven into a cage and its head forced up with a chin lift to expose its neck, thicker than my body. How do you sever carotid arteries, jugular veins, trachea, tendons and muscles painlessly in a neck this thick with a single cut? Of course, you can’t! The knife was drawn backwards and forwards in a sawing motion – 17 times. At the first cut, the animal slammed its head backwards violently but remained standing, blood pouring from its gaping neck. It inhaled some blood, so it had the added insult of choking while slowly dying. It was still standing after 30 seconds. This case supports two big studies carried out by government advisory body the Farm Animal Welfare Council, which found it took cattle up to 40 seconds to lose consciousness and calves twice as long. They strongly recommended a ban – as the British Veterinary Association (BVA) has just done.
‘Whoever is kind to the creatures of God, is kind to himself’ – Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)
Each year in Britain, between 850 million and a billion creatures are slaughtered for human consumption. There will always be those who say (views I believe shared by you, Tony, and your organization) that as a matter of good conscience, animals must never be slaughtered for food and that there exists a conspiracy between government and private industry to hide the benefits of going vegan. Although I believe this to be an extreme view, I support your right to hold it.
Others believe that once we accept the consumption of meat for humankind, it then depends on questions of regulation, processes and our morality. Animal husbandry – the manner in which animals are kept, treated and slaughtered – and the effect on our environment is of vital importance. As you will know, our current (non-religious) meat industry has practices which are utterly barbaric; by some estimates, 100 million animals, perhaps more, suffer vile mistreatment, torturous death and improper slaughter.
Both Islam and Judaism make clear that any form of animal cruelty, barbarity in treatment and disregard for welfare is completely forbidden. Aside from theological reasons, I am an advocate for professional kosher and halal slaughter for one simple reason: if we must slaughter animals, as difficult as it is for some people, it is without doubt the most ‘humane’ method of slaughter available to us today.
Thanks for your answer, but sadly you address none of the points I make. I am aware that original Islamic teachings on animals shame the practices of our present society, and that 1,400 years ago they were extraordinarily compassionate, but some assumptions were scientifically incorrect.
Religious, unstunned slaughter is justified on entirely false claims: that animals are killed with a single cut and are immediately rendered insensible to pain. Scientifically, this is nonsense
As you know, Muslims and Jews are not supposed to consume blood and one reason for cutting a fully conscious animal is supposedly so that it can expel all the blood from its body. We now know that it expels only 50 per cent, conscious or unconscious; the rest remains in the carcass. If you really want to adhere to your religion’s teachings you should join me and avoid all meat.
Viva! spoke to workers who have witnessed or assisted with religious slaughter. Here is a typical view: ‘No-one will convince me that it’s painless. As for the claims that animals die instantly – utter nonsense. It can take a very long time and sometimes they’re disembowelled before they’re even unconscious.’1
The problem with bureaucracies – and that is what the bodies administering halal and shechita (kosher) slaughter are – is that they become intransigent and regulations are set in stone. But fortunately, over 80 per cent of Muslims do accept prestunning and obviously don’t fear for their eternal salvation. ‘Whoever is kind to the creatures of God is kind to himself’ doesn’t exactly fit with slashing their throats, does it? Perhaps it’s no accident that slaughtering animals is entirely forbidden in your most holy of places, Mecca.
Judaism, Christianity and Islam allow for the eating of meat – in fact, Moses, Christ and Muhammad (peace be upon them) would not eat meat unless it was what we would recognize today as halal or kosher. So, let us agree to leave the authentic scholarship of those religions to the consensus of the religious scholars. Almost all schools of Islamic thought and Muslim civil society organizations agree that stun slaughter is not the proper form of halal, according to the best and most authentic principles. That Muslims have, unbeknown to them, been hoodwinked into eating so-called stun-slaughtered ‘halal’ meat is a national scandal.
I am an advocate for professional kosher and halal slaughter for one simple reason: if we must slaughter animals, it is without doubt the most ‘humane’ method of slaughter available to us today
I recently met president of the BVA, Robin Hargreaves, to debate the matter of religious slaughter. I wanted to know why there is wide-scale systemic cruelty and inhumane treatment of animals in our (non-religious) system: cows are bolted multiple times in the head before being dismembered alive; poultry on conveyor belts have their heads dipped into electrocution baths; and pigs are tortured while in crowded pens. And I asked why our meat-industry lobby forced a rule change over a decade ago allowing for multiple animals to be present when one is slaughtered (this is forbidden in halal/kosher).
Animal Aid’s ‘Behind Closed Doors’ report recorded a breach of welfare rules in eight out of the nine slaughter houses that they monitored. Why, with so many other animal rights issues, focus on the methods of Muslims and Jews who run, as Hargreaves conceded ‘a very tight ship’? Intolerance and prejudice comes in many forms.
It is vital that animal welfare organizations look sincerely at the topic and unite with religious groups to lobby for improvements in our meat-processing industry. Religious slaughter is not the problem, it never has been, and by focusing on it the real problems go unresolved.
Intolerance and prejudice? Robin Hargreaves may well have congratulated you on running a ‘tight ship’, but two months ago the incoming BVA president, John Blackwell, called for all religious slaughter to be banned because, as he said, cutting the throats of conscious animals causes unnecessary suffering. Science or prejudice?
The RSPCA also calls for a ban. Animal welfare or prejudice? Switzerland, Sweden and Norway have banned it and just recently, Poland and Denmark, too. Are their parliaments prejudiced? And as for ‘hoodwinking’ people, New Zealand must be the global champion as it is the world’s largest exporter of halal meat and prestuns every animal. It is then imported by Iran, Malaysia, Saudi, Kuwait, Egypt, Syria and Jordan – all staunchly Muslim countries.
The slaughterhouse workers that Viva! interviewed were shocked by halal slaughter. Their common complaint was about the ill-treatment of animals, blunt knives and hacking at animals’ throats. Perhaps it is not surprising, as any Muslim can kill an animal and no training is offered or required.
Having succeeded in getting home (unlicensed) slaughter banned in Britain, Viva! had to follow British sheep to France to see what happened to them at the Muslim festival of Eid-el-Kabir. In a large public gathering we saw tethered sheep being dragged by their fleeces and killed, skinned and disembowelled in front of other tethered sheep. We filmed conscious sheep literally being hacked at with kitchen knives and taking minutes to die.
The call for a ban on halal and kosher slaughter is predicated on a number of things. First, there is little or no fully evidenced scientific research to support that it is any more painful than standard slaughter when carried out professionally and competently. Second, if animal welfare is at the heart of this argument, then we must focus on the real problems of mass animal slaughter in our meat industry. Third, these arguments rear their ugly heads when we see a rise in far-right views in the West – views which regard religious orthodoxy as something alien, of the ‘other’ and something to avoid, not something upon which we founded modern society.
There is no denying that it is bloody and unnerving to see a creature slaughtered, but done humanely it expels the toxins and diseases that are also carried. With animal welfare and care such a vital issue today, it provides a balance between healthier, cleaner and better quality meat, animal husbandry and the needs of people consuming the meat. In fact, there has been a huge rise in people choosing halal and kosher meat – I believe it is cleaner and tastes better.
We all need to look at how much meat we eat. Meat consumption is unsustainably high and we need to eat less. Do halal standards need to improve? Absolutely. However, aside from your view that all slaughter is wrong, the examples you cite are of people not following Islamic principles of halal slaughter, rather than of abiding by them. We need reform.
Halal does not only apply to the slaughter method. It is a system that encompasses the sustainable rearing of animals, organic and ethical methods of feeding, care and processing, and also the regulation of abattoirs and those carrying out the slaughters.
Professionally prepared non-stun halal is the best kite mark that I can conceive of for British meat. For those who eat meat, it is the way of the future.