Do Supermarkets sell Religiously Slaughtered Meat?
Tesco and Asda
In March 2000, both Tesco and Asda began selling halal meat. Viva! contacted both supermarkets to ask whether or not the animals were prestunned.
Asda initially replied: “In answer to your question, the animals are not stunned or rendered unconscious. I am sorry if you find this offensive or upsetting, however, in this modern age we listen to all of our customers and are trying to meet all of their needs, regardless of race.”
Following protests, Asda’s position changed. On 14 March 2001, Viva! was told: “Halal lamb is slaughtered at the ABP plant in Bathgate using the head only electro-stun method. For chicken, the abattoir used is Wintertons of Reading, pre-stunning of animals takes place by way of an electric water bath.”
Tesco’s customer service department originally told Viva! over the telephone that, “stunning is not used at all anywhere in the process.”
Following protests, Tesco’s position changed and they assured Viva! that animals destined for halal meat were, in fact, pre-stunned. In August 2000, the company wrote to Viva! and said,
“I am writing to inform you that Tesco plan to re-launch a range of Halal sheep and chicken products during August 2000.
“I wish to inform you and all your members that Tesco Stores Ltd does not allow any meat to be sold in our stores that has not received a humane slaughter. It is for this reason that we have invested a significant amount of time in this project, working with our suppliers, MLC, Bristol University and the Halal Food Authority, to develop a system of slaughter which is both satisfactory to the Halal Authorities and ensures we maintain our strict policy of not allowing the sale of any meat which has not received pre-slaughter stunning.
“The system we have in place has been developed to allow the sheep/chickens to receive an electrical head only stun, sufficient to render the animal unconscious until death, but which still meets Muslim requirements.”
In January 2001, Viva! wrote to the other major supermarkets and asked:
· Do you sell halal or kosher meat?
· Are the animals stunned before being knifed?
Somerfield state, “Particularly with regard to religious slaughter our position is quite clear, and that is that no animal slaughtered by religious slaughter will be processed into meat for Somerfield to sell as fresh beef or lamb. We have imposed this for a number of years.”
On 24 August 2001, Quality Assurance Executive Stephen Ridge explained the position in an email to Viva!: “Our control over our meat suppliers is good and I am confident that we comply with this position. There is no way that you can tell from viewing a carcass whether it has been ritually slaughtered or not. It is only by knowing the suppliers and controlling what they do that I can give this assurance.”
Waitrose say that: "we do not sell ritually slaughtered meat."
Sainsbury say: “We do not sell Sainsbury’s halal or kosher meat. Ritual slaughter without adequate stunning is not permitted in any plant processing for Sainsbury’s. The presence of equipment or slaughter licenses for religious slaughter will be taken as potential lapses against Sainsbury’s requirements.”
Marks & Spencer say:“Marks & Spencer does not sell any Kosher or Halal meat or meat products.”
The Co-op say: “No ‘red’ meat plant supplying Co-operative Retail is permitted to carry out any form of religious slaughter. However, in the case of white meat, with the multi-racial population in the UK, it can be the case the poultry suppliers will undertake religious slaughter within the abattoir. However, as with all of our red meat, we insist that all chickens, turkeys and ducks used to produce Co-op Brand poultry products are slaughtered only after being rendered unconscious first. The correct stunning of animals is a prerequisite of supplying Co-op Retail.”
With regards to non-own brand products: “Regrettably we are not able to lay down specifications for non-own brand products to provide the controls we are able to exercise on our own brand range. However, it is fair to say that the majority of meat and poultry sold through our stores is under our own brand.”
The UK law on slaughter was originally altered to allow animals to be killed by religious methods for consumption by Jews and Muslims in the UK. However, millions of tonnes of lamb and mutton are being exported to the Middle East and other Islamic countries (as was cattle meat before BSE). When too many animals are killed for export, they are instead sold on the open market in Britain, unlabelled. This practice is taking advantage of the original intention of the law; the export of religiously slaughtered meat should be stopped. No animals should be exported live for religious slaughter in other countries. (Of course, the live export of any animal for meat is cruel and completely unnecessary.) In Germany and Portugal, religiously slaughtered meat cannot be exported.
NB: During the year 2001, live animals or meat exports from the UK were stopped because of foot-and-mouth.
Other countries have already legislated for animals killed for Muslims and Jews to be stunned. For example, religious slaughter is forbidden on conscious animals in Switzerland (except poultry), Sweden and Norway (31). In Denmark, Muslims accept the stunning of cattle with the captive bolt pistol. In Finland, religious slaughter is only permitted if the animals are stunned immediately after they have been cut.
New Zealand is the world’s largest exporter of halal-slaughtered sheep meat. All sheep are given a head-only electrical stun. In promotional literature, the New Zealand Meat Producers Board says that, “the slaughter methods adopted have been favourably commented on by delegations from the Islamic Republic of Iran, Malaysia, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, Syria and Jordan.”
|Country||Law allows for||Other information|
|UK||Exemption from stunning must be used for cattle||Upright restraining pen|
|Austria||Muslims must stun prior to slaughter. Exemption in some areas for Jews|
|Belgium||Exemption from stunning|
|Denmark||Exemption for Jewish slaughter, but have to stun cattle after the throat is cut. Muslims stun cattle with captive bolt pistol. Lambs, goats and poultry do not have to be stunned.|
|Finland||Animals must be stunned immediately after they have been cut.|
|France||Exemption from stunning|
|Germany||Exemption from stunning||Religiously slaughtered meat is only for consumption by local communities and cannot be exported|
|Greece||Exemption from stunning|
|Italy||Exemption from stunning|
|Ireland||Exemption from stunning|
|Luxembourg||Exemption from stunning||No religious slaughter because no demand for such meat|
|Netherlands||Exemption from stunning|
|Norway||All animals must be stunned prior to slaughter|
|Portugal||Exemption from stunning||Not exported|
|Spain||All animals except goats and sheep have to be stunned before their throats are cut|
|Sweden||All animals must be stunned prior to slaughter|
|Switzerland||All animals, except poultry, must be stunned prior to slaughter|
|Australia||Exemption from stunning; Weinberg pens still in use but Muslim slaughter of calves forbidden and calves under 70 kilos must be stunned post-cut in Jewish slaughter|
|Canada||Exemption from stunning||Some Muslims accept stunning|
|New Zealand||Animals must be stunned prior to slaughter||New Zealand is the worldÍs largest of halal slaughtered sheep meat. Sheep are given a head-only electrical stun.|
|USA||Exemption from stunning|
The Board of Deputies of British Jews and Council of Christians and Jews maintain that Shechita is the most humane way to kill a farmed animal and that stunning itself can be a painful process if not done properly (16, 17). However, even if stunning were done properly, Jews would not use it because they believe that it causes a 'physical defect prior to the Shechita cut' making the meat trefar (unfit for Jewish consumption).
Viva! agrees that stunning is often painful and frequently does not work. Mainstream (or non-religious) slaughter is anything but humane. In particular, electrical stunning and gassing as methods of stunning are a huge cause of concern. However, if done properly, the captive bolt pistol does render the animal insensible to pain more quickly and effectively than the religious methods of slaughter.
Viva! believes that slicing the throat of a conscious animal is inhumane and cruel and causes fear and pain.
In fact the reason many state that mainstream slaughter is cruel is precisely because the stunning does not work or because it is not done at all (as is often the case with lambs) and so the animals have their throats cut while fully conscious.
The government’s Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) state that "...religious methods of slaughter, even when carried out in ideal conditions, must result in a degree of pain, suffering and distress..".
A main reason given in support of religious slaughter without stunning is that loss of feeling is immediate. However, this is not the case. FAWC also says: "loss of consciousness following severance of the major blood vessels in the neck is not immediate".
The animal will often remain conscious after his or her throat is cut for 30 seconds to several minutes. During this time the animal is in extreme pain and distress. Even scientists who spend their working lives studying slaughter agree that the basic requirement for a less painful death is that the animal is stunned before throat cutting.
Other common faults with religious slaughter are that birds can be crated, without food or water, for many hours. In the bleeding room, birds are thrown or rammed into the bleeding cones when their throats are cut. The so-called advantage of religious slaughter that birds are handled individually and so treated more kindly is not borne out by observation.
In Jewish slaughter the Shochet examines the thoracic cavity of cattle and sheep for signs of abnormalities. The FAWC found that this examination can take place too quickly - the hand being plunged into the body while the animal was alive. There can be no excuse for this cruelty.
Viva! believes that the act of taking the life of an animal for selfish reasons can never be classed as humane; slaughter is not an act of kindness. It is also clear that cruelty and brutality are the norm in slaughterhouses. Even I M Levinger, veterinary physiologist and supporter of Shechita, states:
"The terms humane and slaughter represent a paradox. Slaughter cannot be humane by any method, for slaughter is cruel."
Remember the statements from experienced slaughtermen? For example,
"With Halal the rules are just ignored. Sheep are dragged long distances to the slaughter cradle, they're forced on to their backs which is highly stressful and they're usually cut with blunt knives...."
"I have seen a lot of religious slaughter over the years and no one will convince me that it is painless. The way the animal kicks out at the kicking pad in the killing box shows that and anyone who has ever seen it would know that to make such claims is a lie. As for the claim that the animal dies instantly - utter nonsense. It can take a very long time and often they're disembowelled before they're even unconscious let alone dead".
It is claimed by The Board of Deputies of British Jews that an animal should not have physical defects before slaughter. Why then was the rotary casting pen ever allowed? This pen turned the animal upside down and its head was often held down by the slaughterman's foot. These pens caused "terror" (according to the FAWC), great discomfort and bruising. And yet the meat was passed as Kosher.
Furthermore, Jewish rules state that blood must be removed from an animal for Jewish consumption. It is impossible to drain blood from the capillaries and those Jewish people who truly do not want to consume blood, could easily avoid doing so by becoming vegetarian. Some say that the blood is removed by soaking and salting, or boiling over an open flame, however according to Philip Pick (founder of the Jewish Vegetarian Society) this is self-delusion - for although the blood is no longer liquid, it remains in a solidified form.
The ridding of blood is an important issue. It is a reason why Jewish and some Muslim slaughter involves cutting the throat of a conscious animal. It is falsely asserted by some Jews and Muslims that by stunning or by killing the animal before his/her throat is cut that less blood will be lost. Scientific studies have shown this to be untrue.
It is clear that both Jewish and Islamic teachings are based on compassion towards animals. Many respected voices of both the Muslim and Jewish faiths state that the modern methods of factory farming mean that animal products should not be eaten at all. Rabbi Zalman Schachter questions the kashrut, for example, of eggs raised in the "concentration camp conditions" of contemporary battery units. The original teachings of both faiths are wonderful - based on charity, mercy, kindness. According to Jews, God only allows meat consumption because of human weakness. God's ideal world is vegetarian.
The Prophet Mohammed emphasises again and again that animals must be treated with compassion. Religious slaughter originated at times when people cut off the limbs of living animals to eat and kept the animals alive to kill another day. It developed to protect animals and for hygiene reasons. However, no other options were available at the time.
Surely God did not mean for billions of animals to be factory farmed, genetically engineered, exported and killed in barbaric abattoirs? It is surprising that broiler chickens, with their deformed, oversized bodies and broken legs are passed fit to eat by Orthodox Jews and Muslims.
Most of us know (though few may want to accept) that human beings are healthier as vegetarians/vegans. Furthermore, the World Health Organisation states that a diet based on meat and dairy consumption is unhealthy, inefficient in terms of numbers of people that it can feed and environmentally disastrous. WHO states: "Diets associated with increases in chronic diseases are those rich in sugar, meat and other animal products." If meat and dairy consumption are not lowered, heart disease and cancer will be "established as major health problems in every country in the world." WHO also say: "Policies should be geared towards the growing of plant foods and to limiting the promotion of fat containing products....The West's agricultural policies have influenced the rest of the world. Entrenched farming and industrial interests will not welcome a policy encouraging people to consume only modest amounts of meat and milk." How perceptive! Finally: "Farming policies which do not rely on intensive animal production would reduce the world demand for cereals. Use of land could be reappraised since cereal consumption by the population is much more efficient than dedicating large areas to growing feed for meat production." (43)
The WHO is the most well-respected and august health body in the world and yet their earth shattering report was diligently ignored by the media. However, it shows that those who state that although all slaughter is cruel it must continue because humans need meat (eg Levinger), are entirely wrong.
The Muslim Vegan and Vegetarian Society, UK, says that it is incumbent on every Muslim to try to be healthy and respect one's body so that she or he can pray to Allah wholeheartedly. They assert that as meat eating is a major cause of disease it prevents many Muslims from performing their "real function as to why we are in this world i.e. to pray to Allah with our whole being and not part of it" (as happens when ill). They also believe that meat eating shows a lack of compassion for animals and fellow humans - as it is a cause of famine.
The Jewish Vegetarian and Ecological Society, UK, also states that there are five Jewish principles that support Jewish vegetarianism: pikuach nefesh (guard your health); tsa'ar balei chaim (do not cause suffering to living creatures); bal tashchit (do not waste resources); tzedakah (act with charity) and klal Israel (do not separate yourself from the community of Israel). (44)
The Count Gentile, Patron of the Jewish Vegetarian and Ecological Society, UK recently said:
"I, along with many other Jews find Shechita both offensive and barbaric. It is not that one considers any other form of killing to be right but that it is depressing that we have not progressed as a chosen people from these primitive instincts and practices.
"It is an obscenity to involve the name of G-d as one's excuse, not only to kill a sentient being but to placate one's conscience. How can anyone who deliberately takes life from the innocent and cloaks the act in the name of G-d be considered to have any compassion at all?
"We as Jews, and indeed other like-minded people, must eradicate this primitive urge that longs for the irrational and the selfish and promote instead the compassionate, humanitarian and intellectual side - which is the only way to progress if we are to bring peace with each other, and live in harmony with the world and our fellow creatures." (45)
It is Viva!'s stance that there is no excuse for slaughter at all - whether or not in the name of a God who teaches mercy, compassion and the sanctity of life. There is irrefutable evidence that the religious slaughter of conscious animals is cruel and inhumane and should therefore be banned. It is hoped that compassionate Jewish and Muslim individuals will lead the reform and in the light of the findings of this report, that many more will become vegetarian.
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