Viva! has interviewed experienced slaughtermen to discover whether the stated procedures above are adhered to and to find out the reality of religious slaughter. These men have many decades of experience in killing animals and observing different methods of slaughter. We have also referred to the eminent Farm Animal Welfare Council's (government advisory body) report on religious slaughter (11); to published scientific studies and to video evidence.
The slaughtermen will be referred to by first name only in this report.
"I've been in the trade for 30 years and religious slaughter is unbelievably cruel, no doubt about it.
"Corruption is incredible in abattoirs. A Shochet (Jewish slaughterer) might knock out 20 steers but will pass only 10 as kosher. The other 10 are sold as ordinary beef but not labelled. They won't eat anything below the kidneys so two-thirds of every beast is also sold on the ordinary market. If abattoir owners see a good quality kosher animal on the line they will swap it for a non-kosher one so that they can sell it and make more money. So it's all a complete bloody nonsense - all this insistence that the animals are cut while conscious and half the time the meat Jews are eating isn't kosher at all.
"They claim the animal dies instantly but I have seen animals trying to get up at least a minute after they were cut.
"The handling of the animals before slaughter is also cruel. The upright pens are better than the casting pens, but are still cruel."
"I work in a big metropolitan slaughterhouse where they do kosher slaughter and I've seen animals still trying to get up two minutes after they're cut and released from the crush. There is no way they die instantly - ever.
"My experience of Halal is even worse. The slaughterers often come in with knives that are so blunt they're like bread saws. They saw away at the animal's throat and haven't got a clue if they're severing the arteries or not. They don't know what they're doing and usually don't have a knife sharpener and ask us to sharpen their knives for them.”
"Kosher slaughter is unbelievably cruel - I've seen animals still conscious up to five minutes after slaughter.
Even when stunning is supposed to be used:
"When you're on piece work, the other blokes are chasing you and they don't want any delays. Welfare doesn't come into it. It's - get them killed. Good use of a pistol depends on your manoeuvrability. Lambs jump about all over the place and are difficult to hit. Because of that they are often shackled and hauled up before being cut. Often they don't bother to stun them at all.
"Cows move around when they're in the killing pen and often don't go down first shot. With bulls they often have a thick skull and take more than one shot - and often the gun doesn't work anyway".
"The people who worry me are the ones who shut their minds off. There are some very sick people in the game. At the place where I worked the animals used to be tortured, an ear cut off or an eye out and it had to be a slaughterman but he was never caught and no one was too interested.
"My experience is that meat inspectors are corrupt and open to bribery. They found several things wrong with the slaughterhouse and threatened to close it down. They were paid off and everything went on the same as before.
"There is no concern for the animals because welfare all takes too long if things are done properly. People want cheap meat and the animals pay the price. And where I mostly worked were council run ones which are supposed to be the best.
"I've seen some terrible things. A cow gave birth as she came off the lorry and was just dragged through and killed. The farmer took the calf back with him.
"The speed is so great now that I've seen cows cut up before they're unconscious.
"In the eyes of the slaughtermen they cease to be animals and killing them is just another job. They have no feelings and nothing matters - just get to the end of the day.
"The only way these men can do their job is because they are not thinking or rational people. It must have been exactly what it was like in the German extermination camps.
"Shechita slaughter is supposed to have come about to protect animals and it probably did - hundreds of years ago. But now it's a joke. All this ritual for what is nothing more than legalised abuse. Anyone who has seen a steer forced into a pen with its head forced up in the air and its neck slashed open couldn't defend it. It's like something from another age".
"With Kosher slaughter, particularly with older cows and bulls, where the hide is thick, it can take some cutting through. It is out of order to cut the throats of conscious animals whether it is religious or not.
"I've seen the old method where they're cast upside down (Weinberg) and it was very stressful. With bulls, I've seen a rope put through the ring in their nose and then through a ring in the floor and pulled back tight. It can take them a long time to die. The new way isn't much better".
Even when animals are supposed to be stunned:
"It's common to shackle lambs upside down while they're still conscious. And I've seen big calves - half the size of a grown cow - shackled while still alive and hauled up and cut fully conscious. It's not uncommon.
"I find it very hard when I think back on what I've done. All animals should be stunned properly before they're killed.
"I started when I was nine years old (early thirties now) ~ I got out when I had children. It changes your attitude to life".
Is a senior meat industry spokesperson who has been involved in slaughter from the age of eight - in a family butchers and slaughterhouse.
"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".
Even when animals are meant to be stunned:
"It is commonplace that lambs are not stunned - that is my experience.
"The inspectors all work to the same end - let's get them killed, let's get it done then we can get gone and go home! That's all they're interested in and they allow anything that speeds up the process.
"It is not uncommon for someone to take five or six shots to drop an animal - it happens on a daily basis in every slaughterhouse. The slaughterman is on an insecure platform, the animal is moving its head and they frequently place the pistol in the wrong position".
"I have been working for well over forty years and that's a lot of killing. I have seen Kosher and Halal carried out in many different places and I've assisted. It disgusts me.
"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. At least Jews shave the fleece away from the neck so it doesn't blunt the knife and make it difficult to cut but Muslims don't bother. They're have been lots of occasions when I've given the bloke my knife.
"Jewish Shechita slaughter is just a sick joke. They claim they kill with one cut but with the bigger animals it never is. The Shochet slices backwards and forwards and it can take as many as 20 cuts and the animal obviously feels real pain. It can take minutes to lose consciousness.
"A lot depends on the individual Shochet. I usually stand by with a captive bolt pistol and he makes the cuts. I have to wait and watch while the animal bleeds. Some Shochatim will wait for 30 seconds or more before allowing me to stun the animals, others will signal to me after a couple of seconds. How the hell can it make any difference to anyone whether their meat comes from an animal that is stunned two seconds before it is cut or two seconds afterwards?
"Rabbis claim that it is painless and death comes instantly. They used to claim the same for the Weinberg pen. Just imagine a huge animal like a steer or a bull being placed in a crush and cranked upside down onto its back. The fear and stress are enormous. They struggled like crazy and sometimes the only way you could extend the neck so they could cut was to stand on the animals chin - and sometimes it took two of you. They used to say there was nothing wrong with this but it was a lie - it was unbelievably cruel. Now they say there's nothing wrong with the upright crushes but there is. In fact the Shochet is cutting upwards, working against gravity and with a weaker set of arm muscles. It therefore makes the cut much weaker and often means more of them.
"Ritual slaughter should be banned - there is no excuse for it.”
Viva! has obtained video evidence, filmed officially, of two bullocks being killed by the Jewish slaughter method. Viva! has been told on several occasions that cattle are killed by one stroke across the neck and that the animal collapses almost immediately, however this is not the case.
The bullock's neck is extended and the head lifted upwards by a chin lift in an upright pen. The animal's nostrils are flaring, eyes staring and he is salivating. The slaughterer cuts the bullock's throat by slicing across it, backwards and forwards 13 times. The bullock jerks away from the knife as far as he can and his facial reaction shows pain and great aversion. The bullock does not collapse immediately (the filming ends before he does).
Again, the bullock's neck is extended and the head lifted upwards by a chin lift in an upright pen. After three strokes the blood pours out; the chin lift which supports the head is removed, but the animal does not collapse. He is clearly conscious as the blood gushes from his gaping wound. His eyes are seeing, his ears moving and he holds his head upright. The captive bolt is used on him after 30 seconds, but he still does not collapse. He is still managing to hold his head up without any support after 50 seconds when the filming is stopped.
Did the video footage show legal slaughtering methods?
The slaughter shown in Case 1 formed part of Viva!’s Sentenced to Death video, which exposed cruelty in both mainstream and religious slaughter. Viva! submitted this footage to the Meat Hygiene Service in August 2000.
MHS Chief Executive Chris Lawson responded, “With regard to the video footage of a bovine being slaughtered using Shechita methods, we can confirm that the slaughter of this bovine was in compliance with the relevant legislation applicable to slaughter by a religious method. Such methods do not always render animals immediately unconscious. However, they do have to be carried out by licensed slaughterers.” (53)
This confirms that the extreme suffering we have on film is legal and strengthens our case for a ban on Shechita slaughter methods.
Chris Day MRCVS viewed our video footage of Shechita slaughter and comments:
“The religious slaughter appears clearly to show an animal standing and fully conscious, pouring blood from the carotid artery area, having had its throat cut. This method of killing will inevitably cause pain and distress. I join Viva! in calling for stunning, prior to such procedures, to be made compulsory.”
The Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) is a government advisory body set up by MAFF (the predecessor to DEFRA, the Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs) in 1979. It has examined the question of religious slaughter twice within the last twenty years and its most recent investigation of the issue led to its call in July 2003 for slaughter without prestunning to be banned. In 1985 its members visited six red meat slaughterhouses (three Jewish, three Muslim) and seven poultry slaughterhouses (five Jewish, two Muslim). Some were visited twice. Considering the visits were pre-arranged (so you would expect procedures to be tightened) the results were very disturbing.
Cutting the Animals
With mainstream slaughter an animal is usually bled out after stunning by a stab incision into the major blood vessels anterior to the heart. In religious slaughter, the cut is across the neck from one side to the other and is meant to sever the major blood vessels.
However, it was seen that in Muslim slaughter, expertise varied hugely. Sometimes the head was almost cut off, other times the knife was not sharp enough. The latter was also a common complaint amongst the slaughtermen that Viva! interviewed. The situation seems to have changed little over the last three decades, as experienced meat vet HE Bywater observed in the 1960's that "(A Muslim) can use whatever knife he has available.....Muslim slaughter....is often performed by a person with very limited experience.....Moreover, as the Muslim ritual requires that, during the ceremony, a prayer must be repeated three times, some Muslims apparently think that the throat should be severed in three stages as opposed to the rapid single, to and fro, movement of the Jews." (4)
Obviously, a blunt knife makes it very difficult to cut the throat of an animal and leads to even greater and prolonged distress, fear and pain.
The knife wasn't always sharpened before each animal was killed, nor was it always sterilised, as are meant to be the case.
The FAWC observed that the single transverse cut (often described as one clean cut) demanded by Jews means in practice a backwards and forwards stroke. Even when knowingly observed, one Jewish slaughterman made seven backwards and forwards strokes, using a sawing action which was "clearly in contravention of the Shochet's training." As described above, the Viva! film shows a Shochet making 13 strokes; and slaughtermen confirm this to be the norm.
Muslims and Jews who defend religious slaughter say that cutting the throat does not cause pain. The Islamic Medical Association go as far as saying that cutting the throat of a cow is little different in terms of pain than a man nicking himself shaving! (37). However, many other scientists disagree. Applied neurobiologist Dr Harold Hillman, former reader in Physiology, University of Surrey states that "the restraint and sudden exposure of the neck must be stressful and the neck incision painful." (47)
Another common complaint is that animals are shackled too quickly after their throat has been cut and so were hoisted when still conscious. Animals suffer terrible distress and pain (exacerbated when the legs are broken as is often the case with chickens) being hung upside down. On one occasion, the FAWC saw a cow recoil when the Shochet tried to shackle her.
As previously described, in Jewish slaughter the Shochet examines the thoracic cavity for signs of abnormalities. The FAWC found that this examination took place less than one minute after the animal's throat was cut.
In many cases it was observed that the hand was plunged into the body while the animal was alive.
To recap, in Jewish slaughter, the animal has his/her throat cut while fully conscious; the knife may slice back and forth across the neck many times; then the animal may be shackled, hoisted, cut though his/her body and have a hand feeling inside the body cavity while he or she is still capable of feeling.
A considerable amount of force is needed to restrain a sheep on the slaughtering cradle. Obviously, the animal feels fear at being placed on her back, having men hold down her head so the neck is exposed and in many cases knowing her fate, as many sheep are slaughtered in front of their fellows.
The FAWC observed some Muslims using the electric tongs on sheep to stun them; however they generally did not hold them on long enough, causing pain and temporary paralysis, the result being sheep that were easier to handle, but also still able to feel.
Most poultry going for religious slaughter are from the 'spent hen' (ex-egg layers) trade. In other words, they are battery hens who have spent 18 months to two years in a cage so small they cannot even stretch their wings ~ one of the cruellest systems ever invented. This system itself is against the teachings of Islam and the Jewish faith and their followers kill the birds, hoping they have God's blessing.
The FAWC state: "Although both communities claim that the welfare of animals is of paramount importance in their religious teaching, the handling of poultry in particular leaves a great deal to be desired." Birds can be crated, without food or water, for many hours. In one Muslim abattoir, the birds’ heads were put through an electric water bath where the voltage was set deliberately low so that the animals did not appear dead from the stun. In fact, by definition they weren't stunned. They were being given a painful electric shock and then, still fully conscious, having their throats slit.
In both Jewish and Muslim cases the FAWC were concerned at the rough way in which birds were removed from their crates. Also in the bleeding room, birds were being thrown or rammed into the bleeding cones when their throat was cut. The FAWC says: "The fact that we were informed on one of our visits that one of the advantages of religious slaughter compared to slaughter on a fast-moving shackle line was that birds were handled individually and could therefore be treated more kindly and humanely was not borne out by what we observed."
When FAWC revisited this question for their 2003 Report on the Welfare of farmed Animals at Slaughter or Killing (58), their conclusions were even more stark.. The report covered every aspect of the slaughter of red meat animals from abattoir design to killing techniques. On the question of religious slaughter, FAWC bluntly dismissed claims that the use of a very sharp knife in the hands of a skilled operator means that halal and shechita killing is humane. They wrote: “When a very large transverse incision is made across the neck, a number of vital tissues are transected . . . We are persuaded that such a massive injury would result in very significant pain and distress in the period before insensibility supervenes” (Para 195).
In 1985, Fawc stated: “When animals are being slaughtered their welfare is paramount and loss of sensibility should be immediate. It is clear to us, from our study of currently available work and our own observations, that loss of consciousness following severance of the major blood vessels in the neck is not immediate.
"We have not been convinced by arguments that direct cutting of the throat when carried out speedily and efficiently causes the animal no more suffering than if had been effectively stunned......(there are shortcomings in stunning and these should be rectified), but the fact remains that in our view humane slaughter can best be achieved by effective stunning."
In 2003, they went further, concluding that religious slaughter violated the principle of inducing “unconsciousness without distress” and that “as the exemption for religious slaughter is subject to the requirement that unnecessary suffering should not be inflicted . . . Council considers that slaughter without stunning is unacceptable and that the Government should repeal the current exemption” (Para 201).
FAWC’s expertise and professionalism is unquestioned in official circles and their contribution effectively closes the book on the welfare implications of this kind of slaughter. FAWC also, however, recommended that steps should be taken to enable the repeal of the stunning exemption for religious slaughter when they reported on the matter in 1985. No action was taken by the Government at that time or by any Government since. The present Government’s response to FAWC’s most recent call is still awaited at the time of going to press. DEFRA informed Viva! on 17 July 2003 that they had not had time to evaluate FAWC’s recommendations.
The UK government has not acted on this recommendation or even made an official response as yet. However, as religious slaughter methods are illegal in mainstream (non-religious) slaughter, obviously, the UK government believe that religious slaughter involves more cruelty. The standard response from the Government’s Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (2003) is:
"Although the Government would prefer that all animals are stunned before slaughter, it recognises the needs of certain communities and accepts the importance which they attach to the right to slaughter animals for food in accordance with their beliefs. . . . When, for reasons of religion, animals are not stunned, the operation must be carried out without unnecessary suffering and in compliance with specific controls. Religious slaughter may only take place in licensed slaughterhouses and these rules are monitored and enforced by Official Veterinary Surgeons.” (59)
The Humane Slaughter Association (HSA) states that it “seeks the most humane methods of slaughter for all animals and believes this can only be achieved if they are stunned before being stuck and bled". The HSA campaigned in support of two Private Members' Bills in 1956 and 1968 and Lord Somer's Bill in the House of Lords, which sought to remove exemptions in the law for religious slaughter. These Bills were defeated. (15)
The scientific evidence that unconsciousness is far from immediate following cutting of the throat is overwhelming. Professor Donald Broom, specialist in farm animal behaviour, University of Cambridge says:
"Animals are not stunned during the Jewish Shechita or the Muslim Halal religious slaughter procedures. There is a period of consciousness after the throat is cut which may last for 30 seconds to several minutes during which the animal must be in great pain and distress. As the heart still beats after stunning and blood drains from the animal just as effectively whether or not the animal is stunned there is no logical reason why stunning should not be carried out before the throat is cut." (35)
Scientists such as Professor Broom and many others reject the
serious suggestion by the Islamic Medical Association that cutting the throat of an animal is practically the same as people voluntarily giving blood as a blood donor! The IMA said:
"A blood donor does not feel pain when he is bled.....The difference is that instead of a needle a sharp knife is used to bleed".
The collapse of an animal after cutting the major blood vessels in the neck is caused by cerebral shock due to the sudden fall in pressure of the cerebro-spinal fluid and is not due to lack of oxygen in the blood flow to the brain. The animal may collapse five to 10 seconds after the throat is cut - so long as the major vessels are severed properly or occlusions do not occur (see below). The animal loses consciousness after it has collapsed. There are varying opinions on when the animal stops being able to feel.
Scientific experiments measure the onset of loss of consciousness through observing physical behaviour, spontaneous electroencephalogram (EEG) and evoked responses in the electrocorticogram (ECoG) (22,23,24,25). Cattle stop trying to right themselves between 21 and 47 seconds after the carotids are cut (22); the EEG indicates that there is sensibility for two to 5.2 minutes after cutting in cattle. (Other scientists argue that the EEG is not an accurate measure of the state of consciousness - but theirs is a theory yet to be proven.) Generally, scientists suggest that cattle can take anything from 25 to 90 seconds to lose consciousness after the neck has been cut.
D.K. Blackmore (22) of the Dept. of Veterinary Pathology and Public Health, Massey University, New Zealand who has published many papers on slaughter states:
"A BASIC requirement for humane slaughter is that an animal should be rendered insensible before exsanguination (bleeding) is initiated and this should last until the animal becomes permanently insensible from cerebral anoxia."
Blackmore studied the behaviour of sheep and cattle after being cut; he found that sheep lose consciousness more quickly than cattle. Lambs collapsed after an average of 2.6 seconds and stopped attempting to stand after 10 seconds (not being able to stand does not mean inability to feel); in contrast calves were standing up to 135 seconds after their throat was cut and were attempting to stand up to 385 seconds after that. Even though the calves had both carotid arteries and jugular veins severed three out of four were breathing up to 11.6 minutes later and so were shot. Lambs were gasping for up to 3.8 minutes after carotid arteries and jugular veins were cut. A bull was killed by the Jewish method and was still gasping sporadically for seven minutes after his carotid arteries, jugular veins, oesophagus and trachea were cut.
A huge problem is that millions of animals bleed slowly. Anil et al (21) say: "It is well recognised that unstunned calves which bleed poorly can take a long time to die." It takes more than five minutes for the animals to stop trying to stand normally.
Animals bleed slowly when (21):
1. There is occlusion [blockage] of the cut artery by surrounding tissues (the artery is elastic and can spring back into its connective tissue sheath on being cut).
2. Blood platelets stick together at the end of the cut artery (this leads to the rapid production of a white clot which can plug the artery).
3. The cut is made and the artery goes into spasm.
All three factors tend to restrict blood flow from the cut and can produce a ballooning effect in the severed vessel. Here, the blood goes into the connective tissue sheaths surrounding the artery. The ends can balloon up within 5 seconds of the cut (21). Several studies have shown that this ballooning effect is common (up to 40%) resulting in delay of brain failure and blood pressure being held for longer. Arterial occlusions occurred in half of the calves killed by Anil et al by Halal methods of cutting the carotid arteries and jugular veins. In some of these animals, vertebral artery blood flow was maintained at about one-third of its normal level for approx. 3 minutes (21). Therefore, animals do not lose consciousness immediately. Occasionally cattle have staggered to their feet after being cut and walked some distance before collapsing.
Scientific papers have commonly reported this phenomenon in their results recently and throughout the last century. Back in 1900 Hoffman describes a 12 year old cow lying on the floor for 20 seconds after Shechita. 70 seconds later she lifted her head for 20 seconds. Also, a three year old bull remained standing after Shechita for two and a half minutes, afterwards he fell to the ground but still looked around, slowly bleeding to death.
Ballooning occurs more commonly when blunt knives are used and so is a greater problem with Muslim slaughter. However, it does occur for other reasons when sharp knives are used (though to a lesser degree) and so happens in Jewish slaughter.
It is also a problem in mainstream slaughter as, for example, calves start to regain consciousness between 21 and 59 seconds after electrical stunning (21).
Slaughter expert HE Bywater who witnessed animal slaughter over several years said: "upholders of the Jewish ritual maintain that unconsciousness follows within a few seconds of the ritual cut due to anaemia of the brain, this is not invariably so as experience in the slaughterhouse has shown."
Bywater's observations lead him to conclude that: "a state of diminished consciousness or semi-consciousness follows soon after the large blood vessels are severed, but that thereafter consciousness can, and does, return in a number of animals - adult cattle, sheep and calves....
"The blood vessels which supply the brain in these animals differ from those which are present in the human and this fact has never been sufficiently appreciated by the eminent medical men who maintain that the Jewish ritual invariably causes immediate loss of sensation in food animals." (4)
Thornton's Textbook of Meat Inspection says:
"A factor of considerable importance, and to which not sufficient attention has been paid in considering the problem of Jewish slaughter, is that after the carotid arteries of cattle are severed transversely, they tend, by virtue of their elasticity, to retract rapidly within their own external connective tissue coat, and as a result the sealing of the cut ends of the vessels may occur. As the blood pressure...is then maintained by the heart, the blood pressure in the vertebral arteries may likewise be maintained at a substantial level and unconsciousness therefore delayed".
This explains why "some cattle have regained their feet and walked a considerable distance before they succumbed some minutes later."
The Textbook of Meat Inspection continues: "these occurrences have been attributed to the fact that all the neck vessels may not have been severed completely, but observations lead one to the conclusion that the cut is invariably made dextrously... There is therefore considerable doubt as to whether unconsciousness always follows rapidly in cattle after the severance of the neck vessels, for by the very nature of the neck cut made in Jewish slaughter it is impossible to ensure that self-sealing of the cut ends of the carotid arteries will not occur." (4)
In religious slaughter, the animal's vertebrae, spinal cord and vertebral arteries and veins are not severed. Scientists argue over the significance of this. Some say that one of the reasons some animals take several minutes to lose consciousness is because the vertebral arteries continue to supply blood to the brain after the animal has been cut. Others say that the blood flow from the vertebral arteries is insufficient to maintain the brain's functioning (40). Of course, if occlusions occur, the vertebral arteries can supply enough blood to the brain to keep the animal conscious.
Some scientists argue that measuring evoked responses in the cortex of the brain is the best method to evaluate consciousness. Daly et al (25) showed that evoked responses disappeared instantaneously after the captive bolt pistol was used correctly in cattle. However, after Shechita the cortex was responding to stimuli from 20 seconds to over two minutes.
Eid-ul-Azha, a festival of great spiritual importance in the Islamic Lunar Calendar, has, according to Hamid Ahmad, Pakistan Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, now turned into an event dominated by commercial trading in animals (18). Almost all Muslims (male and female) who can afford to take part in the ritual, will kill, or have killed, a sheep or goat. As an option, says Ahmad, a cow or camel can be jointly slaughtered by seven Muslims. It is celebrated throughout the Islamic world.
This slaughter is described as 'ritual' by Ahmad. He says:
"This religious slaughter is connected with the Muslim festival of Hajj. At Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the largest annual gathering of Muslims takes place to perform the Hajj and the religious slaughter. On this occasion, in Saudi Arabia, the worlds largest slaughter of animals takes place, something like 2 million animals are slaughtered in three consecutive days. Millions of sheep, goats and other live animals are exported from Australia, New Zealand etc. to meet the demand."
"It is a religious preference that the person offering the animal sacrifice should make the cut to the jugulars...with his/her own hands. The second best choice is that the offerer must be present at the time and place of slaughter. Whilst the cut is made, Islamic verses are uttered and the animal is laid down with its face towards Mecca."
Other countries also import live animals for their annual requirements - eg France imports live sheep from Britain for the festival of Eid-el-Kabir.
Under EU law (Council Directive 93/119/EC), it is illegal to slaughter conscious animals outside licensed slaughterhouses. Yet at slaughter sites in France, the authorities turn a blind eye to the illegal killings which take place each year.
In March 2000, Viva! visited one of the Eid-el-Kabir slaughter sites at Stains, nr. Paris. We took video footage of sheep being killed, skinned and disembowelled in front of one another. We filmed conscious sheep being held down and having their throats cut with blunt knives. It typically took several cuts to slice the animals’ throats and they took minutes to die.
The film shows animals being dragged around the shed by the leg, fleece and horns. Animals waiting to be killed have their legs tied together with string and are left lying on the floor. Some sheep struggle and try to stand up. Others lie on the floor, exhausted and gasping for breath.
French police were at the entrance to the site but they did not watch the killing or make any attempt to prevent it from happening.
These sacrifices were in vain - because people did not follow the instructions of the Qur'an. The animals’ throats were not cut with a sharp knife. They could see one another and were not treated with kindness and consideration.
Viva! submitted its video evidence to the European Commission and asked how it intended to ensure that illegal killings did not take place in future. It took more than three months for a response to arrive. We were told by EC Cabinet Member David Byrne: “The Commission is informed about the treatment of the animals during this event. The inadequate slaughterhouse capacities in certain urban areas of France appear to be one of the reasons for the observations made by animal protection organisations with regard to treatment of animals during the festival.
“Treatment of animals which causes suffering during restraint and slaughter is not acceptable. The Commission considers that the French authorities must find a practical solution for the problem concerning slaughterhouse capacity.
“Now that the festivity has passed, I am awaiting a formal report from the French authorities, which I have already requested, before taking further initiatives including, if necessary, the opening of Article 226 infringement procedures.” (54)
In late November 2000, we received a letter from David Byrne’s office stating that the report had been received and that it indicated: “some progress in particular with the aim to reduce the number of outdoor sites and to dissuade Muslim families to use illegal sites.”
However, the letter continues, “the results described are not satisfactory and I have requested the French authorities to elaborate as soon as possible an action plan in order to phase out outdoor sites and to improve the welfare conditions of slaughter starting with next year’s festival. In light of the action plan, future initiatives might be considered including, if necessary, the opening of Article 226 infringement procedures.” (55)
In Viva!’s view, it is wholly inadequate to require France to “phase out” illegal slaughter sites. It appears that the authorities were never prosecuted for allowing the law to be broken - making a mockery of the legislation. These illegal killings have taken place for many years so there has been ample opportunity to end them.
Viva! has also lobbied the UK government to prevent British sheep from being exported live to French slaughter sites for Eid-el-Kabir. In February 2000, Elliot Morley, Minister for Fisheries & the Countryside, said to Viva!, “I agree with you that something needs to be done to prevent a further occurrence of the appalling scenes of cruelty to sheep that have occurred in France in previous years during the festival of Eid-el-Kabir. However we would face very serious practical and legal obstacles if we set out to prevent British sheep from reaching the festival sites. In practical terms, the only effective approach would be to ban all live exports of sheep from Great Britain in the period leading up to the festival. This... would without question be illegal: it would be struck down by the courts and we would have to pay substantial compensation to the traders
Viva! refuses to accept that the government can allow British sheep to be exported for illegal slaughter. We are, of course, opposed to the live export of animals, believing that if the genuine political will existed, the trade could be banned. If EU regulations make it illegal to ban live exports, the government should be taking action to ensure the regulations are changed - something which does not appear to be happening.
Fortunately, in 2001, the illegal killings in France were predominantly prevented by the foot-and-mouth crisis. Because of the ban on exporting animals from the UK, France could not import British sheep at the time of the festival.
However, the annual Eid-el-Kabir massacre has become big business. For example, in Lahore, the second biggest city in Pakistan with a population of 6 million, about 230,000 animals were killed on the eve of Eid-ul-Azha in 1996, worth $42 million - the sums paid out for these sacrificial animals was about $19 million higher than the meat value of these animals in the open market.
There have been calls for an end to the wholesale killing within the Islamic community. An article in the Independent explains that after the sacrifice of an animal, the carcass is supposed to be divided into three parts, one part to be given to the poor; the second to be distributed among relatives and friends, the remainder for personal consumption. The compulsory system of distributing the meat was originally supposed to ensure that, “every member of the community - even the very poor - has something to celebrate on Eid-el-Adha”. (19)
Because of this, apparently, the vast majority of British Muslims now pay through charities for an animal to be slaughtered somewhere in the Third World rather than paying for an animal to be slaughtered for themselves. In 2000, it is estimated that only 60,000 families had sheep slaughtered in the UK.
Article author Fuad Nahdi says that there is a need to reevaluate the annual sacrifice: “British Muslims are addicted to meat. It is estimated that, per capita, we eat at least twice the amount of meat consumed by the average Briton. Among one of the Prophet of Islam’s most succinct counsels to his community was warning them, ‘not to make your stomachs the graveyards of animals’. Most scholars have taken this as a warning against excessive meat consumption. If this is so the British Muslim community is dangerously against a basic Islamic teaching.”
Nahdi continues, “The task of convincing a teetotal community whose social life is almost entirely based around food to restrain from eating meat is almost impossible. Especially when there is hardly a mosque community in the country which does not have a halal butcher in its management committee. Imams, like everyone else, are reluctant to bite the hands that supply the kebabs. If foot-and-mouth disease forces Muslims to eat more vegetables, perhaps some good will emerge from this terrible animal plague.” (19)
When Viva! launched its campaign against the religious slaughter of conscious animals, it was legal for Muslims to purchase animals for home slaughter.
These animals had, in practice, no legal protection. Following Viva!’s campaign, home slaughter was banned.
An amendment to 'The Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulations 1995', states that from 16 March 1999, religious slaughter must be confined to licensed slaughterhouses. (34)
The ban on home slaughter is a welcome, although minimal, step forward for animals. Confining religious slaughter to licensed slaughterhouses does, at least, enable the killing to be monitored in some way.
However, our investigations into the slaughter industry have revealed that the minimal regulations that do exist for animals in abattoirs are routinely flouted and that the inspection system is totally inadequate. We will continue to campaign for an end to religious slaughter and an end to all animal slaughter for meat and dairy products.
As previously discussed, two thirds of all cattle and sheep killed by Jewish slaughter and those carcasses rejected as non-Kosher are sold on the open market. Also animals killed by the Halal method which are not sold to Halal outlets or for export are also sold to the open market. Meat from such animals is not labelled as being the product of religious slaughter, even if the animals have not been stunned before slaughter. The FAWC state that this is legal so long as it was the original intention that the animal should be the food of Muslims or Jews; however, it is never the intention of Jews to eat the hindquarters of the cattle or sheep that they kill.
Inevitably, as animals killed by religious methods can be sold to the general public without labelling, more than are needed for consumption by Jews or Muslims, are killed. In other words, non-labelling of religiously slaughtered animals encourages 'excess' kills by this method.
Bywater said if Kosher meat sold on the open market were labelled: "then doubtless Jews would consume more hindquarter meat, after porging, and this could reduce by 50 per cent the number of animals which at present need to be killed for the kosher trade". (The weight of the hindquarters is heavier then the forequarter. Therefore, if all kosher hindquarters were eaten by Jews there would be available to them double the present weight of meat, even when trefar meat is taken into account.) (4)
Viva! believes that at the very least, all meat should be clearly labelled to identify the method of slaughter. This labelling requirement is a basic consumer right.
Viva!'s call for the labelling of meat is supported by the consumer rights organisation, FLAG (Food Labelling Agenda) and was proposed by the government's advisory body, the Farm Animal Welfare Council, in 1985. DEFRA issued a press release on 19 Sept. 1997 stating "we want (food) to be accurately and honestly described and labelled." If that is true, DEFRA must support our call.
Even if a person believes that the religious slaughter of conscious animals is a 'human right', why should they be allowed to stop the labelling of such meat and thus deny others of their rights to make an informed purchasing choice? And yet, according to a House of Commons Research paper (1998), proposals for labelling have been 'fiercely resisted'.
Viva! supports extensive changes to the labelling of meat products. Even if animals have been pre-stunned, consumers are not fully informed of slaughter methods. And so-called ‘quality assurance’ symbols, developed to encourage the public to buy more British meat, fail to mention that the animals are often reared on intensive units. If the public were better informed about animal rearing and slaughter systems through product labelling, we could expect major improvements for animal welfare.