Going for the Kill report | Viva!

Going for the Kill report

Viva! Report on Religious Slaughter

by Juliet Gellatley BSc (Zoology),
Director of Viva!


How Farmed Animals are Killed
Mainstream Slaughter
Religious (Ritual) Slaughter
Jewish Slaughter
Why Jewish (Shechita) Slaughter?
Removal of Blood
Muslim Slaughter
Why Muslim (Dhabh) Slaughter?
Introduction of pre-stunning for UK halal meat
Halal abattoirs in Birmingham
The Halal Food Authority
Stated Jewish Slaughter Procedures
Which Animals Can Be Eaten by Jews
Stated Muslim Slaughter Procedures
Which Animals Can Be Eaten by Muslims
Sheep and Goats

The Reality of Religious Slaughter
Examples of Witness Statements Obtained by Viva! from Slaughtermen in the UK regarding Jewish and Muslim Slaughter
Viva! Video of Jewish Slaughter
FAWC Observations of Religious Slaughter
Cutting the Animals
Loss of Consciousness after Throat Cutting
Muslim Festivals
Home Slaughter
Do Supermarket Chains Sell Religiously Slaughtered Meat?
Stunning Abroad
Religious Slaughter in Different Countries


In 1996, Viva! launched its campaign against the religious killing of conscious animals. Under UK law, all farmed animals have to be stunned to render them unconscious before their throats are cut. However, a special legal exemption means that animals slaughtered, “by a religious method” - i.e. for halal or kosher meat - are exempt from this law and can have their throats cut whilst fully conscious. The terror and pain which these animals experience is immense. They are held in metal crushes or forced onto their backs before having their necks forcibly extended and their throats slashed. Death can take minutes.

As a vegetarian and vegan campaigning organisation, Viva! is opposed to killing animals for food. We have investigated all methods of slaughter - both religious and ‘mainstream’ and have found the whole business to be barbaric and cruel. Methods used to ‘stun’ animals before their throats are cut are frequently inadequate and each year, tens of millions regain consciousness as they bleed to death. Our campaigns expose the hypocrisy of those who claim that any kind of slaughtering is ‘humane’.

Since we launched Going for the Kill, we have seen some, limited progress. It is now illegal to slaughter animals outside of licensed slaughterhouses without pre-stunning - outlawing religious ‘home slaughter’ - which enabled animals to be killed in people’s back yards without any supervision.

Although no definitive figures exist, it appears that the vast majority of animals killed for halal meat (around 90%) are now stunned before their throats are cut (48). Very many Muslim authorities and individual Muslims accept the practice as entirely consistent with Islamic doctrine but there is no complete agreement on this question within the Muslim community. However, figures suggest that 8-10 million animals are still killed without pre-stunning each year for halal meat, and approximately 2 million animals killed for kosher meat are almost never pre-stunned (48).

This issue gained public exposure again in June 2003 when the Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) published a report on red meat slaughter (58). FAWC is a prestigious, government-appointed body and their report was unequivocal that religious slaughter causes “very significant pain and distress”. It bluntly described slaughter without pre-stunning as “unacceptable” and recommended that the exemption from stunning for religious slaughter should be repealed (see p30-32). At the time of going to press (September 2003), however, the Government has made no official response to their own advisors’ call.

Going for the Kill exposes the reality of religious slaughter and reveals the extent to which conscious animals suffer when they die. It also examines Islamic and Jewish teachings and states that the real message of both religions is compassion to animals and to be vegetarian.


How Farmed Animals are Killed

In Britain in the region of 900 million farmed animals are killed annually for food.

Animals are killed either by mainstream slaughter methods or by religious (ritual) means. To understand religious slaughter, it is important to first briefly look at how animals are stunned in mainstream slaughter. Detailed accounts of mainstream slaughter methods and Viva!’s concerns can be found in Viva!’s Sentenced to Death report - available from Viva! or on our website at www.viva.org.uk

Mainstream Slaughter

Council Directive 93/119/EEC lays down the standards for killing animals. It states that "on animal welfare grounds, stunning methods should render animals unconscious until death supervenes through bleeding." In the UK specifically, the law is laid down in The Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulations 1995 (3).

All mainstream slaughter is supposed to involve stunning the animals before their throat is cut. The methods used are as follows with the main concerns as stated by the Scientific Veterinary Committee of the EU (4):

1.Mechanical Methods

1.1 Captive bolt

This stunning method is widely used for all farmed animals and rabbits. Gun powder (cartridge), compressed air and spring under tension drive bolts through the skull of animals.
Main EU concerns: in approx. 10% of cattle the bolt is not applied correctly; animals remain conscious or regain consciousness because the bolt is not applied at the right part of the head; unsuitable cartridges used.

1.2 Concussion stunning

A mechanically operated instrument delivers a blow to the brain and concusses the brain. Used for cattle, sheep, calves, rabbits.
Main EU concerns: "The prevalence of mis-stuns under abattoir conditions is a major concern." Animals are not stunned properly and so are often fully conscious when their throat is cut.

1.3 Free bullets

Used for animals difficult to handle such as wild pigs, bison, deer, horses or in emergencies.
Main EU concerns: shooting in the chest or neck causes severe pain and distress (animals are supposed to be shot in the head); wrong strength of bullet used for a particular species.

2. Gas stunning

2.1 CO2
Eg Carbon dioxide is used to stun pigs in the UK and other EU countries. Pigs exposed to 90% CO2 die within approx. 5 minutes, but times vary and can be significantly longer.
Main EU concerns: Several studies have shown pigs suffer breathlessness and great aversion to the CO2. Viva! has witnessed pigs trying to escape and showing great distress and fear with this method of stunning.

2.2 CO2 and argon
Eg used for stun/kill chickens and turkeys.
Main EU concerns: birds may be stunned in transporter crates or on conveyors. Birds regain consciousness quickly if they have been stunned only. As it takes a long time to shackle the birds from the crates, there is the danger of birds being conscious when their throats are slit.

3 Electrical stunning
3.1 Head-only stunning

Used to stun cattle, calves, sheep, goats, pigs, rabbits, chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese and ostriches. An electric current is applied to the head which is supposed to cause temporary loss of consciousness.
Main EU concerns: The EU Veterinary Committee say: "Under commercial conditions, a considerable proportion of animals are either inadequately stunned or require a second stun. This is mainly because of poor electrode placements, bad electrical contacts and long stun-to-stick intervals". Millions of animals are conscious when their throats are cut.
Viva! states: We have filmed sheep and pigs being electrically stunned in UK abattoirs. The tongs were not applied for long enough and we witnessed animals regaining consciousness as a result.

3.2 Cardiac arrest stunning
Used for cattle, sheep, pigs, rabbits and goats.
An electric current is either sent through the head and body at the same time to span the brain and heart or is sent though the head first and then across the chest or through the head and body at the same time.
Main EU concerns: With the latter method, the EU V.C. say: "a considerable proportion of animals are either inadequately stunned or require a second stun....(therefore) the animals could suffer a potentially painful cardiac arrest." If electrodes are not placed properly, animals recover consciousness during bleeding.

3.3 Waterbath stunning
Used for poultry. Birds are shackled upside down on a moving conveyor which carries them to an electrified water bath into which their heads are supposed to be immersed. The shackles contact a bar which is connected to earth. Birds may or may not be given a heart attack.
Main EU concerns: wrong size shackles used; pre-stun shocks in turkeys are very high (80%) because their wings hang lower than their heads and touch the water first; currents may not be high enough to kill or lose consciousness. Viva! states: ventral neck cutting is not usually carried out - so birds may still be conscious when they reach the scalding tank. Heads of ducks and geese in particular may not be immersed in the waterbath at all.

Religious (Ritual) Slaughter

The Law

The Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulations 1995 states that farmed animals must either be stunned by:

captive bolt
electronarcosis (electrodes or waterbath stunner)

and then bled immediately to death by severing at least one of the carotid arteries or the vessels from which they arise.

Or farmed animals may be killed outright by:
free bullet
electrocution (so long as it is immediate, otherwise the animal has to be stunned first)
for birds only - decapitation or dislocation of the neck
exposure of pigs and birds to gas mixtures
...the animals then being bled out.

These rules apply to all mainstream slaughter. In fact animals have had to be stunned before slaughter in the UK since 1919. But religious or religious slaughter is exempt.

The UK law states that for religious slaughter the animal need not be stunned or killed outright before the throat is cut. Instead, the knife must be undamaged and of sufficient size to "ensure that each animal is slaughtered by the severance, by rapid, uninterrupted movements of a knife, of both its carotid arteries and both its jugular veins."

So in Muslim or Jewish slaughter the animal's throat may be cut while he or she is fully conscious and so bleeds to death. Although pre-stunning is becoming increasingly acceptable for animals killed for halal meat, animals killed for kosher meat are rarely pre-stunned. They are occasionally given a “post-cut” stun - they are stunned immediately after the throat is cut.

The law does state for all slaughter that it should be carried out without the infliction of unnecessary suffering. However, as this report shows, animals do suffer greatly during both mainstream and religious slaughter.

Jewish Slaughter

The Jewish method of slaughter (Shechita) is carried out by a Jew (the Shochet) licensed for the purpose by the Rabbinic Commission.

Jewish rules about how animals should be killed are based on instructions in the Bible; they have been developed over many years and were finally written down in the Talmud, as a summary of the views of respected Rabbis.

Why Jewish (Shechita) slaughter?

Underlying Rabbinic concern is the notion of tsaar baalei hayyim (suffering of living creatures) which prohibits the deliberate infliction of pain to animals. In fact, many Jews are vegetarian and strongly assert that God intended humans to be so. However, because humans are weak, God compromised and allowed meat eating. In essence, the rules of religious slaughter originally developed in an attempt to minimise the cruelty inflicted on the animals being killed.

If you seek Biblical support for vegetarian principles you don't have far to go. There couldn't be a clearer mandate than in the first chapter of the first book of the bible where the first dietary laws are laid down.

"And God said, 'Behold I have given unto you every herb yielding seed and every tree in which is the fruit of the tree yielding seed; unto you it shall be for food". No animals (meat or fish) were allowed for food. Rabbi Sidney Clayman says: "The eating of meat in the Jewish dietary laws is not the ultimate goal but a concession to human weakness". He states that vegetarianism is the ideal of God and all other standards are but stages towards it (5).

The Union of Liberal and Progressive Jews state: "Earliest man was expected to be vegetarian....there are many Jews (today) who regard the taking of animal life as morally obnoxious and consequently abstain from the consumption of any meat. Vegetarianism is the answer to their problem and indeed many outstanding Jewish personalities, past and present, have chosen this option" (30).

Even the well known advocate of Shechita, IM Levinger acknowledges that a strong Jewish view is that: "killing animals in order to consume their meat damages the human spirit (Albo 1425)" and "If the Torah (the books of Moses in the Bible) allows the use of meat, it is only for people whose spirit is lost anyway (Abarbanel, 1510)". (39)

Rabbi Yitzchak HaCohen Kook (5) believed that the objective of Judaism is a world without slaughter or pain - a vegetarian one. Similarly, the Rabbi says of milk: "Milk was destined to feed the animal's offspring and not that man should take it with force for himself. The kid has the right to enjoy its mother's milk and its mother's love, but hard-hearted man, influenced by his materialistic and shallow outlook, changes and perverts these true functions".
"That the combining of meat and milk for the preparation of food is reckoned to be so vile is evidenced by the fact that man is forbidden to benefit therefrom; to cook them together or to eat therefrom.

"In order to emphasise the wrong involved in robbing the kid of its rightful sanctuary...and in order that man should realise that the living was never intended to end up in man's ever-craving stomach, this law forbidding (in all its severity) the combining of milk and meat was formulated".

Philip Pick, Founder of the Jewish Vegetarian Society (6) further explained that eating meat and milk together was forbidden to stop the practice of killing the young in front of the mother. (It used to be that meat was cooked in milk.) (The command "Do not cook a kid in its mother's milk" is in Exodus 23:19, repeated both in 34:26 and Deuteronomy 14:21 and has led to Jewish kitchens containing separate milk and meat dishes, cutlery, drying up cloths etc.) (29).

Leviticus 3:17 tells us that "it shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwellings that you shall eat neither fat nor blood". This command is repeated several times. The Board of Deputies of British Jews state that this command may have been given "to tame man's violent instincts by implanting within him horror of bloodshed."

Philip Pick also stated that until the period of Noah, it was a capital offence to kill an animal - as it was to kill another human. However, in a nutshell, when humans began to multiply God saw that humans can be wicked and "filled with violence" and so God set about destroying the earth. According to the Rabbis, God repented and forgave humans. The new era (after the Flood) accepted that people are weak and in the Noahtic laws as in the following Hebrew laws, they involved compromise in the hope that people could abide by them and that humans would eventually return to their original and compassionate selves.

At this time, permission was granted to people who lust after dead flesh but it was accompanied by a curse:
"and the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every fowl of the air and upon all that moveth upon the earth and upon all the fishes of the sea..." but when people ate animals "the flesh with the life thereof which is the blood thereof shall yea not eat."

The Count Gentile, Patron of the Jewish Vegetarian and Ecological Society, UK sums up his view of Jewish history: "After the destruction of the Second Temple, flesh could not be consumed because it could not be ritualistically killed within the Temple. Indeed there were many who did not eat meat because of this. It is obvious that the Temple practice of religious slaughter had to be extended beyond the temple grounds, such was the lusting after flesh, that a new ritual was introduced, which was now localised within every Jewish community.
"While I accept in part, that the rituals carried out in the Temple were, to some degree, G-d given, the extension of those G-d given laws were 'Rabbinical', in that they were man-made. If our fellow Jews at that time had not instigated these man-made laws, vegetarianism would have been introduced into the Kashrut system and would have become law, Rabbinical, today." (44)

At the time that the law first permitting meat consumption was written, it was customary to drink the blood and cut the limbs off living animals. The law against consuming blood was designed therefore to protect animals; to remind the slaughterer of the severity of taking a life, and to stop the spread of disease (as blood contains waste products and organisms for various diseases and decays rapidly).

Blood is also a forbidden food for Muslims - whether shed from the cut throat or solidified in the animal (except liver and spleen) (46). The Islamic Medical Association said: "One of the greatest harmful effects of consuming blood and meat rich in blood is psychological. It may produce a carnivorous psychology, inducing wild and savage behavior. Consuming blood is destructive of the pure, human nature." (37)

Removal of Blood

Today, it is claimed that blood is removed from an animal for Jewish and Muslim consumption (26, 27). This is of course not so. It is impossible to drain blood from the capillaries and if Jews and Muslims truly did not want to eat blood, they would have to stop eating meat. To try to rid of blood, Jews may burn the flesh over a flame or soak and salt it, however, 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 living, fully conscious animal. It is falsely asserted by some Jews and Muslims that by stunning or by killing the animal before its throat is cut that less blood will be lost (26, 37). Scientific studies have shown this to be untrue.

For example, Bowater (4) states that stunning does not limit the amount of blood drained from the animal and that this has easily been proved by analyzing the amount of hemoglobin residue in meat. Jewish-slaughtered meat may be lighter in color than pre-stunned meat (4, 41), but this is due to the fact that in Jewish slaughter the animal gasps for breath causing a greater amount of oxyhaemoglobin in the blood and hence the flesh.

Coital & Whaleback (5) measured the amount of blood lost from chickens slaughtered by different methods. They found that birds killed by the Jewish method did not lose more blood than those stunned first (by electrical, gas or captive bolt methods). The birds killed without being stunned had a faster loss of blood at first, but the total volume of blood lost after 300 seconds was no more than those birds that were stunned.
Furthermore, Coital & Whaleback (6) also found that various slaughter methods had an effect on the distribution of blood within the carcass. Eg they say: "the group of birds that were stunned had the least amount of blood in the offal while the kosher-slaughtered birds had significantly greater amounts." Also the parts of the birds sold to the public contained less blood in stunned birds than those killed by Jewish methods!

Blackmore (7) states that only half the total blood volume will leave the carcass of sheep during slaughter and that this does not alter whether the animal is stunned or not.

The Food Research Institute state that killing an animal before it is bled out, eg by high voltage electrical stunning, does not effect the amount of blood lost from the carcass (20).


Jewish law requires that all animals for slaughter must be healthy and without injury prior to slaughter, otherwise the meat is trefar, unfit for human consumption.

Levinger states that Jews cannot accept stunning because the definition of healthy is that the animal moves. If the animal is stunned it may not move. Secondly, there should not be any pathological-anatomical changes. The bolt causes brain damage; electric shock causes damage; may kill the animal outright (in Jewish law the animal must be alive when the throat is cut), or it may cause pain; CO2 gas stunning may cause pain and there is also the risk the animal may die before throat cutting (32). However, other Jews such as the late Victor Gallants believe that stunning is less cruel and the main objects of Jewish law are to minimise suffering (4).

Rabbi David Ha Cohen explains that the instruction that the animal should be healthy before slaughter originates from the prohibition to eat animals that have died from sickness or from predators because "man must not link himself to the class of predatory animals by consuming that which has been killed and torn ...for in so doing they share their booty and act in accordance with their way of life". The fact that there is no difference (according to kashruth) between an animal who has died of sickness and one which has been torn expresses "that one must not benefit from the suffering of animals irrespective of the cause".

Again, this law was designed to protect the animals and human health. Animals should be treated well so they do not become sick and humans should not eat an animal which has suffered. However, the very law created to protect animals is doing the opposite today. It is being used as a reason to not stun the animal before its neck is cut. Also, the pretence that animals do not suffer prevents some from being true to their beliefs.

Let us look at what Maimonides, one of the most famous of Jewish thinkers, who lived in Spain in the twelfth century, said about Shechita:

"As necessity occasions the eating of animals, the commandment (to practice Shechita) was intended to bring about the easiest death in an easy manner. For beheading would only be possible with the help of a sword or something similar, whereas a throat can be cut with anything. In order that death should come about more easily, the condition (was set) that the knife should be sharp.”

And: "The commandment concerning the slaughtering of animals was necessary.....the aim was to kill them in the easiest manner, and it was forbidden to torment them through killing them in a reprehensible manner by piercing the lower part of their throat or by cutting off one of their members.”

There is no doubt that the intention behind Shechita was designed to minimise animal suffering. However, we are in the new Millennium; times have changed and it is no longer the most 'humane' way
to kill.

Tragically, some Jews twist this observation on animal welfare in an attempt to convince people that it is a racist comment. This is not surprising considering the persecution of Jews in the last century, but it should not stop Viva! or anyone else who believes in showing compassion and respect to animals to explore the truth behind religious slaughter. In fact, Viva! has shown all slaughter to be cruel and asks the reader to also read our report on mainstream slaughter, Sentenced to Death. However, Jews and Muslims are wrong if they say that religious slaughter is humane or more humane.

It is unfortunate that the National Council of Shechita Boards makes the following astonishing justification of religious slaughter in a letter to Viva!:
in reference to cows being killed "the animal, being an herbivore, does not react to blood and remains oblivious throughout to what is happening around it and to it, both prior to and during Shechita." (14) They are suggesting that because an animal does not eat meat, it is not familiar with blood and so doesn't react when its throat is sliced open; or presumably when it is cut elsewhere.

It is a great shame that a faith that boasts animal welfare at its heart is so reluctant to change. As Rabbi Professor Dan Cohn-Sherbok (8) claims: "...since the intention of the tradition is to ensure humane killing, any reassessment of Jewish practice in this regard may be viewed as a reinforcement, rather than an abandonment, of the tradition itself."

It has been contended by supporters of the Jewish ritual that it is the 'law of Moses' and cannot be modified. However even if it is Mosaic law, some of the ancient practices have been altered with the passage of time and the changes in public opinion. For example, the death penalty by stoning is no longer enforced for blasphemy or certain sexual offences (Leviticus XX).

It should also be noted that many Rabbis state that factory farmed food is not kosher. The Talmud states that on the Sabbath Day, farmed animals should be allowed the freedom to roam the fields, enjoy the sunshine, air and grass and generally enjoy life as much as humans. The notion of tsaar baalei hayyim which is against the suffering of animals is in direct contradiction with the cramped, overcrowded conditions of battery farms, broiler chicken sheds and modern dairy units.

In his book, Judaism and Vegetarianism (36), Richard Schwartz Ph.D. argues that there are a multitude of reasons for Jewish people to turn vegetarian which extend beyond compassion for animals. These include the protection of human health and the environment and the prevention of global hunger.

When talking about human health, Schwartz states, “People rationalize and justify dangerous habits, such as smoking. But Jewish tradition rejects all such defenses in the name of pikuach nefesh, the requirement to preserve human life. If it can be clearly and convincingly shown that consuming is dangerous to people’s health, it would be prohibited under Jewish law.”

He goes on to cite numerous scientific studies proving the health benefits of vegetarianism. For example, in a 1997 statement, the American Dietetic Association say that studies indicate that vegetarians often have lower morbidity and mortality rates from several chronic degenerative diseases than do non-vegetarians. Vegetarian diets offer disease protection benefits because of their lower intake of saturated fat, cholesterol and animal protein and higher intake of fruit and vegetables and other plants.

When talking about feeding the hungry, Schwartz explains that it is a basic Jewish belief that God has provided enough for all. And indeed there could be enough food for everybody on this planet if it were properly distributed and consumed. Animal-based agriculture is a major contributor to global hunger because vast amounts of grains are fed to animals to fatten them for slaughter. If we were all to switch to a plant-based diet, far more food would be available to feed directly to people, making vegetarianiasm, “the diet most consistent with Jewish teachings related to helping hungry people.” The Talmud states: “Providing charity for poor and hungry people weighs as heavily as all the other commandments of the Torah combined.”

Schwartz also believes that vegetarianism is the diet most consistent with Jewish responsibilities towards the environment. Fundamental Torah principles stress the importance of acting as, “stewards of the earth, to see that its produce is available for all God’s children”. Animal-based agriculture is playing a huge role in the destruction of the environment and he says that a shift to plant-based diets is, “a planetary imperative”.
“Far fewer chemical fertilizers and pesticides would be necessary. There would be far less demand for scarce water, fuel and other resources. Giant feedlots, which result in much animal manure washing into streams and rivers, could be converted to more ecologically sound uses. It would no longer be necessary to destroy tropical forests and other habitats in order to create grazing land and to grow feed crops for livestock.”

Rabbi Professor Dan Cohn-Sherbok and Professor Andrew Linzey (8) say "..Judaism has invariably held vegetarianism to be the ideal God-given diet for human beings." And that "those who protest against the permission to eat animals can validly claim also to speak the voice of authentic Judaism. This is not only because Genesis I commands a vegetarian diet but also because Isaiah 11 hopes for..'a time in which humans 'shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain.'" They say vegetarianism "more clearly approximates to the original will of the Creator".

As Viva! has always maintained, the true point to be grasped is that killing is immoral - whether by religious or non-religious means. Also if you truly do not want to eat blood, then you must be a vegetarian. Orthodox Jews do not eat trefar meat and yet factory farming ensures animals suffer and that the majority, for example, of broiler chickens are diseased (and yet still eaten by Jews). Furthermore, as millions of animals are killed - the least Jewish people can do, is ensure that their faith uses its original rules on slaughter as they were intended ~ to minimise suffering. Religious slaughter methods do not accomplish this.

Muslim Slaughter

The Muslim method of slaughter is called the Dhabh method and the meat is called Halal. In this report we will refer to it as Muslim or Halal slaughter. It can be carried out by any 'sane' Muslim, male or female. The Prophet instructed that the knife should be extremely sharp and that the animal should be comforted and treated
gently (37).

As there is no centralised Muslim board of control for licensing slaughtermen, no special training is required or given. The only requirement is that the person should be licensed by the local authority.

Muslims eat mainly mutton, lamb and goat meat and poultry. Some eat beef. Islam is the world's most popular faith and like all religions, its followers have interpreted their religion's rules differently ~ so Muslim slaughter methods vary within the UK. All Muslims agree however on two requirements ie the speaking of Allah's (God's) name by the slaughterer as the knife cuts into the animal's throat and the effective bleeding of the carcass. The speaking of God's name is supposed to mean more than just words. It is meant to remind the slaughterer that he (or, rarely, she) is taking the life of a living being; that s/he must act in a way which God allows, without causing unnecessary suffering and that the animal is dedicated to Allah. Also, animals must not be killed in front of one another and they must be given water and food before slaughter.

Rules about how animals should be killed are based on instructions in the Qur'an. (The first year of the Islamic era is 622 AC, when the Holy Prophet Mohammed had to migrate from Mecca to Medinah.)

Why Muslim Religious (Dhabh) Slaughter?

Islam declares that humans are the best of God's creations, which sounds very flattering, but the position is not unconditional. Part of the condition is to be kind, compassionate, merciful, charitable... to all living beings. The only criterion for human superiority over animals (animals are believed to possess a soul) lies in our spiritual volition, called in the Qur'an Majeed 'Taqwah'. (9) As Al-Hafiz BA Masri (the first Sunni Imam of the Shah Jehan Mosque when it was the Islamic Centre of Europe) said: "This spiritual power bestows on man a greater balance between the conscious and unconscious elements of the mind, thus, enabling him to make the best use of freedom of choice. He is considered the best of God's creation only because of this distinction. Without the power of spiritual volition, this distinction is rendered superficial." Some Muslims state that their 'superiority' over animals gives them an excuse to eat them. However, if a person misuses their freedom of choice eg by being cruel to another human or animal their status is lowered to the lowest of the low.

Rafeeque Ahmed, Muslim Vegan and Vegetarian Society, UK says: "Compassion is one of the Islamic duties and is one of Allah's attributes. Islam implores Muslims to be compassionate towards animals and all life forms....

"One day Prophet Mohammed (SAWS) - comparatively the most perfect person that ever walked on this earth - was walking along and saw a man breaking a branch of a tree for fun. Rasoolullah (SAWS) immediately spoke to him, forbidding what he was doing and that day he gave a sermon entitled:

"Vegetable Kingdom, Animals and Humans"

"He said that all the three kingdoms are made of the same materials by Allah and as such they are cousins. He implored the audience to be good Muslims and to never do harm to them. How fortunate and lucky Muslims are to have such a Hadith to base their lives upon!"

The Qur'an shows the way to treat animals; it says:

"There is not an animal on this earth, nor a bird that flies on its wings - but they are communities like you."

~ making all creatures of Allah sentient beings that should be given our kindness, love and respect.

In his booklet "Islam and Vegetarianism" Rafeeque Ahmed states:

"Every kind of cruelty to animals is forbidden in Islam". The Hadiths clearly oppose: all vivisection, beating, branding, animal baiting, bloodsports, rough handling, even clipping a horse's tail is prohibited as "it is its fly-flap" and the Holy Prophet (SAWS) would be greatly distressed to see battery farming as he said:

"It is a great sin for man to imprison those animals who are in his power..."

Presumably the strict followers of Islam do not eat battery eggs or broiler chickens? Just as strict Christians in their compassion and wisdom do not eat factory farmed meat and orthodox Jews follow God's intention for humans to be vegetarian..... However, if you believe in Hell, think again before you chew on another piece of flesh - the Qur'an Majeed says that he who destroys animals and plants and does so with clever excuses, even doing so in the name of Allah, then "Hell shall be his reckoning - verily, it is a vile abode."

As with all religions, Islam rewards those who show kindness:

"The Holy Prophet Mohammed (SAWS) was asked by His companions if kindness to animals was rewarded in the life hereafter. He replied "Yes there is a meritorious reward for kindness shown to every living creature.'"

As Rafeeque Ahmed summarises: "Every Muslim is supposed to mould his life according to Qur'an and Sunnah and judging by the teachings in Islam, I do not see how a good Muslim can be anything other than vegan/vegetarian."

So, as with the Jewish faith, it is clear that Islamic teachings are based on kindness to animals; respect for nature and on compassion and charity for one another. The original texts for these faiths are remarkably wise, yet the people who follow them often ignore and even deride the teachings so far as animals are concerned. Many people certainly are weak and apathetic, but to be heartless and consume factory farmed, genetically engineered animals in the name of God....when God's teachings are so forcefully against this type of cruelty is hypocritical in the extreme.

Because of human weakness, religious slaughter again developed with the original intention of protecting the animal from a more horrid death and for hygiene reasons (cutting the throat while the heart is beating was thought to get rid of more blood and so stop the carcass deteriorating so rapidly; however, head only stunning does not stop the heart beating or reduce blood loss as seen above).

At the time of the Holy Prophet in 622 AC, some people were incredibly barbaric - eg they cut off camels' humps and the fat tails of sheep to eat and kept the animals alive for future use. The rules of religious slaughter included killing the animal before any part of it was eaten! The Holy Prophet declared: "Whatever is cut off an animal, while it is still alive, is carrion and unlawful (Haram) to eat." Religious slaughter also ensured that an animal was dead before it was sliced or plucked etc. The Holy Prophet himself ate meat only five times in his life; he ordered those who did kill animals to do so with a sharp knife "so as to cause the animal as little pain as possible." Of course, when the Prophet was alive, stunning methods used today did not exist. For those who do kill - surely God would want the animal to be slaughtered in the least horrid way?

The Qur'an's commands its followers to not eat:
Dead animals/carrion (carrion includes eating bits from
a living animal)
Animals not killed in the name of Allah
Animals that have been strangled
Animals that die from a violent blow
Animals that die from a fall
Animals that die from being gored
Animals that die from being savaged by a wild animal
excepting that which makes it lawful (by the death stroke)

Muslims interpret these commands differently. Some say that regarding:
Strangulation - that it is cruel and unlawful in Islam, therefore chemical gassing should not be used as a stunning method.
Animals that die from a violent blow - that although this rule was intended to stop animals being killed by a stick etc., some Muslims argue that today it means that electrical stunning and the bolt pistol should not be used.
Animals that die from a fall - some Muslims have interpreted this command to mean that if an animal has died from concussion or drowning (as a cow falling in a well would be killed by drowning) it is forbidden. Therefore, they say, the captive bolt pistol or concussion stunner should not be used as it may cause the animal to die from concussion and killing chickens in electrified water baths may be unlawful as it causes death 'partly by drowning'. (37).

However, Dr Abdel Aziz El Khayat, Dean of the Faculty of Islamic Law, University of Jordan in a World Health Organisation report (46) discusses different Muslims' views on stunning and concludes:

Electrical stunning can be argued to be legal or illegal (in Islamic law). Some say it is legal so long as the animal is still alive when slaughtered and so long as the motive is to ease suffering and quicken the process; others say it is forbidden because the shock can cause pain; quickens decay of the flesh; causes haemorrhaging so diseases can't be checked for and may kill the animal outright.

Gas stunning may be practised by Muslims so long as it only stuns and does not kill, because it facilitates the animal's bleeding (by stimulating its breathing); and 'seems more humane'.

The captive bolt pistol is not allowed 'except in the case of utmost necessity.' This is because there is no definitive text denying that the bolt causes pain. However the term 'utmost necessity' seems to be loosely interpreted as it includes allowing the use of the captive bolt on large animals (cows, not sheep) because of the difficulty in controlling them and to increase throughput - so long as the animal is still alive when its throat is cut. Dr Abdel Aziz El Khayat says that most Muslims allow the captive bolt because Allah said that animals knocked out by a violent blow or fall could still be eaten if they were actually killed by 'the death stroke'. That is - it is forbidden to eat an animal that dies from a blow, but it is OK to eat it if it is still living after the blow and then cut across the throat.

The then Imam of Woking said back in 1928 that he did not think that the use of a stunner "is in any way against the teaching of the Qur'an or the instructions of the Prophet. This instrument does not kill the animal but merely stuns it. The animal's heart continues to beat for a considerable time after the use of the instrument. Therefore, if after stunning the animal, a Muslim slaughters it according to the prescribed law i.e. cutting the throat while reciting 'Allah Akbar', then owing to the beat of the heart all the blood would be ejected out of the main artery, and the animal will have been properly killed and its meat eatable according to the laws of Islam."

Dr Abdel Aziz El Khayat agrees with stunning cattle but says that with sheep and poultry: "The Islamic way of slaughter is still the best way and that which causes the least cruelty and suffering." The former Syrian Mufti, Sheikh Aboul Yusr Abdin, issued a legal opinion on electrical stunning and other methods: "If the animal remains alive and the slaughterer is a Muslim, the slaughtering would be lawful."

In conclusion, many Muslims do believe that stunning is permitted so long as the animal is killed by cutting the throat. In the UK, almost all animals killed for halal meat are now pre-stunned (see next section - Introduction of Pre-stunning for UK Halal Meat).

Introduction of pre-stunning for UK halal meat

Amongst the Muslim community, it has become increasingly acceptable to stun animals before the throat is cut. Pre-stunning is less acceptable to the Jewish community but some plants use a ‘post-cut stun’ whereby the animal is stunned as soon as the throat has been cut. The Meat Hygiene Service say that, “The majority of animals destined for the Halal trade in both the red and white meat sectors are stunned before slaughter. This type of stunning is a reversible process. An animal must be bled immediately after delivery of the stun. Any animal which is not bled immediately after delivery of the stun will recover consciousness.” (50)

The following figures, published by the Meat Hygiene Service in 2002, show the extent to which animals destined for halal meat are pre-stunned (48):

Number of Animals Slaughtered for Halal Meat 3-9 Sep 2001 (mammal) and 14-20 May (bird)

Species No Stun Stunning
    Captive Bolt Electric Stun
Cattle 0 107 0
Calves 0 4 0
Sheep 4926 220 84820
Goats 5 0 136
Broilers 131656 n/a 913997
Hens 21780 n/a 128408
Ducks 36 n/a 0

These figures relate to only one week - no official body records the total number of animals killed by religious slaughter - but they indicate that around 85% of animals slaughtered for halal meat are now prestunned.

This means that:
100% of cattle are pre-stunned
94% of sheep are pre-stunned
86% of broiler chickens are pre-stunned

The Humane Slaughter Association state: “This represents a significant change in thinking, which must be encouraged and maintained” (51).

The pre-stunning of religiously slaughtered animals has clearly gained acceptance amongst the majority of the Muslim community. Despite a recent DEFRA review of the relevant legislation, however, no alterations have been made in the religious slaughter provisions.

Viva! also urges the Jewish community to follow the lead of the Muslim community and start pre-stunning animals.

Halal Abattoirs in Birmingham

In 2001, Viva! wrote to different local authorities and asked them whether abattoirs in their area practise pre-stunning. Most replied that as enforcement of animal welfare legislation was now a matter for the Meat Hygiene Service, they were not able to provide us with the information we wanted.

However, Graham Taylor, animal welfare officer for Birmingham city council, told Viva!:

“There are five licensed slaughterhouses in Birmingham, all of whom slaughter according to Muslim beliefs. None of these slaughterhouses undertake any pre-stunning of sheep, goats or poultry before cutting.

“Two premises are poultry only; of the other three, one is presently closed due to foot-and-mouth, one slaughters sheep and goats
and the other sheep, goats and cattle/calves, albeit that the latter
are stunned first and the meat sold through non-Muslim retail outlets.” (52)

The Halal Food Authority

The Halal Food Authority is an organisation created to certify whether food products are genuinely halal. Approved products are given an HFA certification stamp. Now that so many animals killed for halal meat are pre-stunned, do the HFA approve of the pre-stunning of animals?

Viva! approached the HFA directly but received a non-committal response. Its chairman, Masood Khawja told The Observer newspaper, however, that

“It is now possible to stun animals in a controlled, supervised way, and we can be sure that the animal is not already dead when the slaughterman kills it” (57).

Nevertheless, the HFA believes that slaughter without prestunning is acceptable and Khawja goes on to say:

“Maybe in time people will invent some form of machinery where we don’t need stunning any more. So we still want to keep our exemption . . . Whether we stun or not should be entirely up to us” (57).

The HFA seems reluctant to put itself on the line and endorse the pre-stunning of animals. Yet without a concrete statement, it is impossible to know whether HFA-stamped meat comes from animals who were fully conscious when killed.

Stated Jewish Slaughter Procedures

As previously stated, the Jewish law states that animals must be healthy at the time of slaughter; otherwise the animal is considered unfit for human consumption (see the section Trefar above). Because stunning is perceived to cause physical harm prior to slitting the throat, it is unacceptable.

Number of Animals Slaughtered for Kosher Meat 3-9 September 2001 (mammals); 14-20 May 2001 (birds). Source: Meat Hygiene Service (48)

Species No Stun Post-Cut Stun Stunning  
Cattle 438 366 0
Calves 29 2 0
Young lambs 2277 0 0
Broilers 34728 0 0
Hens 1970 0 0
Turkeys 637 0 0


Two premises producing Kosher meat practise post-cut stunning for cattle.

Viva! states: A post-cut stun is intended to lessen the pain felt by an animal whilst bleeding to death. This is in itself an acknowledgement of how painful the killing process is. If cattle can be stunned immediately after their throats have been cut, there is no reason why they cannot be stunned beforehand.

Which animals can be eaten by Jews?

The dietary laws (according to Leviticus and Deuteronomy) state only four legged animals which chew the cud and have cloven hooves may be eaten, such as the cow, goat, sheep and deer. Animals which have only one of these characteristics may not be eaten eg pig, camel. Animals which died of natural causes or have been predated upon are forbidden, as is the blood of an animal, the fat surrounding the kidneys and abdominal viscera. Also, the sciatic nerve and sinews of the hindlegs are not permitted. Of aquatic animals, only fish with both scales and fins are allowed (eg cod, plaice, salmon etc. are permitted; whereas crabs, prawns, mussels, eels etc. are not). Most insects are forbidden. Land animals which crawl on their bellies or walk on many feet are prohibited as well as many birds eg predators and wild waterfowl. (8,10, 28).
The stated procedure in Jewish law for killing cattle
The animal is restrained before slaughter in an upright (eg Cincinnati) pen. This pen holds one animal; it is pushed forwards so that his/her head sticks out of one end; a plate moves up from the floor to support the underside of the body and the head is raised by a chin lift which extends the animal's neck so that his/her neck can be cut more easily. When the throat has been cut, a side gate is raised and a hind leg is shackled. The chin-lift and belly plate are released and the animal is pulled out of the pen by a hoist and moved to an overhead rail. (Regulations introducing upright pens came into force in July 1992.)

NB: In the UK, most cattle are now given a “post-cut stun”, as explained in the previous section.

The rotary casting pens of the Weinberg, Dyne or North British type became illegal in 1992 due to the "pain...terror and discomfort" they caused (FAWC report; 11). In brief, the animal was turned upside down in a pen. Any ruminant placed on its back suffers greatly from the size and weight of the rumen pressing on the diaphragm and chest organs. The government advisory body, the Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) reported that although the cattle were often bruised by the process they were still passed as kosher.

Also the way the head was extended and then restrained often by a foot across the neck caused fear and suffering. It is important to note that some Jews and Muslims vigorously defended casting and the Weinberg pen, denying that it caused cruelty and stating that their method of slaughter was the most humane, when this clearly was not the case.

The Islamic Medical Association stated: "There is nothing cruel or painful in the casting of animals for slaying". (37)

Some also strongly stated that making the Weinberg pen illegal was interfering with tradition. Sidney Ormonde, when secretary of the London Board of Shechita, said:

"It is not a question of whether they could be retrained to make an upward cut, but that our authorities would not consider such Shechita acceptable." (38)

However, it was outlawed and now Jews state that the upright pen is acceptable! Many Jews also use this as an example of how tradition can evolve to encompass new ideas.

A single transverse cut must be made using a reciprocal motion of the knife. The cut is meant to produce an immediate outpouring of blood by severing both jugular veins and both carotid arteries. Indeed, Leonard Hill, when Director of Applied Physiology, National Institute for Medical Research claimed that Jews cut the throat with one momentary sweep. (37)

For cattle, the knife’s (called Chalaf) blade is usually 40cm long and must be very sharp. If the knife is damaged the animal is trefar and rejected.

Once the animal is dead and has been hoisted upside down, a cut is made through the abdominal wall and diaphragm and the Jewish inspector (who may also be the Shochet or slaughterman) feels at arms length into the chest to check for signs of abnormality. If anything wrong is discovered the whole carcass is rejected as trefar.

Next, the forequarter meat down to the eleventh rib is separated and stamped. Jews can eat liver and tongue and these are marked. The hindquarters are not eaten by Jews unless they are porged. Porging involves removing forbidden tissues eg veins, sciatic nerves, lymphatics and because it is time consuming and expensive has not been practised in the UK since the 1930's. This means that hindquarters are sold on the open market and are not labelled as the meat from a ritually slaughtered animal.

The stated procedure in Jewish law for killing sheep
Wool may be shorn from the sheep's neck before his/her throat is cut. The sheep is placed by men onto his/her back on a metal cradle and the neck is held extended by a man. The Shochet makes a downward cut with a sharp knife about 30cm long. The sheep is shackled, hung upside down and subjected to the same chest examination as cattle. Acceptable carcasses are identified and as with cattle the hindquarters are rejected for Jewish consumption, but are sold on the open market. (11)

The stated procedure for killing poultry
In a processing plant the live bird is held under the Shochet's arm and the cut is made by one single downward stroke which is supposed to sever the blood vessels. The bird is placed head down into a cone to bleed to death. The Shochet then examines the bird and after s/he has been processed, marks the carcass as kosher. (11)

Stated Muslim Slaughter Procedures

Which animals can be eaten by Muslims?

Details on the specific animals that are lawful to eat are given in the hadith or sayings of the Prophet. Animals mentioned as lawful are the camel, cow, buffalo, goat, sheep, deer, poultry, horses, rabbits, sea creatures. Animals that are forbidden include pigs, donkeys, mules, all predatory animals, frogs and others.

Muslims can eat the hindquarters of sheep and cows and animals that have been injured. Muslims are allowed to eat meat killed by the Jewish method (37).

There is no centralised Muslim board of control and requirements for Muslim slaughter are not as strict as for Jewish slaughter.

The stated procedure for killing cattle
The animal is restrained on his/her own in a pen - it may be the Cincinnati type as described above or the same type as that used in mainstream slaughter when the captive bolt pistol is used to stun (according to the Meat Hygiene Service, all cattle killed for halal meat in the UK are now captive bolt stunned). The intention is to cause an immediate outpouring of blood by cutting both jugular veins and both carotid arteries and trachea using a knife. Any knife may be used so long as it is sharp and long enough. The knife is supposed to be sharpened before each animal is cut.

It is forbidden to cut the spinal cord (as with Jewish slaughter) because "in order to squeeze all the blood out of the meat, the nervous connection between the brain and body must be preserved". Muslims and Jews want the heart to beat as long as possible and for the brain to send messages to the body to go into convulsions - as convulsions cause the muscles to contract and squeeze out more blood from the muscle meat (37). However, it has already been shown that blood loss is not effected by stunning.

Convulsions occur because the brain is desperate for oxygen. It sends out messages to the muscles to contract so that more blood is poured into the circulation, but it is lost out of the cut throat and so the brain continues to send messages until the animal dies.

Sheep and Goats
The stated procedure for killing sheep and goats
Sheep and goats are placed manually, by one or more people, on their back on a slaughtering cradle and the head is pulled back so the slaughterer can slit the throat, again cutting the jugular veins and carotid arteries.

NB: Viva! has observed sheep being electrically stunned before being slaughtered for halal meat. In this case, the animals are stunned and shackled up by one leg before having their throat cut - as with ‘mainstream’ slaughter.

The stated procedure for killing poultry
Birds are killed in processing plants and retail premises. If they are not stunned, there are no specific procedures but birds are killed in a similar way to Shechita slaughter.