The media is whipping up anti-muslim and anti-jewish sentiments today as it focuses on an article in the Veterinary Record by Professor Bill Reilly, ex-president of the British Veterinary Association. Controversially suggesting that some abattoirs might be refusing to stun animals simply to cut costs, Prof Reilly wrote: “In my view, the current situation is not acceptable and, if we cannot eliminate non-stunning, we need to keep it to the minimum. This means restricting the use of halal and kosher meat to those communities that require it for their religious beliefs and, where possible, convincing them of the acceptability of the stunned alternatives.”
Kosher and halal methods of slaughtering animals involve the use of a sharp knife to make a swift, deep incision that cuts the jugular vein, carotid artery and windpipe, leaving the spinal cord intact. The animal is then hung upside-down to drain the blood. According to Prof Reilly, this breaches legal requirements because it causes significant pain, fear and distress.
Jews and Muslims would take issue with this. They would insist that the haemorrhage is rapid and involves a quick loss of blood pressure. The brain is immediately starved of blood and there is no time for the animal to feel any pain. Indeed, tests carried out by Professor Wilhelm Schulze and others at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Germany, involving electrodes surgically implanted on the skulls of sheep and calves, appear to bear this out. Prof Schulze concluded: “The slaughter in the form of ritual cut is, if carried out properly, painless in sheep and calves according to the EEG recordings.”
However, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the Humane Society International (HSI) have reservations about this. Both organisations have voiced their concerns about unnecessary pain being inflicted when animals slaughtered in accordance with kosher and halal principles are inadequately restrained.
A Mail on Sunday investigation towards the end of 2010 criticised Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Somerfield, the Co-op, Waitrose and Marks and Spencer for selling halal meat without necessarily marking it as such on the packaging. Many chain restaurants, such as Nando’s and KFC, were also found to be passing off ritually slaughtered meat to the general public without advertising the fact. There is currently no legal requirement to indicate the method of slaughter on food labels.
A civilised society must avoid inflicting unnecessary suffering on animals. Farming animals for food production does not exempt us from that obligation. If anything, it should make it all the more compelling. “Halal” is an Arabic word meaning “lawful” or “permissible”. The United Nations should commission a scientific study into animal slaughter and make a definitive ruling as to what methods are “lawful” and “permissible”, based purely on the welfare of animals, with absolutely no exceptions for religious affiliation. Until such a ruling is made, all food from animals should be labelled indicating the method of slaughter, raising the profile of the issue and encouraging people to make up their own minds.