Category: Kosher

Is Halal Slaughter Humane?

Halal slaughter is not humane – according to the RSPCA – yet virtually all our livestock (bar pork) is now Halal slaughtered.

Groups such as the RSPCA believe that the most humane way to slaughter livestock is to use irreversible stunning (which renders the animal dead) before slitting its throat.

However in a concession to Muslims, most Australian abattoirs use a reversible stunning method, which means the animal is still alive, but unconscious, when its throat is cut. The reason for this is that halal slaughter requires the animal to be alive when its throat is slit.

As AFIC testified to the 2015 Senate inquiry into third-party certification of food, “Our concern is mainly: is this stunning reversible? If the animal were left alone for a minute or two, would the animal regain consciousness? If that is the case, then we have no problem with the stunning.”

Two types of Halal slaughter in Australia – both are inhumane

The traditional form of Halal slaughter involves no pre-stunning and therefore it is particularly inhumane. Sadly this is commonly practised in Islamic countries. However, in what appears to be a compromise by the Islamic community, another style of Halal slaughter predominates in Australia – reversible stunning. But this too is problematic.

Reversible stunning – some animals wake up when their throat is slit

Whilst it seems that most reversible stunning does render the animal unconscious, AFIC have unwittingly highlighted the very problem with this procedure. That is, it is possible that the animal may regain consciousness. Indeed, whilst I’m not aware of the exact numbers, there are reports that some animals do regain consciousness whilst their throats are being slit.

RSPCA “irreversible stunning is more effective in inducing unconsciousness than reversible stunning and is therefore the preferred method”

RSPCA favour irreversible stunning

In fact on the RSPCA website they make this statement, “The time to regain consciousness following a reversible stun may vary depending on the intensity of the stun. At Australian abattoirs, the aim is to ensure that reversible stunning is done in a way that the depth of unconsciousness is sufficient to allow for the animal to bleed out and die before there is a chance of regaining consciousness. Although reversible stunning is far better from an animal welfare perspective than no stunning at all, irreversible stunning is more effective in inducing unconsciousness than reversible stunning and is therefore the preferred method.”

Very carefully put by the RSPCA who probably don’t want to anger any extremists or worse be called “Islamophobes”, but at least they have the gumption to say it, unlike some other animal activists.

Most of Australian Halal Slaughter uses reversible stunning – but the irreversible stunning method is the “conventional humane” method

Also tactfully put is another of their statements, “The vast majority of halal slaughter in Australia (including at export abattoirs) complies with standard slaughter practice where all animals are stunned prior to slaughter. The only difference with halal slaughter is that a reversible stunning method is used, while conventional humane slaughter may use an irreversible stunning method.”

Note their mention of the irreversible stunning method as being “conventional humane slaughter”. Considering reversible stunning is the opposite of this, one can only conclude that by the RSPCA’s standards halal slaughter must be ‘inhumane slaughter’.

The majority of Australian livestock (bar pork) is halal slaughtered

In evidence given at the Senate inquiry it appears that the majority of our Australian beef, chicken and lamb is halal slaughtered. That is, not using the “preferred method” or the “conventional humane slaughter” method of irreversible stunning, but using the reversible stunning method, which in AFIC’s chilling testimony, allows for the animal to “regain consciousness”.

Radio Poland, “Scientists claim kosher and halal animal slaughter is ‘inhumane and cruel'”

Some Halal and Kosher Slaughter involves no pre-stunning at all

But it gets worse, it turns out that many Muslims are not happy with this compromise at all, therefore according to the RSPCA, “A small number of abattoirs in Australia have been granted permission from the relevant State or Territory food authority to conduct religious slaughter without prior stunning – for either Halal or Kosher (Jewish slaughter) purposes. These ‘approvals’ are effectively exemptions to standard Australian slaughter practice…. The RSPCA is concerned there are much greater risks of an animal suffering during slaughter without stunning than for conventional slaughter. Slaughtering an animal while fully conscious requires additional handling and restraint and means that the animal will experience pain associated with the throat cut and subsequent bleeding out. For these reasons, the RSPCA is strongly opposed to all forms of slaughter that do not involve prior stunning of the animal.” (RSPCA’s emphasis)

RSPCA and other animal rights organisations opposed to unstunned slaughter

Unfortunately no animal welfare organisations gave evidence to the Senate inquiry, as its terms of reference did not address animal welfare, however slaughter methods were talked about in general, but it would have been good to have had input from some animal advocates.

Still it is clear from the RSPCA website that religious slaughter methods are not the most humane methods. Their statement also highlights the issue of kosher slaughter. Therefore I believe that both halal and kosher slaughter should be banned, (as some European countries have been attempting to do), as the most humane method of animal slaughter should always be in use. Indeed 90 Polish scientists wrote to Poland’s prime minister stating that both halal and kosher slaughter methods were “extremely cruel to animals”.

Admittedly some animal welfare experts disagree, and believe that a properly carried out (emphasis on properly carried out) ritual slaughter can be relatively humane, but when the RSPCA, Federation of Veterinarians of Europe, and British Veterinary Association and numerous other animal experts have all objected to unstunned slaughter then their expert advice should be acted on.

Halal/Kosher bans incur backlash from Muslims and Jews

Unfortunately though there has been a backlash from some Muslims and Jews who regard any ban as an infringement on their religious rights, this resulted in a Polish ban being overturned. Considering the cruelty that many Jews suffered in the Holocaust I find it very sad that any of them would be supporting any form of cruelty towards their fellow creatures. However what is encouraging is that it appears that only a minority of Jews now insist on kosher. For instance according to PEW statistics, only 22% of American Jews keep kosher in their homes. Of course kosher does not just apply to meat slaughter, but this certainly sounds as if many Jews are rejecting the cruelty of kosher slaughter and this is indeed an encouraging sign. Exactly how many Muslims feel the same way about halal slaughter I am not aware, but whether or not all Muslims want halal slaughter, the problem is that the vast majority of our Australian meat appears to be halal slaughtered.

Very little of Australian meat is kosher slaughtered

Indeed the reason there has been little outcry in this country about kosher slaughter is because, unlike halal, very little of our meat is kosher slaughtered in Australia, usually it is also appropriately labelled in supermarkets and, with some exceptions, easy to avoid. In fact many Australians, including anti-halal activists, were unaware of any issues with kosher slaughter simply because, unlike halal, it is not as ubiquitous.

Kosher costs rarely passed onto non-Jewish consumers

Crucially the costs of kosher slaughter are not passed onto the average consumer, this is because rabbis actually prearrange a time with the abattoir where they can slaughter their own meat.

Halal slaughter costs passed onto consumers via halal certification

Halal slaughter however has a number of costs associated to it, which most likely are passed onto the consumer via halal certification, it is also the majority of our meat market (except pork), but it is rarely labelled appropriately. So it is virtually impossible for the Australian consumer to avoid eating halal slaughtered meat, due to both its monopoly and lack of labelling transparency.

Only 2.6% of Australians are Muslims but the majority of our meat is Halal slaughtered & certified

So with only just over 2% of Australians being Muslim, why is the majority of our meat halal slaughtered/halal certified? It is to do with export markets. A number of Islamic countries, such as Indonesia, mandate that all meat exported to them must be halal slaughtered and halal certified. Therefore many Aussie meat producers simply don’t bother to separate their domestic produce from their exports. This may make sense with the beef market, as we do export approximately $2 billion of red meat to Islamic countries. However it doesn’t make sense with chicken, as we export less than 5% of chicken to Islamic countries, but paradoxically it seems that the majority of our Aussie chickens are halal slaughtered and therefore halal certified.

Halal Certification may include a factory refit

And achieving halal certification is not just about obtaining a simple certificate. In fact factory refits may need to be made, factory processes may need to be changed (such as no longer cleaning with alcohol based cleaners), there may be audits, and most crucially Muslims are usually required to do the slaughtering to comply with halal certification. This results in employment discrimination whereby Muslims are hired over non-Muslims for abattoir jobs.

Abbatoirs being forced to hire Muslims as slaughterers

So wrap your head around this for a minute, the job that requires a worker to become skilled in slaughtering, is being handed on a plate to Muslims, ahead of non-Muslims. That is, we have a worldwide problem with Islamic terrorism, yet abattoirs are actively seeking out to employ Muslims to learn how to slaughter animals, in some cases ISIS style.

Halal Certification costs most likely passed on to all consumers

If that doesn’t worry you, well it appears that our hip pocket is being affected, because despite what we are often told about halal certification costs not being passed on to consumers (the argument usually revolves around economies of scale swallowing up costs, or that it opens up export markets), we have been given a hint by the The Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) that indeed halal certification costs are an issue. They testified to the 2015 Senate inquiry that there were problems in the meat industry, and that “margins are tight”. The 1982 Royal Commission into the meat industry had also noted, at the time, that the industry operates at low margins.

Multiple Halal Certification fees

Indeed at the Senate inquiry it was noted that to export to more than one Islamic country may require multiple halal certifications by the various halal certifiers who are authorized by the different Islamic countries, and this was an issue raised as a problem by a number of meat-processing companies to the AFGC.

Halal Certification fees anywhere from $1000 to $27,000 a month

And what do the halal certifiers charge for all this? Well who knows, not even the Senate inquiry could find this out. But, as reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, there are allegations of anywhere from $1000 to $27,000 a month. Other allegations include that food producers must make their financial records accessible to the certifier, and that they must sign non disclosure agreements regarding the fees.

Of course some of the allegations made may or may not be true, but why the secrecy? The whole industry is highly unregulated and shrouded in secrecy, so each halal certifier can pretty much make up their own rules. And if the fees are paltry why not be upfront about them? And why would meat producers raise it as an issue?

Consumers deserve a choice

At the very least food needs to be appropriately labelled in this country so that consumers have a choice whether or not to buy halal certified or kosher foods.

Labelling of Halal Certified foods should be compulsory

In fact the 2015 Senate inquiry into third-party certification of food did recommend (amongst other things) that religiously slaughtered/certified foods should be labelled as such, for the benefit of consumer transparency.

Halal Certified foods should not have a monopoly

However simply labelling foods as halal certified or kosher may not go far enough. For a start consumers need to be able to make a real choice, and if the majority of the food is halal certified, labelling it won’t solve the problem that a monopoly has been created and that consumers wishing to avoid religiously slaughtered/certified goods are unable to do so.

Labelling needs to take into account ‘hidden’ fees

Another issue though with labelling is that some foods either involve religious slaughter methods or incur religious fees but do not subsequently “qualify” to be halal certified or kosher.

In the case of kosher this is because parts of the animal slaughtered are not considered acceptable for Jews to eat, therefore an animal could be killed via the kosher slaughter method but not all of the meat labelled as kosher, leading to a lack of transparency for the consumer. However considering the small amount of meat that is kosher slaughtered in this country this is a minimal problem.

When it comes to halal slaughter/certification, some foods may be halal slaughtered and attract some certification fees but subsequently do not actually receive halal certification for a multitude of reasons, such as the meat became “contaminated” by coming into contact with pork etc.

As a result simply labelling products as halal certified or kosher may not disclose whether religious fees have been incurred, or religious slaughter methods have been used. So any labelling laws need to be mindful of this fact.

Ban halal and kosher slaughter

As regards to the actual slaughter methods, Australia should follow the lead of those European countries which are trying to ban halal and kosher slaughter. Furthermore animals should be irreversibly stunned before being slaughtered.

Some animal activists may argue that any slaughter method is by definition cruel, and that people should simply give up eating meat. Whilst I can understand and respect their argument, it seems unlikely that everyone will become vegetarian any time soon, therefore we owe it to animals to use the most humane methods of slaughter available. Animal welfare should not be compromised by religious superstition.

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References:

RSPCA, “What is Halal slaughter in Australia?”, http://kb.rspca.org.au/What-is-Halal-slaughter-in-Australia_116.html

Pew Research Center, “Chapter 4: Religious Beliefs and Practices”, http://www.pewforum.org/2013/10/01/chapter-4-religious-beliefs-and-practices/

Radio Poland, “Scientists claim kosher and halal animal slaughter is ‘inhumane and cruel'”, http://thenews.pl/1/9/Artykul/121177,Scientists-claim-kosher-and-halal-animal-slaughter-is-inhumane-and-cruel

BBC News, “Should animals be stunned before slaughter?”, http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-14779271

Channel 4 News, “FactCheck Q&A: should we ban kosher and halal slaughter?”, https://www.channel4.com/news/factcheck/factcheck-qa-ban-kosher-halal-slaughter

The Huffington Post, “Muslims And Jews Unite To Challenge Poland’s Halal And Kosher Meat Ban”, http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/11/29/muslims-jews-meat-poland_n_4359801.html

ABC Four Corners, “The Truth About Halal”, http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/stories/2015/09/07/4305337.htm

SMH, “Why halal certification is in turmoil”, http://www.smh.com.au/national/why-halal-certification-is-in-turmoil-20141222-12cmd3.html

Other related reading:

The hansard of The Senate Economics References Committee into third-party certification of food (2015) can be found at my post, Halal Certification – Sharia by stealth,  http://endgenderapartheid.com/2017/06/02/sharia-stealth-halal-certification-2-1-trillion-dollar-islamic-industry-chipping/