The real reality of the halal slaughter debate – May 2104

The background to the halal slaughter debate may be a eureka moment in which secularists, even Christians, have woken up to the fact that killing animals to eat is messy.

Secularists and atheists in effect “believe” that you can depersonalise the process by placing technology or machines between the man and the animal. Stunning is anything but a fool proof procedure. It’s not clean and not clinical.

Muslims, it seems, have a closer relation with God than Christians. For them a man must confront God and the animal to be killed. The man says a prayer that in effect thanks Our Creator for his bounty and seeks forgiveness for taking a precious life. Who can object to this relationship between man and our Creator?

For those who do not “do God” and have no concept, however minimal, of a Creator, atheists for example, animals can only be just another commodity. I think that most of us do have some sense of spirituality – who am I; what am I here for; where am I going – and we have respect for life be it human or animal.

Underpinning Islam and far eastern religions is spirituality and how we manage our relationship with nature. We do not have to be religious to experience that relationship.

Most of us have more empathy with the Muslim approach than we may have thought.

Returning to the halal debate or debates – do we label halal and non-halal; do we label stun and non-stun; is non-stun processing cruel; and so on – are we denying the elephant in the room?

Halal slaughter is not the issue. It is not the issue because most halal certified meat is derived from animals and birds are stunned before slaughter. They are then broadly speaking slaughtered in the same manner in industrial complexes that do not lend themselves to proper non-stun slaughter, which Jews know a shechita and Muslims known as zabiha or dhabiha (the two words are the same and are only spelt differently because the actual pronunciation is somewhere between the “z” and “dh”).

Shechita or zabiha does not scale up. For small farm animals this is the procedure that British farmers must have used on their farms when they butchered their own meat and took to market in towns. (If they stunned routinely after stun guns had been invented I stand to be corrected.) Once slaughter was transferred to large slaughterhouses stunning became necessary in order to facilitate and process slaughter in volume. Stunning is a product of commercialisation. Muslim halal certification boards recognise this and much halal meat worldwide is derived from stunned animals.

The current debate has arisen because Secularists, and I guess Christians, have woken up. They have discovered that the reality between the farm gate and plastic covered joints sitting on supermarket shelves is a gruesome world that they never knew about, or chose to ignore. The journey from farm gate to stunning pen is not a pleasant experience for animals. Stunning itself is not a pain free clinical procedure. It’s prone to failure more often than we may imagine.

Recently the UK Food Standards Agency produce data on the frequency of stuns that was so good that UK authorities have kept the information secret for four or more years. The information was released as a table with notes in answer to a Parliamentary Question from the Associate Parliamentary Group on Animal Welfare (APGAW). The methodology for the data collection has not been subject to public peer review. Despite that the British Veterinary Association represented the information and came up with a mis-stun rate of 0.0004% – i.e. negligible.

How odd the European Food Standards Agency met as recently as December last year to design an EU wide tool for measuring the rate of mis-stuns. Although across the EU standards have improved not so long it was reported that as many as 1 in 3 animals were mis-stunned. I am sure that there has been improvement but no one really knows what the true incidence is.

An expert in the USA suggests that 6% mis-stuns 1 in 15 may be acceptable but in human medical terms even 1% or 1 in 100 would be considered clinically significant.

Secularists who are close to where it’s happening are telling me that the secular “ritual” for slaughter using stunning is superior to non-stun processing. Really? Jewish shochet are highly trained – trained over seven years – and some will have a lifetime of experience actually killing animals.

Secularists say that this debate is not about religion. Why then are they not engaging with shochet and their Muslim counterparts to discuss the issues?

This subject has come to light because Muslims are asking where their meat is coming from and how it’s been produced. Secularists are hiding behind a stun gun and are in denial. All slaughter is messy. In its place non-stun slaughter is humane. For its part stunning is a commercial intervention rather than a humane one. We need an open and informed debate. Muslims are up for it. Secularists?

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