Dear Mr Parish
This letter will seriously inform your considering non-stun slaughter. It does defend the practice but with qualifications. On the contrary because of the need for cheap meat and the need for large scale industrial slaughterhouses process stun slaughter is probably essential.
You will see that I do not invoke God in my comments. I have no religious prejudices one way or the other. My references to religion may be as you have never seen or heard before.
I am writing as a well informed individual with and agricultural and life science background who is able to apply a well established grasp of physiology to the general debate on “religious” slaughter and to the forthcoming event in Westminster Hall on November 4th. I shall make an early start to reach London in time to attend this debate.
I presume that your letter of 23rd September stating that you read my email “with interest” was a standard letter sent to all who contacted the All Party Parliamentary Group(s) where welfare at slaughter is being discussed. That’s fine. I doubt that I contributed anything different from that submitted by others with a good grasp of physiology and NO religious baggage.
I am struggling with the report that you have published and that forms the basis of next week’s debate. The front page reads: “All-Party Parliamentary Group on Beef and Lamb Meat Slaughtered in Accordance with Religious Rites”. The title and the use of capital letters in your letter’s reference to “Religious Rites” and “Freedom of Religious Expression” confirms that yours concern about non-stun is a religious/political concern rather than a welfare one. That why I am struggling with your approach.
I am struggling because after extensive reading I have yet to ascertain if any slaughter of meat for sale in this country is actually slaughtered in anything than can remotely be considered to be a religious ceremony. You draw attention to shechita and dhabiha, the Jewish and Muslim words for non-stun slaughter but there is nothing ritualistic about these procedure other than a strict observance of the procedure. As you must have realised in your deliberations, the principles that underpin shechita and dhabiha are the very same principles that inform good Secular practice.
A key principle of producing meat to eat is that we should not take from unhealthy or diseased animals or any animals whose manner of death is unknown. Not even farmers eat their casualties.- sensible really and nothing remotely theological. In the hot climates of the Middle East in particular there is a need to be extra sure that meat is fresh. This points to a need for animals to be killed shortly before their intended consumption and because meat could not be kept easily I guess we are talking about the use of small(ish) animals – namely lambs, goats and calves that are not needed for breeding or milk production (rather than large beef cattle bred specifically for eating).
From our knowledge of life in Biblical times it should be obvious that then there was a good sense of what made for good and bad hygiene. Get is wrong and the problem of dealing with gastro-intestinal disease in arid environs where water was scarce would have been significant. Societies or communities developed unwritten rules and procedures for good practice. Initially these would have been passed on through the oral tradition by the equivalent of rabbis or teachers. These were eventually written down and codified probably around the start of the Common Era. Inevitably different communities developed their own variations of a common expectation and religions were born.
There is no doubt that leaders with a sense of spirituality had a well developed sense of the “sanctity of life”. From this, and certainly with the discovery of bronze, artisans worked out how to kill in order to cause the minumum of stress that would in turn ensure good quality meat. I guess they had a concept of a “Creator” so when they killed to eat they would offered a prayer effectively thanking their Creator for his bounty and seeking forgiveness for taking a precious life.
Significantly our ancestors achieved this without science as we undertand it today. They had no concept of germs but they know that bad hygiene practices had bad outcomes. The need for strict cleanliness is the origin of the Islamic practice of ablutions before prayer.
Turning to modern science there is adequate data to show that when an animal suffers a rapid and catastrophic loss of blood pressure consciousness is lost very quickly. I see Dr S D Rosen has explained this in great depth at different times. This must be so and the body’s phsysiology is designed to minimise pain in certain situations.
Although “fight and flight” mechansisms not a perfect analogy their physiology is easy to understand. To “fight” or “flee” animals need to release energy from stores and divert blood flow to the big muscles. Normally the brain accounts for much blood flow but fighting and fleeing are essentially reflex actions that do not need the full computing power of the brain so the brain partially shuts down. The skin also shuts down. For sure, the brain does not want to be telling the rest of the body that it’s in pain. The brain won’t want to stop fighting once it has started, nor to give up flight just because it hurts.
In man when fear or fright (emotional shock) provokes the physiological changes that normally facilitate fight and flight there are occasions when this change is badly controlled resulting in fainting or a near faint. In the latter man will feel lightheaded. Man must offer these experiences to this debate and they must be received.
When man has a cardiac arrest blood flow to the brain is catastrophically interrupted. Unconsciousness is quick. If resuscitation is quickly applied survival is possible and some people report near death experiences. A recent proactive study of NDEs is significant in that no one appears to have reported anyhthing other than a “pleasant” or “mystical” experience. There are no reports of the pain that would surely be experienced during chest compression and electrical defibrillation.
I write at length because, try as i might, I find it difficult to find the actual confirmation that animals killed by shechita or dhabiha in the proper environment will experience the sensation of pain. I have no doubt pain receptors will be activated but where is the evidence of enduring pain? Our understanding of physiology simply does not support the argument that animals killed by shechita or dhabiha must die in agony. The evidence just isn’t there.
Significantly you have decided to restrict your our deliberations to the actual time of kill. You have curiously excluded pre-slaugther welfare. Here there is plenty of evidence to show that animals that are stressed by virtue of poor welfare are prone to failed stunning – simply because it’s not easy to apply electrodes, or other devices, to the optimum site for effective stunning. Equally in the wrong and a stressed environment it is not easy to apply shechita or dhabiha perfectly. In huge industrial secular slaughterhouses I guess there is a risk that the risk of operator fatigue is a potential issue. It is difficult to see how in large halal slaughterhouses non-stun slaughter could be accepted for the same fatigue concerns. The risk of inefficient cutting would be untenable. All the videos of shechita that I have seen suggest a very low throughput procedure that does not scale up.
In conclusion I can not see any alternative to slaughter with stunning in any high throughput industrial slaughter facility where fast line speeds are required to keep costs down. Equally I am sure that good non-stun slaughter practice scales up easily. But to be pushing for a ban on non-stun slaughter is not right.