My letters to The Times and Matthew Syed

Dear Matthew

Below I have copied the letter I wrote to your The Times host on New Year’s Day (2015). I dropped you a private email as a matter of decency as you and your position on halal/kosher meat must be robustly challenged.

I notice that you engaged with Shimon Cohen (@scohen_shimon) and Simon Myerson (@SCynic1) on Twitter and for doing you must be applauded.

The problem is that non-stun slaughter, shechita and zabiha, the terms used by Jews and Muslims respectively, stands up as a humane method of slaughter on its own without theological religious tags. I recently discovered that my dad, a Christian, killed without stunning on his brothers’ farms. His father was a farmer who killed his own livestock to take to market.

It never dawned on me that this would have been so until I expressed my interest in this subject to an older cousin. He said, without prompting, “but that’s how your father would have done it and animals just slipped away”. Physiologically this must be so, at least for small animals, provided that it happens in an unstressed environment.

On-farm slaughter must have stopped in the nineteen fifties. From what I can make out transferring slaughter for consumption would have improved the public health imperative of supervised meat inspection. Industrial slaughter without stunning is probably unconscionable because animal welfare is seriously compromised by the whole experience – incidentally increasing the issue of mis-stunning and its unseen consequences.

I say “unseen consequences” because you cannot see a stonking headache. Nor are we ever shown the issues surrounding re-stunning. I refer to Neil Parish’s dismissing the issue in parliamentary debate in the letter below.

The bottom line is that slaughter without stunning in the proper environment is, as Shimon Cohen attests to, probably not significantly superior to slaughter with stunning but critically neither is it significantly inferior. In medical parlance we use the term “non-inferior” – statistically meaning not better but neither worse.

You won’t appreciate this but the techniques Jews call shechita and Muslims call zabiha (also spelt dhabiha) were probably proven practices that were common most certainly in that part of the world a good many years before they were codified, that’s written down, by Jews and Muslims in the first and seventh centuries. Before they were taught by rote – hence “ritual”. Our ancestors certainly will not have know germ theory but they would have known the consequences of getting it wrong. They were careful what they ate and how they prepared it.

I am sorry but your beliefs are not the “example of refreshinghly clear-headed liberalism” you were praised for on Twitter.

Bruce Brown




Dear Sir/Madam

There is one sentence in Matthew Syed’s “The slippery slope from halal meat to FGM”, Jan1st, that is correct – namely “Let us decide the halal meat issue on the basis of evidence and reason.”

The halal meat debate does not predispose to reason. It cannot. On Twitter yesterday a rational secularist made it clear that people with religion are not credible witnesses. This means that Jewish experts, who seemingly do know their stuff, may come to the table but their evidence does not count.

Mr Syed missed another key issue, which today’s veterinarians won’t admit, and that is to kill to eat is counterintuitive to a profession dedicated to save life and not to take it. Let’s face it I, like very many others, would not take easily to putting a knife to a sheep’s throat. The consequences of doing so are pretty graphic. Contrast that with mechanical slaughter, which allows man to distance himself from the act. Whenever we see pictures of Secular slaughter we are usually only shown the stun. There is no blood therefore the ritual is humane. We rarely see the rough handling following stunning.

The fact is that stunning is far from a foolproof procedure. Mis-stuns are not as rare as the British Veterinary Association broadcast loudly earlier this year, misusing Defra data in the process. We do not know whan the stun failure rate is. It’s probably better than a 6% to 30% range often quoted. Let’s run with something in the order of 1%, or one in one hundred animals, quite possibly already stressed before the mis-stun, suffering badly.

Neil Parish MP believes mis-stunning not significant because restunning is immediate. Highly unlikely but that’s what he’s telling parliamentarians.

The problem for Secular authorities is that secular and Christian butchers, like my late father, who practised without stunning are now few and far between. Farmers no longer slaughter their meat. Were they to do so they may well favour non-stun practice, when conditions allow. These conditions are not found in large industrial facilities.

Very few people in this debate can say they are truly objective. Even I have a potential conflict of interest. Non-stun may not be as inhumane as graphic pictures suggest.

Yours faithfully

Bruce Brown


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