Tag Archives: non-stun slaughter

Why do Christians eat meat? (3)

On my recent visit to York Minster I was captivated by a poster that asked how the Romans transitioned from their old pagan religious rituals to Christian rituals after Constantine adopted the Christian God as the state God. It’s a good question. It is challenging on a number of fronts.

After the visit I went online and found this summary of end of sacrifice.

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I understand sacrifice simply to represent slaughter and safe processing of the meat that can be eaten from carcasses and critically the safe disposal of what was left over. This was overlayed with prayers of thanksgiving but the aim of the practice and ritual was to ensure meat was safe to eat. It had to be free from disease and for sure there were public health consequences is the unusable carcass was not disposed of safely.

Clearly in Biblical times and earlier there was not concept of bacteria but it is not difficult to understand that the priests of the day would have made an association between bad practice and disease. Disease would easily have been construed as punishment – especially for the maltreatment of animals at slaughter in particular.

The screen grab starts with the pro-vegetarian attitudes of pre-Christian religions originating in Asia and the Orient. No doubt some of these ideas must have spread westwards. At least the most devout and pious followers of many religions were questioning the practice of eating meat. As it was Jews and many other cults had long since recognised the need for centralised slaughter under the supervision of priests. Slaughter/sacrifice was typically done on a special occasion when there was a reason for a large family or community gathering (a street party, you could say).

John the Baptist, Jesus and their immediate associates appear to have been vegetarian and as a consequence disengaged from the tradition Jewish slaughter practice. We know from the gospels that Jesus fell out with the Temple authorities big time and the principal business of the Temple was slaughter. The Temple was the public slaughterhouse of its day. As well as merely killing animals to eat priests performed what today we know as “meat inspection”. Priests had worked out was constituted wholesome or healthy meat.  They had also worked out that the safest way to find dispose of what was left over was to burn it. The smell must have been something. Incense was used to mask it. When they gathered for the Passover festival the slaughter must have appeared very gruesome. If you had a prior aversion to killing animals just for their meat the whole experience would have been off-putting (as would a visit to a large commercial slaughterhouse today if they weren’t so secretive).

Critically the whole meat-eating process was controlled. In Greek tradition I read that meat had to be eaten within the confines of the sacred place, temple, or consecrated ground. Today we run into trouble if we store meat badly. Very clearly the priests were aware that if people took meat away to eat later and let it go off, because they didn’t know how to and did not have facilities to keep meat pure, the consequent food poisoning would not be good. The priests and community leaders would not uncontrolled disposal of meat in spoil pits or middens, which could attract rats and potential infection from them.

The origin of prayer at slaughter can easily be surmised. People clearly had a concept of the sanctity of life and guilt at taking life – witness the vegetarian ideology of Hinduism and the religions associated with it. The prayer thanks Our Maker, The Giver of Life, or whoever, for His bounty while seeking forgiveness for taking a life. You could also interpret it as asking the animal, even, for permission to take its life. One way or another it is intended to be a spiritual and solemn occasion – unlike modern Secular industrialised slaughter.

Most of this knowledge was held by priests and passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth. Novice priests would have taken years to train. The meat inspection, for example, could not be taught from illustrated text books. They also would need to have learn how to craft or supervise the crafting of knives to provide a blemish free blade. A blade that had nicks in it would tear flesh as it cut and cause pain. If the animal pulled away from a blunt blade the cut may not be quick and successful thereby causing great suffering.

Now assuming that Jesus and his associates were not engaging fully with the Temple authorities they would not be understanding the import of the ritual. Indeed they had issues with washing hands before eating. (Mark 7:5; Matthew 15:2; Luke 11:38)

This interaction between Jesus and his associates and the Temple authorities was/is hugely significant. None of these gospel writers were contemporaries of Jesus. Matthew and Luke worked from Mark’s gospel. The import is that the occurrence was significant enough to have been remembered and passed down.

When the Romans destroyed the Second Temple in 70CE the public slaughterhouse was destroyed and the Jewish authorities codified the ritual thereby enabling others to perform slaughter safely. In the meantime as St Paul took the Christian message into Southern Europe it seems that they adopted gentile practices that were far less strict than kosher – seemingly pigs were on the menu – but they were not so far removed that they bore no resemblance to kosher. The method of kill was more or less the same; there were meat inspection; and the remainder was burnt.

I am undecided to what extent Christians ate meat. Was the persecution of Christians in part because they were not following good sacrificial practice? How many Christians were there in the Roman Empire because of the persecution? Seemingly until his conversion Constantine punished vegetarian Christians. Christians had to keep their vegetarianism secret –  presumably avoiding public festivals. Constantine’s wife was Christian but presumably cannot have been vegetarian. How could she have kept that from her family members? I can only assume that many Christians were meat eaters. Constantine accepted Christian practice and ended their persecution.  The adoption of Christianity came about fifty years after his death. There may not have been any momentous change in practice in the Principia at York.

The tone from the screen grab suggests that as the Roman Empire came to a close formal organised sacrifice/slaughter had all but been abandoned with Christian emperors making sacrifice illegal. But what was made illegal and why? If the whole population of the Roman Empire had been banned from eating meat we have to assume that Europe and most of the world that came under its jurisdiction at some point would still be vegetarian today. That is not the case. What was abolished was the formal humane slaughter and hygiene practice. Animals were still sacrificed and eaten but without any reverence.

We have to assume that Christians may even have associated sacrifice with idol worship.

Fast forward to the industrial revolution and we see that in Britain the increase in meat consumption, as people migrated to towns and cities, placed huge strains on the supply side. Conditions in many slaughterhouses were dire. Keir Robertson,  writing about “The Bovine Scourge” painted a grim picture of rat infested facilities. One can only assume that attention to humane slaughter may not have been brilliant. Kosher practice on the other hand was highly regulated and must have been several orders of magnitude superior – leading to exemptions for religious practice. Secular authorities introduced the idea of the public slaughterhouse where health and hygiene practices could be supervised and regulated – thereby mimicking ancient religious practice.

The last two sentences in the screen grab are of interest.

The Roman Empire, at least in Western Europe, fell within a hundred years of Christian being adopted formally as the state religion at the back-end of the fourth century. Why?

Could it be that the learned structures than must were associated with temples acting as effective community and municipal centres disintegrated? That’s really speculative, or is it?

The last sentence in the screen grab says that when Mohammed and Islam took centre stage on the seventh century sacrifice was not included as one of the Five Pillars of Islam. On the other hand at this time the principles of good animal welfare, especially at slaughter, and hygiene were re-introduced. In parts of Africa slaughterhouses are co-located with mosques. Mosques are community centres. Slaughter was once again brought under the supervision of community leaders (imams, presumably). Hygiene and spirituality are essential components of eating meat, which early Muslims presumably did only on special occasions – seemingly gathering at their community centre to do so. Coincidentally Islam flourished and as it flourished so science advanced – eventually, it seems, spreading west and laying the foundations of western academia.

This post is the third of a series asking, “Why do Christians eat meat?” There is no reason why they should but my reading is suggesting very strongly that the first Christians were vegetarian and zealously opposed eating meat. As a consequence the “inner circle” or “controlling mind” of the first Christian movement disconnected from essential rituals that were integral to the practice of preparing and eating meat. Having done so the movement’s followers were never going to be taught the importance of hygiene. Indeed it seems that hygiene was actually eschewed.

What I am seeing is that good practice promulgated by Jews before Christianity to this day was corrupted under Christian influence until Mohammed and Islam re-codified the practices. Islam never penetrated far into Western Europe. It reached Southern Spain but was expelled. Turkey marks the boundary of Islamic influence in Eastern Europe. Curiously Western Christianity has retained the vestiges of sacrifice in many of its rituals, which now have symbolic form.

I believe that Christians disconnect with sacrifice is a cause of many of today’s ills. There can be no doubt that anti-Semitism (anti-Jewish sentiment) is in part fuelled by Christianity’s disconnect from Jewish rituals. Muslims more or less follow many or most food hygiene practices so it is no surprise that Christians have difficulty accepting Islam.

Why do humanists shun the humane principles underpinning Islam?

A few years ago I picked up a pamphlet introducing Islam from a street stall. After reading the first few pages I thought that if you replace the word “God” (or “Allah”) with the word “nature” you could be introducing Humanism.

This week I had a twitter conversation with a Humanist who clearly rejected any notion that religions and their practices were rooted in the same humanitarian principles as his (dare I say, “religion?”).  I tested him. The very concept of God, Our Creator, Our Provider was enough for him or her to erect a very high and impenetrable barrier.

I strongly believe that Humanists should do not this. Towards the end of this post I develop this. With or without a belief in God there is common ground at a spiritual level.

The religious tract was describing how Islam should relate to the natural world and care for it. All religions have at their heart a similar foundation. Some, Jainism, take the respect for life very seriously indeed. Why, I wonder, do Humanists assume that belief in God or a god is incompatible with Humanism?

Many humans kill animals to eat and have done for many a century or indeed millennium. It is clear from what we know of Bible times that the peoples of the Middle East and probably Europe generally must have had a concept of the sanctity of life. The pyramids, the Coliseum in Rome, Greek architecture and other evidence testify to the prophets, the seers, priests and the like were not stupid. We cannot but assume that they also worked out what was a good way and what was a bad way to prepare food and especially the meat they chose to eat.

I think that we can assume that they had no idea of bacteria but for sure they would have worked out when bad practice created public health hazards. Casually discard the inedible remains of a carcass and you invited rat infestations and a whole host of infections – dysentery and so on. They would almost certainly have worked out what was not good meat to eat – that is meat from diseased animals and those whose death they did not understand. A good test of a healthy animal was its being conscious, alive and kicking as it were.

Martin Henig, in his “Religion in Roman Britain” (Routledge; New Ed edition (5 July 1995)), describes how the people of Britain would have had feelings of guilt when killing. At least those associated with cults. Cults, sects and religions would have been led by priests who passed their knowledge on by word of mouth through initiation ceremonies – rote teaching with incomplete understanding. From that we get rituals.

If we look at this from a Muslim perspective and their belief in a Creator God, The Provider of Life, a Supreme Being (a philosophical construct indicating that there is something much bigger than me or oneself and people generally that inspires us to develop a sense of community and common good) these feelings of guilt are manifest in a prayer at the time of killing for meat. The prayer, the Bismillah, is intended to thank Our Maker for His bounty and more importantly perhaps seek forgiveness. The slaughter process briefly connects man, a beast and God in the correct environment.

Of the kill itself the correct procedure will inflict minimal if any pain. This is achieved by using a carefully sharpened knife and a single swift cut that creates a catastrophic drop in blood pressure leading to rapid unconsciousness, which may be preceded by a brief period of wooziness. Everything that can be done to eliminate discomfort is done. No doubt poleaxing was deemed to be a rather hit and miss procedure (and its modern forms may well still be so).

Jews have really mastered the skills to sharpen the knife without nicks and blemishes to avoid tearing tissues and cause pain. One the most acclaimed experts is Dr Temple Grandin, who was interviewed here:

Munchies interview with Dr Grandin

There is a proper way and a proper place for so-called religious slaughter. My own research suggests that it does not scale up well. It’s doable but needs careful design of facilities and properly trained personnel. But let’s not kid ourselves into religiously believing that so-called “humane” slaughter in perfect. It’s a very secretive world. Operators are often desensitised. It’s a grim task. Many may well resort to fun and jollity as a coping mechanism.

For sure the Islamic requirement for the slaughterer  in effect to confront His Maker and the animal whose life is about to be taken simply isn’t possible – certainly not for chicken, which are killed in huge numbers.

As I see it this is very much in line with Humanist principles are actually not far removed from Islamic principles. Both want to see and expect humane rearing and as humane a death as is possible. Reality may be far from expectation for both. Industrial scale halal forces stunning because not to do so would be unconscionable. Humanists assume that their rituals are foolproof when it may be an awful lots worse than the industry wants to admit to. Even RSPCA, yes RSPCA, accredited facilities have been caught out by undercover Animal Aid filming. Two Soil Association approved slaughterhouses have also been exposed. That Animal Aid captured examples bad practice is significant. They film over very short periods and would be unlikely to witness rare incidents.

Where Humanists and Muslims differ is in their belief on a God or Creator. That’s fine but if humans feel guilty for taking life – and if they have a concept of sanctity of live they will do – who or what do they confront to seek forgiveness. If it is a matter between them and the animal or bird they are about to eat they have to confront the animal when it is still alive and is conscious.

Without a process not dissimilar to the proper halal process Humanists effectively treat their meat as a commodity.

My Twitter conversation ground to a halt when I introduced this argument. The barrier was well and truly reinforced. Of course developing this argument of in chunks of 140 characters is impossible.

I post here because there is a need to have an open discussion without barriers and preconceived, fixed ideas. At this point I have to get some matters off my chest. I discovered recently, in part after gatecrashing a Liverpool students union debate on the subject via its twitter feed, that many veterinary students learn from the Daily Mail (or their Christian vicars) that Islam is evil and therefore halal slaughter is wrong. They are not taught how it works and its context. They in turn inform our political leaders. The intellectually blind and leading the intellectually blind, so to speak.

I will close with this thought. Humanists need others to have a God in order to justify their non-belief and they would invent God if there wasn’t one in order to define their spirituality.

Who says Jewish/Muslim slaughter practices are inhumane?

The experts on humane slaughter are actually the people at the National Secular Society. They apply some of the best science and impartial thinking in their methodology. They are open minded. The listen to all views. They listen, that us, until anything vaguely religious crops up. This is the point at which barriers are erected instantaneously.

These experts at the NSS are quick to accuse Jews and Muslims of living in the past. They accuse Jews and Muslims of ignoring science while themselves ignoring the history of their Secular stun “rituals”. Secularists assume with religious zeal that slaughter with stunning is superior.

How much of this science, however, is purely emotional? To what extent Secularists assume superior rituals because they don’t have to contemplate the thought of a man doing the actual deed. Their rituals distance man from the final act. Their rituals include measures to minimise the amount of blood actually seen by observers and the sight of the machine killing animal after animal – as if they were mere commodities. Secular slaughter rituals put distance between the man and the act of killing.

Why do Secularists stun their animals before slaughter? It was not always thus. Their religion is in fact relatively new yet they have lost touch with its genesis within a lifetime. In my early childhood, or not long before it, many farmers slaughtered and butchered their own animals to take to market in nearby towns. My father was so trained. I gather that he didn’t stun small animals. After WWII My father bought a small holding attached to a village shop. I guess the land was just sufficient to keep enough cows for a milkround. I barely remember the cows because he switched to keeping pigs for bacon. These were sent away for slaughter.

In my lifetime farmers killed their animals for their own consumption (not for sale). My father visited his brothers’ farms to kill the odd sheep or pig. Cousins say he didn’t stun and animals drifted or slipped away. This would be expected. A catastrophic drop in cerebral blood pressure causes rapid unconsciousness. If a very sharp knife is used animals don’t flinch, according to Dr Temple Grandin, a foremost expert on slaughterhouse welfare. Bleeding to death is not painful. On the contrary, as one Tweeter recently put it, “it’s rather poetic”. Humans reporting near death experiences invariably report a pleasant experience – despite the trauma of resuscitation, which can be violent enough to break ribs. This not an exact equivalent analogy but cardiac arrests cause a catastrophic loss of cerebral blood pressure and unconsciousness.

So why do we stun?

We stun because animals for human consumption are now slaughtered at abattoirs where meat inspection, a matter of public health and hygiene, can the better be supervised and regulated. Slaughterhouses compromise welfare big time. Stunning provides a number of advantages. It allows for higher line speeds and given that non-stun slaughter requires a highly skilled artisan it makes way for mechanised slaughter. Above all stunning helps to reduce the serious inhumanity of the whole process – especially in the final moments.

Slaughter without stunning requires a human to effect the deed. Few people can imagine doing this themselves. I guess most us would squirm at the thought of killing our own animals to eat in a survival situation. It’s abhorent. There is also a presumption of pain and distress because  of the sight of blood but what pain there may be will be transient and the animal will become lightheaded before becoming unconsciousness. Of much greater distress to animals will be the smell of death as they queue to be led to the stun pens.

I saw a video recently. It showed so-called humane slaughter. All I saw was the stun, an animal collapsing, presumed to be unconscious, and being unceremoniously tipped onto the slaughterhouse floor. He probably was unconscious but there is a remote possibility that it wasn’t. We just don’t know how animals suffer. There was no blood therefore the ritual is humane.

It that not the real issue here. Secular slaughter ritual “sort of” sanitises the slaughter process. We aren’t shown the actual slaughter. We rarely are. It’s more humane for the observer not to see the “bloody” part of the ritual.

And that’s the point. Secular slaughter ritual is humane because we never see the whole process. We can reasonably assume during a successful stun animals won’t know what hit them BUT not all stuns are successful first time AND that’s the point when the Secular ritual is far from humane. Now MPs may write this off as insignificant but I feel sure the affected animals would not agree. MPs may choose to believe that second stuns are applied immediately – but that assumes the now seriously stressed animal will know to stand still for the repeat process. BUT this is unseen. Therefore it’s humane. QED.

Of course veterinary surgeons are better informed but to what extent is their opinion based on the their emotions? How many veterinary students have made up their minds before they start training and does their training actually deal with this subject at length. Remember vets are motivated by the need save life and not willfully sacrifice it – except when it is necessary to reduce suffering as a result of illness or injury.

Transparent meat labelling is not easy

This is intended for the Meat Trades Journal is response to a tweet itself prompted by the halal meat discussion.

Just a thought or three but in current climate how does labelling help.
Kosher and halal are welfare and meat processes covering every aspect from farm to fork. These terms won’t be understood by non-Jews/Muslims. Much halal marketing may not be halal.

The correct terms to use for slaughter are shechita (Jewish) and zabiha or dhabiha (Islam). But true shechita/zabiha is specialist meat that people who didn’t want it would have to go of their way to find. It’s probably expensive. These terms may almost be superfluous.

The term halal, as applied to slaughter, does not have a single meaning or usage. For non-practicising and nominal Muslims the term may merely refer to the animal/bird and not the method of slaughter or subsequent processing. Thus stun slaughter is permitted and processing in non-halal kitchens is accepted. Devout Muslims would ask questions before accepting the halalness of the word.

Non-Muslim customers would need to be educated well to ensure that they knew most halal meat is stun slaughtered and is for all practical purposes produced the same way as non-halal meat – except say for chicken where the final deed is performed by man and not machine – hardly a case for not buying something labeled halal.

The term halal may not always be very informative. It would require an extensive education programme just to say it means little of significance. This is important because not meat that is certifiable halal is actually certified. We would still have the “hidden halal” problem.

There must be a simpler way. Let’s go for “stun” and “non-stun”. Easy? Well no.

Stunning is not performed for pain reduction and trauma minimisation in the final seconds of an animal’s life. It is not a smart clinical procedure. The failure rate for mis-stunning is not known. It’s better than it was but it’s not known. The European Food Standards agency has only recently (Dec 2013) designed a standard data collection tool.

Mis-stun rates in medical terminology are clinically significant. The rate is probably below 6%, a figure deemed acceptable by the global expert, Dr Temple Grandin but higher figures have been quoted. If animals are mis-stunned and are noticed they will be re-stunned. Not humane.

What, I ask, is the probability of mis-stuns going unnoticed. I doubt if anyone will ever know. Remember we are talking about high throughput activity to keep costs down. If the stun hasn’t worked fully but isn’t easily spotted there must be a chance of recovery between stun and stick or cut. What the animal would experience in this situation only God will know. I doubt that this is a high probability but we don’t know so this possibility cannot be discounted. Definitely not humane.

Well “non-stun” will crack it. Again, no. Remember this discussion has arisen because non-stun practice is promoted as a cruel procedure. This cannot be so if conducted correctly in accordance shechita/zabiha rules. The single quick cut is followed by a catastrophic drop in cerebral blood pressure so unconsciousness ensues. We know animals do not feel “pain” at the moment of the cut. We know because they don’t flinch. Yes, pain receptors will have been activated but there is a delay before the pain will be experienced. The animal will unconscious before experiencing enough discomfort to trouble it.

Shechita/zabiha does not scale up. It’s not suited to high throughput slaughter for economy of scale. True non-stun slaughter belongs to a highly specialised market. Using the term “non-stun” may therefore not achieve the desired aim.

In conclusion it seems that while consumers may want labelling for transparency the slaughter method with the biggest issues is stun-slaughter. In the term labelling won’t be simple and will surely require an extensive education programme.

If this were a clinical trial

There has been an onslaught on halal certified meat over the past week or so. The discussion is not new but for some reason the forces ranked against “halal” have united and making a concerted effort to marginalise Islam. They say theirs is not a “crusade” but to those of us watching what else can it be?

My respect would increase if those attacking Islam would just admit that may be, just may be, a genuine lack of knowledge is underpinning a fear of the unknown. “Islamophobia” could not be a more apt word. Phobia irrationale fear. Call me a reformed Islamophobe if you will. Like a reformed smoker I may have become a zealot. Well, so what? Someone has to challenge the misperceptions. 

The current battle was probably sparked by the British Veterinary Association’s incoming president coming into land with all guns ablaze.  Non-stun was going to be banned. This is a man with a life science background and a professional who should be listening to the arguments. If his opponents, in religious slaughter experts, are wrong he must back his argument with the robust science that supports well the case for non-stun – when done properly in a proper place. Above all he needs to debate with them and when that has failed approach pparliament and the media. But No.

The Associate Parliamentary Group on Animal Welfare wanted to unpick this debate. It has been known for some time that “humane” stunning procedures used by Secularists (and Christians) fail in up to 30% of cases. The data is not up to date and is probably nearer 5% but the truth is no one really knows. There wasn’t standard data collection tool for EU countries. The European Food Standards Agency was discussing this as late as last December. 

The UK FSA provided a written reply to the APGAW’s request for data on the rate of mis-stuns Iin UK slaughterhouses. The data was presented in a simple table. To be honest the figures looked brilliant. The BVA took the figures and calculated, correctly,  that the rate of mis-stuns was 0.0004%. In the world of human medicine this would be negligible. 

Let’s unpick the FSA data. How was it collected? What methodology was used? Has the methodology be subjected to a peer review in the public domain. All these questions and more would be asked of any clinical trial for a new medicine or surgical procedure claiming superior treatment outcomes.

John Blackwell and colleagues, all life science professionals, are more than able to scrutinise the data but here’s a thing. The FSA data covered four or five years. It was known that the data were so good relative to what known before that they have not been placed in the public domain.  That prompted me to ask questions.

It’s now dawning on me that if someone was trialling a new drug or surgical procedure for use in human medicine the trial would stopped early if unequivocal data should truly unimaginable benefits.

In this case, compared to all other EU countries, if the UK had such a superior outperformance the European Commission, or whoever, would have no option but to ban cross border trade in meat until every country had brought its standards up to UK standards. Indeed if animal welfare were unerpinning the current debate the UK would have long since banned the import of all meat without waiting for the EU.

There is no ban. Why? Be

cause the data does not support the BVA case.

 

 

As I say, if this were a clinical trial? If this were a trial objectivity would be a pre-requisite.

 

 

As I also say genuine ignorance and lack of knowledge is driving this debate. No one is chairing it and it’s getting out of hand.

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?

How halal is halal (2) – getting close and personal

In the first part of my series, “How halal is halal …” I introduced the matter of a prayer offered at the moment of slaughter. The prayer gives non-Muslims (and non-Jews) grief but frankly it’s not especially religious. I drew an analogy with the grace offered before meals in Christian families and typically before formal black tie dinners.

How many people who are not religious would attend a formal dinner and not take their seats before the guest of honour enters the room? Very few.

I suggest that the purpose of the prayer is to express thanks to our maker for his bounty and request forgiveness for the wilful taking of a life. Is that really primitive and something belonging to a long since bygone era? I am sorry but even humanists and secularists have to concede that.

If you go to YouTube and search on Mercy halal slaughter you should easily find three videos explaining non-stun slaughter. The critical element is the need for the slaughterman to form a relationship with the animal to be slaughtered.

The animal has to made to feel at ease and unstressed for the practical reason that the carcass will produce better meat. In the videos the animals can be seen not to be ill at ease. This is very difficult to achieve in industrial settings. I guess they must be aware of the smell of death – hence burning incense in the tabernacle of Old Testament days to help put animals at ease.

Industrial slaughterhouses haven’t always been organised to optimise good welfare. Beating and the use of electric prods to make animals go where are required seriously increases stress. Shutting the animal in a box that restricts its movement for stunning purposes increases stress. Stunning will fail if the animal moves at the critical moment. Importantly the industrial process is impersonal.

The halal slaughter is personal and this is the key point – the slaughterman effectively has to look the animal is the eye when he does the deed. It’s not unlike a soldier confronting his enemy face-to-face. This contrasts with use of aircraft that attack from a distance possibly without seeing the enemy. The uses of drones is considered to be a very detached way of engaging with enemies.

Halal slaughter is clearly close and personal while the second could be seen as cowardly.

As I have been researching this I have become increasingly aware that secular people are detached from their food. Meat is bought from supermarkets in plastic packs. Consumers have little or no idea what happens between those pretty pastoral scenes of cuddly animals grazing in luscious meadows and the supermarket chiller cabinets. Even farmers disconnect from the process when their livestock pass through the farm gate – at one time they may have slaughtered their own animals.

Structly speaking Jews and Muslims are required to think about the entire process from farm to fork. Christians have no such commitment.

This article has the subtitle “getting up close and personal”. I have described a one-to-one personal relationship in a slaughter facility. Industrial settings make this difficult. I’ll probably return to the issues surrounding stunning in a follow up paper. For now I need to relay a brief chat with my Subway franchise owning neighbour and second cousin. In picturesque Devon there hasn’t been a need for a halal Subway outlet but I discussed an experience in Blackburn. I was told that the chicken were slaughtered en mass with a recorded prayer playing in the background.

Two issues arise. The first is that the slaughter is not close up and personal. Is this halal? Some halal certification authorities think so but is it really?

That’s a discussion for another day.

Many people who have worked in slaughterhouses or even merely visited report how they have changed their meat eating. If more of us recognised that all slaughter was cruel would we eat less meat? Would that be good for our health and possibly for the environment.