Expert Opinion on Considerations When Evaluating All Types of Slaughter: Mechanical, Electrical, Gas and Religious Slaughter
And A Critical Scientific Review of
Report 161: Ritual Slaughter and Animal Welfare (September, 2008);
Report 398: Report on Restraining and Neck Cutting or Stunning
and Neck Cutting in Pink Veal Calves (September, 2010)
by the Animal Sciences Group, Wageningen UR;
and the 2009 New Zealand Papers by Gibson et al.
Joe M. Regenstein Ph.D.
Professor of Food Science
Head: Cornell Kosher and Halal Food Initiative
Department of Food Science
Ithaca, NY 14853-7201
May 23, 2011
Notice: Because of the short time line for preparing this paper, the references are not complete.
The report has been shared with Dr. Temple Grandin and her comments are awaited.
DialRel Deliverable 1.3 will be analyzed in the future.
The visit to the Dutch slaughterhouse that does both kosher and halal slaughter will be reported on in a supplement to this report.
This paper is meant to address some of the critical issues that are being raised in The Netherlands with respect to “religious” slaughter. The term religious slaughter has been chosen because that is what it is – it is the way people of the Jewish and Muslim faiths carry out slaughter in keeping with the requirements of their religious texts. There is an effort in the Netherlands to ban un-stunned slaughter which would make all kosher slaughter impossible and would make slaughter for most Muslims also impossible.
It is impossible to compare different slaughter systems – they all have their pluses and minuses. The key for us as scientists is to optimize each of them and recognize that science has some limitations. For example, the four alternative methods for stunning animals (penetrating captive bolt, non-penetrating captive bolt, electrical stunning (using many different voltage/amperage relationships) and gas stunning (with various gases) cannot possibly all be equally good for animals. Yet, all four are used in some cases for the same species of animal. So how does one determine the right one and why are the others then not banned? (Note: This is not advocating the banning of three of the four methods, i.e., but it is asking the question of deciding which is best, under which circumstances or management options – because it is unlikely that all four provide equal animal welfare. However, when properly optimized and used appropriately, each leads to a satisfactory outcome. And it is safe to strongly argue that religious slaughter is well within the same “range” of satisfactory outcome as these other four methods, each of which must be used properly or welfare may be compromised in excess of the concerns expressed for religious slaughter.)
Efforts to prove scientifically that religious slaughter is inhumane [i.e., to establish a broader principle] is beyond the scope of science. The degree of humane treatment is a bioethical issue of what “ought” to be. If scientific standards are used to define pain/suffering then that standard must be used to evaluate all competing methods of management/slaughter when used properly and improperly. The issue of what is and is not humane needs to be a part of a broader discussion of what is the current standard of humane that includes hunting, bull-fighting, cock-fighting, dog racing, horse racing, and other uses by humans of animals. The real goal of both the religious and scientific community ought to be to optimize animal welfare in the context of producing food fit for consumers and to address the issue across a wide spectrum of issues.
Dr. Temple Grandin from Colorado State University, a globally recognized expert on animal handling and slaughter has identified two truly excellent religious slaughter plants (both in Canada) (Grandin, personal communications) and so far no research has been done in these facilities other than Dr. Grandin’s observational work. The immediate goal should be to make every religious slaughter plant as good as or better than the conditions found in those two plants with constant improvement over time. Research needs to be done in these two plants to establish the current measureable criteria for evaluation of an “excellent” facility. And those facilities might also be improved further. It is important to remember that many of the regular slaughter plants also need to be improved to reach the stage of being “excellent”. Dr. Grandin’s recent statement supporting religious slaughter done right is found in Appendix I.
If animal welfare improvement is truly the goal, then the Dutch Parliament should be simultaneously considering rules to improve regular slaughter (e.g., require all plants to meet a widely accepted standard such as the American Meat Institute Standards for Slaughter written by Dr. Temple Grandin and accepted by all of the high end groups offering humane animal certification programs such as Farm Forward and Certified Humane ) and to improve the training of those who hunt.
1. Science, government regulation and improving slaughter practices:
Dr. Temple Grandin is the world’s leading expert on slaughter practices and animal welfare with respect to slaughter practices. Her efforts in the United States have dramatically raised the bar for the humane treatment of animals prior to and at the time of slaughter.
Any evaluation of religious slaughter requires an understanding of the complex interaction of the animals’ prior condition, the physical system used both for slaughter and to get the animal to the point of slaughter, the commitment of management to good animal welfare, and the actual training and monitoring of the activities of those involved in bringing the animals to slaughter and in doing the actual slaughter. The actual details of slaughter are the most important aspects covered by very specific religious rulings. Thus, it is possible to make a lot of changes and improvements in the quality of religious slaughter without impinging on the religious rules. Like regular slaughter, the emphasis needs to be on working with the religious communities and the slaughter facilities to improve religious slaughter (and regular slaughter also).
In general it is important to recognize that religious slaughter takes more effort to do right, but that when done right it may in fact be better than other forms of commercial slaughter. Thus, the goal is to work together to make it right. Because it is a more labor-intensive and a slower process, it does not appear possible to require that all animals be slaughtered using religious slaughter done right rather than using the current less humane non-religious slaughter procedures, which from the animal’s point of view might in fact prove to be unfortunate.
If one looks at the academic literature on the scientific research related to religious slaughter, it is clear that much of the literature fails to provide sufficient information to determine how the religious slaughter was done in sufficient detail to evaluate whether the data collected at a particular slaughterhouse can in any way be generalized. Nor is it possible to repeat the experiment with the information in the methods and materials section as provided. These attempts to generalize also often do not take into account species differences. Sheep, cattle, chickens and turkeys each have unique issues. The goal of the research seems to be to question religious slaughter generally even if the data comes from bad operations, rather than to determine what is not working and figure out how to improve it. These results certainly could and should be used to show the management of that plant that there is room for improvement. A set of good practices for religious slaughter under different circumstances would be extremely helpful in helping these plants improve their practices.
Thus, beyond any scientific criticisms of any specific research paper, the question of whether any of the literature in this area can actually be generalized beyond the one or few systems evaluated by a particular research is essentially impossible. By analogy: if a researcher took data from electrical stunning at a particular voltage and current and generalized that data to cover all usable voltages and currents those conclusions would be rejected by the peer review process. If those studies were then used to generalize the impact of mechanical stunning and gas stunning, it would be ridiculed. However, that is exactly what has happened with many of the religious slaughter studies. In many cases one cannot even determine the details of which animal handling system was used.
Dr. Grandin’s statement on religious slaughter: “Recently, I participated in a ritual kosher slaughter -- in this ritual, the way it was meant to be done, I must say. This was at a plant where the management really understood the importance and significance of what they were doing, and communicated this to their employees -- and to the animals as well, I believe. As each steer entered the kosher restraining box, I manipulated the controls to gently position the animal. After some practice, I learned that the animals would stand quietly and not resist being restrained if I eased the chin-lift up under the animal’s chin. Jerking the controls or causing the apparatus to make sudden movements made the cattle jump… Some cattle were held so loosely by the head-holder and the rear pusher gate that they could easily have pulled away from the rabbi’s knife. I was relieved and surprised to discover that the animals don’t even feel the super-sharp blade as it touches their skin. They made no attempt to pull away. I felt peaceful and calm” (Regenstein and Grandin 1992). This should be the goal – so that all slaughter, both religious and non-religious, meets this high standard.
That the focus of the research community on the details of what takes place at the time of slaughter as the sole focal point for much of the research is badly misplaced. The work of Dr. Temple Grandin in the US and around the world (e.g., Grandin and Regenstein, 1994 for a summary of some of this work) and others who she helped train show that a great deal of improvement is possible by working positively with everyone to do religious slaughter better. By working with the industry, she has been able to improve all forms of slaughter, including religious slaughter. The fact that so much of the other research seems to be focused on trying to take the worst systems for preparing animals for religious slaughter and showing that they are not working properly, which they may well be. Erroneously presenting them as the norm is a misuse to drive an agenda that clearly is more interested in maligning religious slaughter than working for the benefit of improving animal welfare (see Appendix II). Working with the religious community to develop better systems of managing religious slaughter is both respectful of the religious community and their rights and is more likely to lead to real improvements in animal welfare, which should be everyone’s goal.
2. The Importance of Religious Slaughter
Obtaining meat by means of procedures that comply with essential religious tenants is an integral part of being an observant Jew or Muslim for many practitioners of these religions. Although some Jews and Muslims may opt for a vegetarian diet, and some are observant of food laws to varying degrees, major religious events often center on a meal involving meat. The loss of the right to slaughter meat is viewed as a direct attack on the religion – as highlighted by Nazi Germany’s first restrictions on Jews being the prohibition of religious slaughter.
This contrasts sharply with the situation in the United States, where the US Congress in 1958, after investigating the matter, including the science available at that time, declared that religious slaughter was one of the ways to undertake humane slaughter. The specific law is Public Law 85-765 and it says as follows: “Either of the following two methods of slaughter and handling are hereby found to be humane…. (b) By slaughtering in accordance with the ritual requirements of the Jewish faith or any other religious faith that prescribes a method of slaughter whereby the animal suffers loss of consciousness by anemia of the brain caused by the simultaneous and instantaneous severance of the carotid arteries with a sharp instrument.”
The Muslim community is divided on the issue of pre-slaughter stunning. Survey research suggests that most Muslims actually want un-stunned slaughter although the industry has moved to providing a lot of halal meat using electrical stunning. This is leading to a serious disconnect between the Muslim community and the meat industry. The Jewish community is united in opposing pre-slaughter stunning. An attempt by Marianne Thieme of the Animal Welfare Party to state otherwise totally misrepresented the opinions of a non-Orthodox group. A statement by that group rejecting her statement is found in Appendix III and will be discussed further in the extended text below.
The post slaughter stunning of cattle is routinely used in some US slaughterhouses. This is simply not accepted by the normative mainstream American Orthodox Jewish community. This appears to remain the case in both Europe and North America. Thus, as a practical matter the use of post-slaughter stunning remains as an unacceptable procedure for the Dutch Jewish community.
The European Union’s Parliament currently is debating whether meat using un-stunned slaughter needs to be labeled, possibly with a specific reference to the religion of the person doing the slaughter. Unless all meat is labeled as to how it was slaughtered, this is clearly an attempt to make this meat undesirable in the broader marketplace and is selectively targeting the Muslim and Jewish Community. A few years ago the Farm Animal Welfare Council, a non-departmental public body in the United Kingdom came out with an unfavorable report on religious slaughter without any updating of the literature, which it claimed to have reviewed in 1985. And much of the older (and newer) data is faulty as will be established in this report and does not meet the minimum standards required of scientific work. The DialRel project of the EU (Dialogue on Religious Slaughter) was more of a monologue and made no effort to understand the actual practices of the religious communities and what was directly related to slaughter and what were peripherals reflecting other aspects of the slaughter that are not subject to religious requirements. In the future, a detailed review of their publications is needed to document a number of fallacies in their report. Limited time has precluded this from occurring at this time.
The recent YouTube videos by the Dutch Animal Party’s Scientific Bureau, the Nicolaas G. Pierson Foundation (http://www.zocial.tv/today/Nonprofit/5711429/religious-slaughter-without-stunning and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CczdgwHAzOg), continue this on-going record in Europe of presenting misleading information. The video shows some really bad religious slaughter (although it is questionable if this was religious slaughter since some important rules related to halal religious requirements seemed to have been violated along with the very poor animal handling) and this is actually recognized as such by some of the commentators in the video. They show one clip (twice) of an animal being properly stunned without dealing with the fact that stunning can often go bad, which is ignored. The bad handling is just that, bad handling and is unacceptable. It needs to be dealt with but in fact the video does not deal with the actual issue of the humaneness of the religious slaughter act.
By way of critical background (information with some editorial content): The preparation of animals for religious slaughter can be done in many different ways and uses many different pieces of equipment. Some of the major ways are “shackling and hoisting and its variants (considered unacceptable by both Dr. Grandin and this author for cattle), upside down slaughter using a rotating pen (which can be done successfully but is difficult to do well), and upright slaughter (which is the best way to do slaughter and can be done either with a static system or some type of moving system that brings animals to the point of slaughter.) A review of the system used in Holland following a visit to the one kosher slaughter plant, which also does halal slaughter, will be reported on as a supplement to this report.
The Special Issue of the Prejudicial Labeling of meat
It is understandable that the government has an interest in assuring that all meat is slaughtered using basically humane procedures. It is not so clear that the government has any interest in labeling how the meat was slaughtered. Consumers of kosher and halal meats pay a premium for those certifying labels, because they care. Not all kosher observant or halal observant consumers will accept all the labels available to them. Most consumers do not care about the manner in which the animal is slaughtered as long as it is humane.
Labeling meat that is not marketed to the religious communities and is not presented to consumers as meeting those needs, as long as it has been slaughtered with appropriate animal welfare protection, goes beyond the interest of government. It becomes unethical when government requirements for such labeling are actually a sly way of promoting anti-religious views among those who are not religious.
Further, banning a method that is a requirement of a religion is probably a violation of religious freedom, unless there is a compelling public health, safety or welfare issue involved. This has never been demonstrated.
If precautions need to be taken to foster more humane slaughter, then some kinds of regulations should be enforced at the place and time of slaughter to minimize inhumane kills, but these regulations and enforcement issues would not necessarily involve labeling of meat unless all meat is subject to clear labeling of how it was slaughter and a system is put in place for all meats to insure the integrity of the final label.
To understand the very real rhetorical challenges in labeling meat according to the method of slaughter see Appendix VI. All methods of description either conceal the real pain of the process or reveal so much as to provoke disgust and offense.
3. Being Respectful of Secular and Religious Differences
All slaughter systems (secular and religious) should be audited and quantitative measurements routinely made of the slaughter and process of getting the animal to slaughter. Video auditing of all slaughter systems is a worthy goal (see Dr. Grandin’s statement in Appendix I. Please note: These systems are close-circuit secured systems that go directly to the auditing firm. In the US the company doing this work has its personnel trained and supervised by Dr. Grandin. The question of releasing this information to the company, the slaughtermen, or even the public is a policy issue that needs to be addressed separately from the narrow focus of the video-auditing being discussed here.)
The standards need to be worked out in a real dialog between the scientific community including scientists from many fields outside of the narrow animal welfare community, especially including those working in the meat industry and for the religious slaughter part including representatives from within the religious communities who are knowledgeable about religious slaughter from both a religious and practical point of view.
If there are problems in any of these systems, the effort needs to be focused on correcting the problems in an appropriate manner. Incentives to encourage improvements and to adopt newer, better systems are needed. Many of the issues discussed above are examples of issues that affect slaughter but improving them in almost all cases will not run up against problems from the religious establishment.
However, such systems, particularly the ones that are not working properly, cannot and should not be used to judge the inherent potential of any slaughter system to humanely slaughter animals, including religious systems. Until the best possible version is evaluated scientifically, the true potential of a slaughter system CANNOT be evaluated. (And in the future with new systems, the evaluations will be needed again).
4. Responsibilities of the Scientific/Engineering Community
The scientific/engineering community needs to work together with the Jewish and Muslim Communities to make sure that the animal welfare during religious slaughter is done in the best possible way consistent with religious requirements as determined by the local religious leadership. Please note that both Judaism and Islam are dynamic religions. Both have a great deal of internal diversity. So, just as one cannot generalize one slaughter system to all slaughter systems, one cannot selectively choose the standards of one subgroup within the religion and generalize it to all groups within the religion. So, for example, many of the attempts to show that some Muslims accept stunned slaughter has no bearing on the views and needs of other Muslims who reject that position.
However, it is also probably fair to expect that the religious communities will take on the responsibility of assuring the best possible religious slaughter procedures are used consistent with religious law. By working in a positive way with the scientific/technical community, animal welfare can be optimized.
The scientific/technical community needs to standardize the methods and terminology that must be presented for reporting all slaughter methods in sufficient detail so that what actually occurred can be critically evaluated. And the validity of various measurements will require collaborative work across a broad base of scientific disciplines. This is a role that a governmental body supporting scientific standards development might undertake. Is the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) the logical organization to do this work? Can DialRel actually be expanded to carry out this work in a fair and objective manner? Possibly DialRel should begin this process with a team that is broader than its current makeup and then have its work vetted by EFSA.
5. The Role of Government
The role of government in this setting is challenging. Governments should work with scientists and industry to set realistic standards. Governments should work with religious groups respecting their free exercise of religion, while limiting practices that might be religiously acceptable but widely understood to be abusive, unsanitary or unfair. This is best done when viable alternatives are made available and support is provided both technically and possibly economically. In the US Dr. Grandin has been successful in working with the religious community and the slaughter industry to eliminate shackling and hoisting as a means of cattle slaughter.
6. Practical Steps to Improve Religious Slaughter
The most comprehensive practical information on how to do religious slaughter well is found on Dr. Temple Grandin’s web site. It contains tests and practical suggestions on how to do religious slaughter well (www.grandin.com). Our own work with Dr. Grandin has focused on small scale slaughter, both religious and non-religious, such as that which would occur on farms, which is not permitted in Holland, or in small slaughter houses (www.spiritofhumane.com). This is a work in progress that would greatly benefit from assistance by more members of the scientific community working with the industry, the non-governmental organizations, and the government agencies to both further this work and to disseminate the results to appropriate audiences in various languages.
What are some of the issues that need to be considered when looking at and evaluating religious slaughter (Shechita for kosher and Zabiha for halal) and the process of preparing animals for such slaughter? How do we as responsible scientists help both governments and the religious leadership in the Jewish and Muslim communities to do the best possible job? How much of the literature that points at problems about religious slaughter actually are reporting on failures of one or more of the items discussed below? Unfortunately, many of the issues raised are actually in the realm of plant management and are not directly related to the fundamental religious slaughter issue that is the subject of the proposed legislation in Holland.
Source: Argentine Beef Packers S.A.
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