Opinion: Stunning – Putting Profit Above all Else

By Naima Bouteldja – AVS-France

Stunning, the most humane way to kill an animal?

« Very generally, the analyses of those persons who are supposed to know conclude that in fact there are no certainties concerning stunning prior to sticking [1]. But in any case, the spectacle of direct bleeding is so violent, so painful to the human eye, that it is appropriate to spare it to men, whatever the effect is on the animal. Thus, what stunning most surely suppresses is discomfort. » Noémie Vialles [2]

Knocking out or “stunning” an animal consists of rendering it unconscious before or after the sticking through various methods (electronarcosis, the captive bolt or pistol, gassing)[3]. Advocates of pre-slaughter stunning claim that it’s the most humane way to kill an animal.

Although this reasoning seems intuitive, there is no scientific consensus to suggest that slaughter without stunning is any more painful for animals than slaughter involving stunning.

For example, Professors Joe Regenstein and Temple Grandin have undertaken work, which shows that under proper conditions – especially when the knife’s blade is sharpened so that the slaughterman needs only one pass across the animal’s neck – ritual slaughter causes the least suffering to animals.

Several studies highlight the difficulty of measuring animal suffering. In most cases, we are faced with human assessments based on modes of analysis that are not strictly objective.

Moreover, most studies limit themselves to comparing the suffering caused by the sticking with and without the use of stunning, but rarely measure the pain caused by the stunning itself.

It is, however, impossible to state that knocking out an animal, which is also euphemistically called « stunning », does not in itself cause great suffering, especially since the method is not always mastered by those applying it in slaughterhouses. For example, regarding the captive bolt, a failure rate of 30 to 40% is generally observed on the first attempt and makes this practice unsuitable and extremely traumatic for the animal.

On the impossibility of ensuring that animals are still alive after stunning

The ‘reversibility’ of the pre-cut stunning process implies that one can guarantee (without any shadow of doubt) that the animal will eventually regain consciousness, and will therefore not die from stunning or suffer any significant damage resulting in disabilities. In Islamic jurisprudence, reversibility is the sine qua non condition for such a process to be considered licit (halal).

The majority of poultry as well as adult cattle stunned through electronarcosis die as a result of their stunning. Moreover, in an industrial environment, the processing speeds are such that it is impossible to fully check whether the animals are alive at the time of the sticking.

Every single council of Muslim scholars prohibits the practice of stunning on poultry and adult bovine because mortality rates for these two species are very high. For sheep and calves where mortality rates after electronarcosis are low or nil, some councils permit stunning but only if one can ensure that the animal is alive before the bleeding. Other councils reject the practice of stunning across all animal species.

Post-cut stunning is nonetheless permitted by several councils of scholars, but it is important to stress that because non-experts are often unaware of the differences between pre and post-cut stunning, some people are able to exploit this confusion to claim that Muslim scholars endorse stunning practices, without specifying that it only concerns post-cut stunning.

In line with the opinion of many council of scholars, AVS considers that stunning inflicted on animals is tantamount to further suffering, and is opposed to any form of stunning before or after the sticking.

Volumes above all else

Stunning undeniably boosts industrial productivity rates and thus volumes as well as profitability: the stunned animals, which are either immobilised or more often than not already dead as a result of the stunning, are easier to stick than during non-stunning ritual slaughter.

The slaughter rate for poultry without electronarcosis or mechanical disk does not exceed 6,000 chickens per hour, while traditional slaughterhouses can slaughter nearly 30,000 chickens per hour by stunning the animals and using a mechanical disk to stick them.

Unsurprisingly, in practice, the slaughter of poultry destined for halal consumption is rarely carried out without prior stunning.

AVS believes that the core objective of using stunning is to increase economic profitability and not to relieve the animal’s pain at the point of its slaughter. In this sense, stunning is merely a method validating the industrialisation of the rearing and slaughtering processes. It is this industrialisation, which is the real cause of animal suffering and the only way to alleviate this suffering would be a return to much smaller farms.

Economic actors want to carry on imposing electronarcosis, which enables them to maintain very high poultry slaughter rates. Within this context, it is extremely difficult to convince animal rights groups that stunning also causes great suffering to the animal (as confirmed by many scientists).

Mainly due to economic interests, many Muslim actors are obliged to participate in a pretence, by rejecting the use of stunning in words, while continuing to practice it. Yet national and European legislation protect fundamental rights such as freedom of conscience and religious freedom, and thus the freedom to practice ritual slaughter.

To renounce ritual slaughter is to take the decision to abandon a prophetic tradition, which truly cares about animal welfare. In general, AVS relies on Islamic authorities, councils of Muslim scholars and scientific experts to shape its direction in terms of both certification and the general management of its activities.

[1] Sticking refers to the cutting of the animal’s throat

[2] “A painless death? Remarks and questions around the processes of animal slaughtering”, N. Vialles, published in “Man and animal: a fundamental societal debate”, Edition Quae, 1999.

[3] Electronarcosis is a stunning process, which consists of electrocuting the animals. Mainly used to stun cattle, the captive bolt is a gun that is either equipped with a long rod that pierces the skull, or a blank cartridge that crushes the animal’s brain. Gassing (used on poultry and pigs), consists of stunning the animal by making it inhale gas. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recognises this latter practice as problematic for animal welfare.