Proof of pain leads to calls for ban on ritual slaughter

A study proving Jewish and Islamic methods of slaughtering animals are painful has led to renewed calls for a ban in Britain


are used to being attacked by anti-vivisectionists for causing
unnecessary suffering to animals in the course of research. But a new
study into the pain felt by dying animals has animal rights groups on
side – and has led to renewed calls for Islamic and Jewish slaughter
rituals to be brought into line with secular practices.

UK law requires that all livestock be stunned prior to slaughter –
with the exception of those animals intended for consumption by members
of certain religions. Islamic halal and Jewish kashrut law require that
animals are slaughtered by having their throat cut – a relatively slow
means of death. The Sikh ritual – chatka – is much quicker when done
correctly, involving a clean sword strike to the neck.

Practitioners of ritual slaughter say the animal must be alive to
facilitate the draining of blood – and that throat slitting is humane.

But the new research suggests otherwise. Dr Craig Johnson and his
colleagues at New Zealand’s Massey University reproduced the Jewish and
Islamic methods of slaughter in calves. The calves were first
anaesthetised so although their pain responses could be detected, they
wouldn’t actually feel anything. They were then subjected to a neck
incision. A pain response was detected for up to two minutes following
the cut, although calves normally fall unconscious after 10 to 30

The team then stunned the calves five seconds after cutting their
throats: the pain signal detected by electroencephalography ceased

Johnson told the New Scientist he thought this work was
“the best evidence yet that [ritual slaughter] is painful”. However, he
observed that the religious community “is adamant animals don’t
experience any pain so the results might surprise them”.

The findings have earned Johnson the inaugural Humane Slaughter
Award from the Humane Slaughter Association. Dr James Kirkwood, the
charity’s chief executive, said: “This work provides significant
support for the value of stunning animals prior to slaughter to prevent
pain and distress.”

Adam Rutherford, an editor of Nature, wrote on the Guardian
website: “It suggests that the anachronism of slaughter without
stunning has no place in the modern world and should be outlawed. This
special indulgence to religious practices should be replaced with the
evidence-based approaches to which the rest of us are subject.”

Some European countries, such as Sweden, require all animals to be
stunned before slaughter with no exception for religions. But such a
ban in Britain would be hugely controversial – and would draw
inevitable comparisons with the ban on kashrut enacted by Nazi Germany
in 1933.

Johnson thinks the way forward is best exemplified by Muslims in
New Zealand, who use a reversible form of electrical stunning that
animals can recover from if they are not immediately slaughtered. This
proves the animal is alive when killed and is therefore halal.