Test on halal meat undermines the reasons for ritual slaughter

Dominic Kennedy and Ben Webster – The Times

Halal logoHALAL and kosher meat has been placed under the microscope to undermine one of the key arguments for religious slaughter.

Observant Muslims and Jews, who are forbidden by their religions from consuming blood, believe that an animal’s throat must be cut when it is conscious to ensure that the carcass will be properly drained. Yet scientists comparing meat from cattle that were humanely stunned with samples from unstunned animals found no difference in the retention of red blood cells.

Neil Parish, a Conservative MP and chairman of a parliamentary group that recently called for more research into religious slaughter, said the findings could persuade more consumers to choose meat from stunned animals.

Halal and kosher beef was compared with ordinary beef and a piece of venison from a shot deer. Microscopic slides revealed they all retained similar amounts of red blood cells.

The research appears to provide visual confirmation of previous scientific studies that suggested that blood loss was unaffected by stunning.

Colin Brewer, an academic psychiatrist and co-author of the paper, which has not been peer-reviewed, said “Our paper may be the first to note that even when animals are shot and then not bled for several hours, if at all, there is no more blood in their meat than after conventional or ritual slaughter.”

He and Peter Osin, a consultant pathologist, who are both from Jewish families, concluded: “If ritual slaughter not only causes levels of avoidable pain and distress to meat animals … but also fails in its stated purpose of removing as much blood as possible, compared with other methods, then it becomes more difficult to justify and defend.”

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Beef and Lamb, in its report last month on religious slaughter, called for more research into the effects of stunning on residual blood content.

Mr Parish, the group’s chairman, said: “If it can be scientifically established that stunning does not adversely affect blood loss, then we can assure consumers of religiously slaughtered meat that stunning before slaughter is compatible with their faith. This is important if we are to increase the number of animals that are stunned before slaughter.”

Although observant Jews flatly reject stunning, Muslims are divided: some refuse to eat meat from stunned animals while others prefer it. Most halal meat in Britain comes from animals that were stunned before slaughter.

However, campaigners for religious slaughter were unimpressed by the findings. Abdul Majid Katme, of the Islamic Medical Association, said: “Prophets Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad — peace be upon them — all practised and advocated the divine direct method of animal slaughter.”

“The final Prophet Muhammad — peace be upon him — in one of his sayings (hadith) emphasised the maximum bleeding out in our direct dhabh.

“Blood is absolutely forbidden to consume in any way in the Koran.”

Shimon Cohen, of Shechita UK, which supports the traditional Jewish way of slaughtering animals, said: “This study is not relevant to the debate about religious slaughter in any way. The discussions that we have had with various bodies over the years have always been about their perceptions of animal welfare. Never about blood content.

“It is the case that Jews are not permitted to eat blood. There are many biblical references including Deuteronomy XII: 23,” he added.

Phil Hadley, of Eblex, the English beef and lamb industry body, said the new study would inform the debate.

“Previous studies have demonstrated that there is no statistically significant difference in blood whether the animal is stunned or non-stunned,” Dr Hadley said. “What is different is that they have used a visual method whereas the previous studies have weighed blood or looked at the volume of blood in the carcass. All this information helps people make their choices about what they want to do and what is the right thing to do.”