Halal meat: What is it and is it inhumane?
Controversy surrounds the strict rules governing the ways animals can be killed under Islamic law
Halal meat is an essential part of the Muslim faith, but animal rights campaigners argue that religious slaughter causes the animals unnecessary suffering and should be banned.
Here are some of the facts and debates surrounding the emotive issue.
What is halal meat?
Halal is the Arabic word for "lawful" or "permitted". It is used more broadly in the context of Islamic law, but is now more frequently associated with how meat is produced. The opposite word – "haram" – means "forbidden" and is used to cover pork and blood as well as meat from birds of prey and reptiles.
How is halal meat produced?
Traditional, halal meat must be blessed before it is killed by hand by a Muslim butcher. The method of slaughter, known as zabiha, involves slitting the animal's throat, windpipe and the blood vessels around its neck with a surgically sharp instrument. "The knife must not be lifted before the cut is complete and the cut must be below the Adam's apple," says the UK's Halal Monitoring Committee. The blood is then allowed to drain from the body.
The area of religious law detailing the method of slaughter also contains information on how the animal must be treated during its life. It is not allowed to have been mistreated or caused any pain and must be provided with enough space to roam, clean water, food and fresh air.
Are the animals conscious when they are killed?
Some animals killed for halal meat in the UK are stunned electrically before their throats are slit. The method, known as "pre-stunned slaughter". However, some Muslims think the practice is contrary to the specifications of zabiha and prefer to eat halal meat that has not been pre-stunned.
Do the animals feel pain?
The question of whether religious slaughter is more or less humane than other forms is a matter of debate. Some countries, including Denmark and Poland, have banned it altogether, but Prime Minister David Cameron has vowed to never outlaw the practice in Britain.
Shuja Shafi and Jonathan Arkush, writing in The Guardian, say religious slaughter is as humane as the alternatives. They argue that traditional British methods of stunning, using a captive bolt, gas or electricity, only paralyse the animal so it cannot move and "it is impossible to know whether the animal is feeling pain or not".
In both Muslim and Jewish religious slaughter, the act of slitting the throat "stuns the animal", they say, and "there is no delay between stun and subsequent death".
Animal health experts and campaigners disagree. The British Veterinary Association calls for all animals to be effectively stunned before slaughter, while the Farm Animal Welfare Council says cutting an animal's throat is "such a massive injury [that it] would result in very significant pain and distress in the period before insensibility supervenes".
The RSPCA argues that killing animals without stunning them causes "unnecessary suffering", while activist group Peta says the beasts "fight and gasp for their last breath, struggling to stand while the blood drains from their necks".
Should pre-stunned meat be labelled differently?
Currently, it is not clear from labelling whether halal meat has come from pre-stunned slaughter or not. Campaigners argue there should be stricter rules about meat labelling so consumers know what they are buying. Religious groups say they would support new labelling but only if it is "comprehensive", says the Daily Telegraph.