Halal butcher scandal: what is halal meat and is it inhumane?
Secret footage shows sheep being 'hacked to death' at halal abattoir
Horrific footage secretly filmed in an abattoir in North Yorkshire may play into an apparent conflict between halal butchery and animal welfare, campaign groups say, after video emerges of sheep being "hacked to death".
Four slaughtermen have had their operating licenses suspended by the Food Standards Agency in the light of the footage. The film shows workers kicking sheep in the face and hurling them into solid structures.
In the footage, one worker bounces up and down on a sheep’s neck until it dies. Workers are seen apparently hacking and sawing at animals’ throats. In one instance, it took five attempts to cut the blood vessels in one sheep’s neck.
The Independent points out that some of the apparent abuses are both inhumane and un-Islamic. For meat to be halal, the animal should be killed with one clean sweep of the knife.
The charity which recorded the footage, Animal Aid, admitted there is concern that it may inflame anti-Muslim sentiment, but insisted there is a link between religion and animal suffering.
The group said: “Jewish and Muslim religious authorities assert that death by the shechita or halal methods, without pre-stunning, is instantaneous and painless." But added that “a body of evidence demonstrates that this is not a credible position, and our new footage removes any remaining doubt.”
The Daily Telegraph reported last week that there has been a sharp rise in the number of animals killed in abattoirs without first being stunned, after some Muslim groups campaigned for the adoption of more traditional practices.
What is halal meat?
Halal is the Arabic word for “lawful” or “permitted”. Though it is used more broadly in the context of Islamic law, it is now more frequently associated with how meat is produced. The opposite word – haram – means “forbidden”.
How is halal meat produced?
Traditional halal meat is killed by hand and must be blessed by the butcher. The Muslim method of slaughter, known as zabiha, involves an animal having its throat, windpipe and the blood vessels around its neck slit with a surgically sharp instrument. The blood is then allowed to drain from the body. The area of religious law that details the method of slaughter also contains information on how the animal must be treated during its life.
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", aims to minimise pain felt by the animal before it dies. Some Muslims think that 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 of slaughter is a matter of debate.
Shuja Shafi and Jonathan Arkush, writing in The Guardian, say that religious slaughter is as humane as the alternatives. They argue that traditional British methods of stunning, using a captive bolt, gassing or electrocution, only manage to paralyse the animal so it cannot move, but “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”.
The British Veterinary Association (BVA) and the RSPCA disagree with this view. The BVA says that “all animals should be effectively stunned before slaughter to improve the welfare of these animals” and the RSPCA says that killing animals without stunning them causes “unnecessary suffering”.
Should pre-stunned and non pre-stunned meat be labelled differently?
Currently it is not clear from labelling whether halal meat has come from pre-stunned slaughter or from slaughter without pre-stunning. Campaigners argue that there should be stricter rules about meat labelling so consumers know what they are buying. The industry body, Eblex, has responded by seeking views on an assurance scheme that would introduce “a level of transparency that it has been suggested is currently missing”, The Independent reports.
How has the government responded?
In 2013, the British government said that it would not press for changes to make the pre-stunning of animals a legal requirement, despite pressure from the RSPCA. But the government said that it wants consumers to have all the "information about the food they are buying to make their own choice". Consequently, legislation on meat labelling could follow.