Halal on the rise: what is halal meat and is it inhumane?
Latest halal figures reveal that 2.4 million sheep and goats a year have throats slit while conscious
The number of animals killed in halal abattoirs without first being stunned has risen dramatically following pressure from Muslim campaign groups for the adoption of more traditional practices.
More than 2.4 million sheep and goats had their throats slit in kosher and halal abattoirs in 2013, the latest year for which figures are available. That represented a 60 per cent increase on 2012, the British Veterinary Association said.
The results indicate that overall the number of animals that were not stunned prior to slaughter in the UK accounted for 2 per cent of cattle, 15 per cent of sheep and goats, and 3 per cent of poultry.
Critics argue that failing to stun animals before slitting their throats causes undue suffering. John Blackwell, president of the BVA, said that the practice “unnecessarily compromises animal welfare at the time of death”, the Daily Telegraph reports.
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. ·