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Dani Bass questions whether the recent ban on Kosher and Halal meat in Belgium is a step too far or a step in the right direction

Animal rights activists have been tirelessly campaigning for the ban of Halal and Kosher meat for fears that these methods cause pain during the slaughtering of animals. In recent months, the vote proposed by The Environment Committee resulted in the ban of Kosher meat in the Walooon district of Belgium which will take effect in September 2019.

‘It attacks the very core of our culture and religious practice and our status as equal citizens.’

This could be seen as progress in the name of animal welfare, however the new law undeniably poses religious and cultural questions. The European Jewish Congress states that ‘It attacks the very core of our culture and religious practice and our status as equal citizens.’

As someone who is firmly on both sides of this argument, being an animal rights activist and vegetarian as well as being Jewish and living in a kosher home, I was eager to explore the facts and increase my understanding on both religious and non-religious methods of slaughter.

The practices laid down in the Torah and the Koran, were undoubtedly set out with the sole intention of minimising the suffering felt by animals. For many centuries religious methods have been far superior in terms of humane slaughter. Kosher dietary law states that ‘the slaughtering has to be effected in such a way that unconsciousness is instantaneous and death occurs almost instantaneously’.

In practice this means that the killing must be done by a qualified practitioner who will administer a slit to the animal’s throat with a knife that is so sharp as to ensure a quick and complete cut of the throat in one action, cutting off the blood supply to the brain instantly.

‘both unstunned and stunned are extremely humane forms of slaughter and the evidence  to suggest otherwise is completely wrong’

The defenders of this practice ague that this is so instantaneous that it is no different from a welfare point of view that using a stun gun / dart.  The head of the Halal Authority Board, Shaykh Tauqir Ishaq states that ‘If followed properly, both unstunned [ritual slaughter]  and stunned are extremely humane forms of slaughter and the evidence  to suggest otherwise is completely wrong’

The mainstream view does not agree however and current laws applied to most animal slaughter state that all animals should be stunned prior to their killing, although religious slaughter is exempt.

At the centre of the debate is the issue of whether stunning an animal before slaughter causes less pain. Stunning certainly seems less brutal and far less emotive than the harrowing image of blood flowing from a cow having had its throat cut. However, one should look beyond the superficial here, and question whether the practice of stunning is more humane or simply just more palatable.

We are not yet at the moment when stunning is without doubt superior to Jewish and Muslim methods.’

There can be two parts to stunning; paralysing and anesthetising. Although stunning clearly paralyses the animal, it is not confirmed that the animal is anesthetised.

Research has found that when electrolysis was used as a form of torture in China, the victims stated that they felt immense pain, but due to the paralysis they could not move or scream out. Therefore, although the motor system of the animal is inhibited by paralysis, the sensory system may be fully functioning and huge pain may therefore be caused.

The evidence is clearly inconclusive, and the extent to which animals feel pain is a difficult one to prove. Writer and broadcaster Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain states that ‘We are not yet at the moment when stunning is without doubt superior to Jewish and Muslim methods.’

A better indicator of animal welfare may be to focus on the conditions the animals must endure in the moments or even hours running up to the slaughter rather than solely looking at the last few moments of life. If all the energy expended into changing the law was refocused on the abattoir conditions, then maybe animal welfare would be taking a step in the right direction.

There is a concern that the real motivation behind banning religious meat slaughter is not always in the genuine interest of animal rights. Some far right organisations have campaigned for this ban and yet seem to have no wider history of promoting animal welfare.

We do at least need to challenge whether a focus on an animal’s life rather than the nuances of its death would be more beneficial, before outlawing a practice that is so fundamental to both the Jewish and Muslim faiths.


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