Muslims unite with Jews to defend animal slaughter rites

By Paul Vallely

11 June 2003

It was business as usual yesterday at Hymarks Kosher
Meats Ltd in Cheadle, one of the hubs of the
Manchester Jewish community. In the cool cabinet
untrussed chickens sprawled beside a selection of
meats which was positively international in its range
- lamb chops, marinaded steaks, pale chicken sausages,
minty lamb kebabs, Italian meatballs. There was no
sign of controversy, either among the customers nor
the jolly chap behind the counter with a skullcap
perched on the back of his head and a large red apron
circumnavigating his ample girth.

Elsewhere, the world was getting altogether more
exercised about what united the various kosher meats
on display - the ritual method of slaughter which had
brought them to the butcher's slab.

The time has come to repeal the law which exempts the
products consumed by religious communities from the
provisions of The Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or
Killing) Regulations 1995, a government advisory
committee recommended yesterday.

The proposal has caused outrage among the Jewish and
Muslim communities. The Farm Animal Welfare Council
(FAWC), which advises the Government on how to avoid
cruelty to livestock, says the way 9 million farm
animals die each year to produce kosher and halal meat
causes severe suffering. All slaughter without
pre-stunning should be banned immediately, it has

"It is not something we want to say anything about,"
said the man at Hymarks Kosher Meats. He did not want
any hint of controversy to invade his stacks of
chopped herring, pickled cucumbers and matzos.

Understandably, say animal rights activists.
"Scientific research shows that animals whose throats
are cut while they are fully conscious can suffer
terribly over relatively lengthy periods as they bleed
to death," said Peter Stevenson, political and legal
director of Compassion in World Farming, which was so
quick off the mark that it actually published its
support the day before the report came out.

The report says: "After the cut has been made, the
animal must remain restrained until it is bled out
before being released, shackled and hoisted." A cow
can take up to two minutes to bleed to death. "To say
that it doesn't suffer is quite ridiculous," said Dr
Judy MacArthur Clark, who chaired the committee that
produced the recommendations.

The ground is set for a major battle, with both Jewish
and Muslim groups - in a loud and unusual union of
purpose - launching a twofold defence. They produce
scientists who argue that religious slaughter is, in
fact, less cruel than stunning. And they ring alarm
bells at what they see as an assault on religious
minorities. "One of the first enactments of the Nazis
in 1933 was to outlaw the Jewish method of slaughter,"
warned Rabbi Yehuda Brodie, registrar of the
Manchester Beth Din.

The row turns on the insistence in both religions -
which have common roots in acknowledging Abraham as
the father of their faith - that believers should not
eat meat from any animal which has undergone any harm,
injury or hurt in dying. They argue that their ancient
method of slaughter - severing the animal's neck and
hoisting it so that all the blood drains from the body
- causes the beast to feel virtually nothing.

"With a surgically sharp knife all the vessels in the
neck are severed and all blood cut off swiftly from
the brain so the animal loses consciousness very
rapidly," said Rabbi Brodie. In London, the president
of the Jewish Board of Deputies, Henry Grunwald QC,
backed the opinion. "Many scientific experts have
confirmed that the Jewish method of religious
slaughter is at least as humane as any other method of
slaughter," he said.

Opponents of the practice see it as self-evident that
stunning animals before they are killed is more
humane. But the Abrahamic faiths insist not.

On the contrary, stunning is "a form of torture",
according to Dr Abdul Majid Katme, who delivered a
paper on the subject at the Universities' Federation
of Animal Welfare and is now spokesman on halal meat
and food for the Muslim Council of Britain. Rabbi
Brodie argues: "There can be no doubt that every
animal feels pain from the stunning, and moreover some
14,000 animals a year are stunned badly or wrongly."

The opposition is rooted in something else. Numerous
medical studies have shown that stunning leads to the
retention of a significant amount of blood in the
meat, said Iqbal Sacranie, secretary general of the
Muslim Council of Britain. The consumption of blood is
forbidden to both Muslims and Jews. "Scientific tests
have shown that when an animal is stunned, small blood
vessels rupture," said Dr Katme, "leaving meat tainted
with blood which is full of germs, bacteria and waste

The FAWC report disputes this. "Recent research shows
that there is no significant difference in the rate of
blood loss from a throat cut with or without
stunning," it says. In any event, under optimal
conditions, only about half the blood is drained at
slaughter; the rest resides in the viscera and
muscles, the report adds.

There is another complication, as was highlighted
yesterday by Nadeem Shaikh, a licensed slaughterer and
poultry wholesaler who processes 10,000 live birds a
day in north Manchester. "Some 95 per cent of animals
in halal abattoirs are stunned before killing," he
says. "Not a fatal stun as in non-halal abattoirs, but
a lesser level to control the animal.

"Non-stun slaughter is a much lengthier process," he
continues. "Animals have to be put in cradles which is
time-consuming. It can take a week to kill 500 lambs.
But if the stunning is adjusted to a lower level -
such that the animal would recover fully if it were
not killed immediately afterwards - then that is
halal, so long as the man who slaughters is a devout
Muslim who says each time the prayer 'Bismillah Allahu
akbar,' which means 'Thank you, God, for the meat'."

But such partial stunning outrages many Muslims. "That
idea is not orthodox," said Dr Shuja Shafi, chairman
of the health and medical committee at the Muslim
Council of Britain. Dr Katme says: "There can be no
stunning at all. Those who argue for it are either
ignorant or concerned primarily with money."

The slaughterer Nadeem Shaikh, by contrast, brands the
"no-stun" group as "extremists". He would probably not
dare to tell them of the Muslim abattoir where 7,000
chickens an hour are dispatched by machines with
whirling blades, to the accompaniment of a taped
prayer, speeded up to match the rate of the mechanised
knives - and all with the blessing of the local imam.

For all such internal disagreement, what is perhaps
most striking about the controversy is the unity it
brings to two communities whose relationship is
normally characterised by suspicion at the very least.
Dr Katme said: "We're happy to see our Jewish friends
so strong on this issue."

Rabbi Brodie said: "This is an attack on religious
freedom itself, by people with a hidden agenda."

The animal rights lobby may find that this time it has
taken on formidable foes.

Ritual Controversy: 'It is a quick and efficient
method, not cruel at all'

Asid Ali, 34, a halal butcher who has owned Mashallah
butchers in Hendon, north London, for four years, said
customers yesterday expressed collective disbelief at
the prospect of a ban.

He said: "I have been a butcher for over 20 years and
I believe that it is our right as Muslims to eat halal
meat, which is an essential part of Islam. I have
taken part in the slaughter of poultry in the past so
I know it is a quick and efficient method, not cruel
at all.

"We feel offended as a community by the suggestion of
a ban. When I came to Britain [from Pakistan] as a
teenager, halal meat was available to us even then.

"Many who have come into the shop today cannot believe
that their religious practice will be banned. There
are so many laws that regulate our slaughter already,
it just makes life more difficult for me to hear this
and I fear that it may be damaging to the business as

Arifa Akbar 


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