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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 April, 2004, 17:18 GMT 18:18 UK
Animal welfare takes on religion
Cow
Cows can take too long to die under religious methods, say campaigners
The government has rejected a call to ban the method used to kill animals for halal and kosher meat that is required by Muslims and Jews.

While animal welfare activists claim the process is cruel, Jews and Muslims say the rules dictated by their ancient religious texts cannot be changed.

BBC News Online's Paula Dear talked to some of the interested parties in the ongoing debate.


Last year the Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) recommended that killing animals without stunning them first caused severe suffering.

However the rules governing halal and kosher meat production say the animal should be killed by a single cut to the throat and nothing else.

It must be alive and healthy before the slaughter, according to both the Jewish Torah law, and the Muslim Koran.

Some people have erroneously taken this message and decided the Muslim method is cruel
Masood Khawaja, HFA

But FAWC has maintained its position since first bringing up the possibility of a ban in 1985.

Chairwoman Judy MacCarthy-Clark said their work had at least brought about some changes in the handling of animals prior to and during slaughter.

"It is not a simple thing, to kill an animal without stunning it. The animal doesn't take to it very well," she said.

Although the government has ruled out an outright ban on the throat-cutting without prior stunning, it is consulting on whether animals should be stunned immmediately after the cut, rendering it unconscious.

'Natural convulsion'

"It is significant that the government has accepted there is pain and distress involved, she said.

This aspect of the report has angered the Jewish community.

Shechita UK promotes awareness of the "Jewish religious humane method of dispatching animals for food", known as 'shechita'.

Shechita is unequivocally humane and it cannot be compromised
Henry Grunwald, Shechita UK

Its chairman Henry Grunwald, who is also president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said the government had failed to publish evidence proving the animals suffered.

"In working constructively with the government, we will clarify that shechita is unequivocally humane and it cannot be compromised," he said.

The group says opposition to the method is often due to ignorance of the facts or "ill will " towards Jews.

FWAC insists that post-cut stunning would "significantly benefit cattle, who can remain conscious for up to 90 seconds after the incision," said Ms MacCarthy-Clark - an assertion Mr Grunwald calls "nonsensical".

"When the cut takes places there is an instant drop in blood pressure in the brain. The animal is dead," he said.

And president of the Halal Food Authority (HFA) Masood Khawaja has some doubts the suggested compromise will satisfy religious requirements.

Of vital importance, according to the Koran, is that the animal's blood flows from its body by "natural convulsion".

Embedded

"The post-cut stun would have to be looked at. It may affect the way the blood drains out, we would have to see what happened to the convulsions," he said.

He said HFA had been taking part in research to design new machinery that could carry out "controlled stunning" to the satisfaction of Muslims.

"We have animal welfare already encapsulated in our manifesto," he said.

"It covers all aspects, from transport, to conditions, to distress caused to the animals."

The method at the time the rules were written was probably the most humane way of killing an animal, but that has changed
Judy MacCarthy-Clark

While compromises may be found, there can be no movement from the Muslim and Jewish communities on what meat they can and cannot eat.

"The reason it is so important that the law should stay as it is, is that Muslims are forbidden by the Koran to eat carrion (flesh that is already dead), and they cannot eat flowing blood," said Mr Khawaja.

"Some people have erroneously taken this message and decided the Muslim method is cruel. If you use the sharp blade on the animal's throat they don't feel the pain.

"Jewish and Muslim methods cannot be changed, because they are in the religious books."

Ms MacCarthy-Clark said FAWC appreciates that these methods have been embedded in religion for thousands of years.

"The rules of both religions are concerned with welfare and hygiene.

"The method at the time the rules were written was probably the most humane way of killing an animal, but of course that has changed."


SEE ALSO:
Q&A: Animal slaughter
10 Jun 03  |  UK


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