New methods may allow animals to be stunned during shechita


By JLCohen
February 22, 2010
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Having almost as much of an interest in our sibling religion, Islam, as I do in Judaism and also being a supporter of any moves to improve animal welfare, I made a point of listening to Radio 4's excellent Food Programme yesterday as it was devoted to a discussion of the halal meat industry. If you missed it, you can hear it on iPlayer - it comes highly recommended.

I knew something (admittedly a limited amount) of halal and the halal food industry due to my interest in animal welfare, but was unaware of just how similar it is to our own kosher laws and shechita. However, one notable difference is that imams disagree over whether or not it is acceptable for an animal to be stunned prior to slaughter - some argue that stunning renders an animal haraam (the Muslim equivalent of treif), whereas others argue that it is perfectly acceptable. This is not the case in Judaism, of course, since shechita demands that an animal must not be stunned otherwise the meat from it will not be kosher.

Now, shechita and the kosher meat industry has faced charges in recent years that it is not as humane as slaughter using stunning. Some of these accusations have had an all too obvious whiff of antisemitism about them, seemingly designed to create a belief that Jews are willfully cruel, as has been the case with BNP misinformation on the subject (the BNP state that, should they ever form a government, they will ban both kosher slaughter and halal, incidentally). Others, however, have made for very awkward reading; suggesting that while shechita was for centuries probably the most humane method of slaughter, it has been surpassed by modern methods. Whether or not an animal feels pain when the hallaf (sakin) is pressed to its throat and during the very brief time that it takes to bleed to death is debatable - but one thing is certain: an animal stunned by a trained slaughterman feels nothing at all.

I side-stepped the whole delicate issue some years ago when I decided that I would no longer eat anything made from animals and as a result cannot claim to be an expert when it comes to kashrut and shechita (keeping kosher is remarkably easy when one adopts a vegetarian or vegan diet - everything I eat is parve, provided I check for those pesky insects), but my understanding is that the animal's welfare is of paramount importance; hence the requirement that the shochet demonstrates care and compassion toward the animal at all times during the process. But, according to the Farm Animal Welfare Council, a cow can take two minutes to bleed to death. For part of this time, the cow will have slipped into unconsciousness - but nevertheless, if its welfare is of concern to us, this is not ideal and we must ask ourselves if it suffers.

One thing I realised while listening to the programme is that I had never known why an animal cannot be stunned if it is to be kosher. Enter Rabbi Dan Cohn-Sherbok, visiting Professor of Judaism at the University of Wales (Rabbi Cohn-Sherbok joins the programme at 24'00", in case you don't want to hear the rest). He says that, for the Orthodox, stunning using current methods is simply not possible because to do would leave a blemish - making the meat treif - and argues that the question of the animal's welfare remains unanswered. However, he goes on to say that he has been very pleased to hear that new methods, which will not blemish the meat, may very soon be available for commercial use.

Lovingkindness and concern for animal welfare are principles of the Jewish faith, and if we as Jews are to continue eating meat we must be glad of these developments whether we are Orthodox or otherwise for two reasons: a; they prevent charges of animal cruelty being made against us by antisemites (concerns raised by other parties, who do not have an ulterior antisemitic agenda, should be welcomed), b; in allowing us to produce meat using what is the most humane method currently available and thus minimising suffering (which is one of the main points of shechita), this new stunning method will allow us to be better Jews.

COMMENTS

Chanoch

Tue, 02/23/2010 - 12:26

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Over 3 million animals are are improperly stunned each year in the UK. This represents about 7% of the total number of animals slaughtered by conventional methods. The percentage of shechita slaughtered animals compared to the total of conventional non kosher slaughter is 0.03%, yet animal welfare groups concentrate most of their efforts on this tiny percentage of shechita rather than getting their own house in order by improving their stunning methods.
There is no conclusive scientific evidence that shechita is painful but there is plenty of evidence to demonstrate that shechita is humane yet animal welfare groups choose do ignore this scientific evidence for their own anti-shechita agenda.
Shechita needs no modification for improvement, It has its own integral stun which renders the animal unconscious within two seconds after the incision due to the sudden loss in blood pressure in the brain. There is no quicker, more efficient or painless method of animal slaughter for food than shechita which fullfils all the dictates of humaneness.
Conventional stunning methods by electrocution or captive-bolt shot to the brain often go wrong causing further pain and suffering to the animal, The possibilities for error inherent in these methods do not exist with shechita.


Yvetta

Tue, 02/23/2010 - 13:13

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I'm glad I'm a vegetarian!


JLCohen

Tue, 02/23/2010 - 17:04

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Chanoch - while I'm inclined to agree with you (I believe that shechita brings a quick and painless death), there is nevertheless some scientific evidence that suggests we are wrong in this belief and that it does cause suffering. If we accept that one of the main principles of shechita is to prevent suffering as much as we possibly can, it's both our human and religious duty to look at this evidence and ask what we can do to improve methods; so it remains my opinion that we should welcome and seriously consider stunning if and when a new technique compatible with shechita becomes available. Conventional stunning methods do indeed go wrong far more often than most people would be comfortable knowing, but it is my belief that a shochet is considerably better trained than the majority of secular slaughterers. Therefore, even if there is as much potential for the new technique mentioned in the programme to go wrong as there is using conventional methods, this is likely to happen far less frequently as part of shechita than it does as part of secular slaughter.

Yvetta - me too. Makes life so much easier doesn't it, for reasons of keeping kosher and ethics?!

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