Ritual Meat & the Sham of Halal and Kosher

Ancient humans, with not a hint of science to hinder them, conjured up whatever outrageous self-serving fantasies they wanted. In the service of some of these fantasies, innocent victims—animals, children, prisoners—were sacrificed. This was with the sanction of social and political leaders. Today we continue to have ritual slaughter for food, passed down through generations from superstitious and barbaric tribesman, backed by social leaders. But there is a problem with this.

For the faithful, how an animal is slaughtered has meaning in relation to some form of lame-brained cosmological order. In other words, fabricated meaning based on ancient texts is inherent in the slaughtering of animals for food. Quite often, it has long been observed, “the supposed sanctity of a ‘religious’ usage” is allowed “as usual, to outweigh the clearest dictates of humaneness.”[1]Henry Salt, Seventy Years Among Savages (London: George Unwin & Allen, 1921), 150. Henry Salt was referring here to the Jewish shechita, a slaughter system “commanded” by the all mighty no less (Deut. 12:21).

The practice involves the “barbarous” system of “casting” or throwing the animal to the ground and immobilizing it so its throat can be cut—severing in one go the carotid arteries, jugular veins, trachea and esophagus. Before the 1900s animals were tripped up with ropes to ground them, then they were shackled and hoisted and laid on the ground. Later, a large rotating contraption (the Weinberg pen) was invented to invert them. All these methods and other rules were to prevent any “abnormalities” that would cause meat not to be kosher. That is, they complied with religious rules based on fantasies from Iron Age Palestine, not with concerns for animal welfare.

The question of forcing animals to partake in the bizarre prescriptions of human mammals is usually overshadowed by the question of whether ritual sacrifice is humane. Is shechita really as humane as claimed by Jews? Their superstitious laws require that animals be fully conscious when their throats are cut. That means no prior stunning. Some say the massive throat injury causes unconsciousness so quickly that no pain is registered and it amounts to stunning in itself. This, of course, is as outlandish as it sounds.

For a start, before the knife goes in, animals are subjected to stress and pain. The shackle and hoist method is still widely used. A cow might weigh over 450 kilos, and strung up it naturally experiences distress, a good sign of which is thrashing and struggling that can cause internal injuries, torn muscle, and pain. Once a bull is laid on concrete, hind leg still in the air, it can become a wrestling match of several men against beast to get that ritual cut.

Furthermore, stress levels can be measured empirically through stress hormone (cortisol) levels. Stress levels for inverted slaughter with devices known as the Weinberg pen (which are less stressful than shackling and hoisting) have yielded the highest average stress ratings ever published (almost 300% higher than cattle killed in upright pens).[2]Quoted in Temple Grandin, “Shackling and Hoisting,” accessed August 19, 2012, http://www.grandin.com/ritual/conservative.jewish.law.html.

All of this is in violation of Jewish laws for ensuring kosher meat. So too is the problem of blood aspiration by inverting animals, so is any tearing that might occur below the larynx, so is ripping out the trachea and esophagi after the throat is cut but before bleeding stops, so is shoving electric prods into the faces of cattle, so is improper slaughter that fails to render animals unconscious over long periods—and so too every other violation and corner-cutting practice kept out of the public eye in Jewish slaughterhouses around the world.

Proper kosher slaughter is time consuming and not economically viable. Consequently, much of it is done in beef producing countries with lax animal welfare regulations well away from prying eyes. Most South American slaughterhouses producing kosher meat still employ the cheap shackle and hoisting method. This, despite the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS) ruling in 2000 that the shackle and hoist method is in violation of Jewish law.

Rabbis have recognized the discrepancy in what shechita law is supposed to be and what a travesty it is in practice: “Acting in any way that suggests that we abide by lower moral standards than the rest of society is a clear violation of our duty to avoid a desecration of God’s name.”[3]Quoted in Temple Grandin, “Shackling and Hoisting,” accessed August 19, 2012, http://www.grandin.com/ritual/conservative.jewish.law.html. Similarly, in Foer’s Eating Animals, a statement against abuses in a Kosher slaughterhouse, by the Orthodox chair of the Talmud Department at Israel’s Bar Ilan University, holds them to be a spiritual violation of the highest order: “any plant performing such types of [kosher slaughter] is guilty of hillul hashem — the desecration of God’s name — for to insist that God cares only about his ritual law and not about his moral law is to desecrate His Name.”[4]Foer, Eating Animals, 69.

For others, the primary issue is the omission of prior stunning before slaughter. In 2012, Professor Bill Reilly, the former president of the British Veterinary Association (BVA), concluded that slaughtering without prior stunning ideally should be banned. He based his conclusion on his own observations in slaughterhouses and the findings of the Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) and the Dialrel Project, both of which acknowledge that the throat is full of nerve endings and when cut in ritual slaughter “such a massive injury would result in very significant pain and distress” before the loss of consciousness.[5]Bill Reilly, “Slaughter Without Stunning,” Veterinary Record. Volume 170, Issue 18 (2012) 468-469. As far as Professor Reilly is concerned, there is no “scientifically robust evidence to support the contention that non-stun slaughter has the welfare of the animal at its core.” What prompted his call for banning the practice, by the way, was an increase in ritual slaughtering in Europe far out of all proportion to religious dietary needs.

Everyone should be alarmed. We have more than just a classic case of secular morality and science clashing with outdated and lazily performed religious practices built on a foundation of mumbo-jumbo. Commercial considerations are behind slaughter without stunning: slaughterhouses can process meat and get it onto the secular market more cheaply—indeed, this is how you expand your markets, without the protracted wait for religious populations to grow.

Not only that, in the case of kosher, only the forequarters of cattle are used and the rest is diverted onto the secular market. The same is true of other animal parts. But the meat from ritual kills is not labeled as such for supermarket shelves. Therefore non-religious meat eaters, without knowing it, are supporting pointless and painful slaughtering by buying meat from ritually killed animals. As mandatory labeling continues to be debated, governments continue to allow religious law to override humane considerations, continue to exempt religious groups from animal welfare laws, and continue to recognize ancient magic rituals as somehow valid.

What is true of kosher is basically true of Islamic dhabihah halal killing. Muslims are not supposed to cause unnecessary suffering to animals before and during slaughtering. For their ritual, a little abracadabra is required from the slaughterer by saying the name of Allah while performing the ritual cut. This supposedly sanctifies the moment by alluding to Allah’s consent in the killing of the animal for food. Uttering a few magic words that absolve responsibility is on the same level as ancient Greeks getting animals to nod consent before an alter sacrifice by sprinkling water on them.

However, uttering the name of a fictional god does not sanctify the cruelties of Islamic slaughterhouses around the world, where Muslim’s consistently defile their religion by breaking its rules with abhorrent animal abuses. From the early 2000s onward, animal protection group Animals Australia has followed the fates of animals in Australia’s disgraceful live export trade to Middle Eastern countries, documenting how thousands of animals suffer and die en route and are subjected to further cruelties when they arrive. In Kuwait, during the barbarism of the Eid al Adha,

sheep were being purchased, bound with wire and shoved into car boots whilst others were being dragged terrified on their stomachs towards filthy slaughter areas on the side of roads where they waited amongst the dead and dying to have their throats cut. Within 30 minutes of the slaughter starting the streets were running with blood.[6]“Live Export Investigation 2010,” Animals Australia, http://www.animalsaustralia.org/investigations/live-export-investigation-2010.php.

In Egypt, investigators saw slaughters slashing the tendons of cattles’ back legs to restrict their movement, stabbing them in the eyes with knives, and using eye sockets to force animals into position for throat cutting. Sheep and camels were also slaughtered with a flagrant disregard not just for the teachings of Islam and the requirements of halal, but also in breach of the World Animal Health Authority.

In Turkey, sheep were hoisted up by the legs while conscious to have their throats cut, others were stabbed and left by metal drains or were seen staggering about with knife wounds to the throat. In Indonesia, workers taunted and abused cattle, cut their throats multiple times with blunt blades, hosed cattle that were still conscious with cut throats which caused more distress, and began cutting cattle up before they were dead. All of these offenses are examples of Muslim hypocrisy when it comes to animals and the practices of halal.

But typically, whenever this issue appears in the news or is highlighted by animal groups, you will not hear the words “Islam” or “Muslim” mentioned.

As culpable as any is the Australian government for allowing all of this to happen. Australia continues to export live animals to cater to the ritual slaughter demands in Muslim countries, and this is only occasionally interrupted after damning exposes. Thus, in continuing to do business with the Muslim countries, that government perpetuates the cruelties, endorses low animal welfare standards, and partakes in the idiocies of ancient ritual killing. While Australian officials did visit slaughter facilities, and even provided farcical training and equipment, they ultimately gave everything a big satisfied tick to keep the meat grinder churning. Other governments, such as those of US and Israel, are no different, condoning the same abuses by doing business with abusers and thus backing rituals based on religious nonsense.

And an interview with a halal slaughterhouse worker in Australia featured in a 2008 article entitled The Silence of the Lambs provides further insight into the sham of halal and the Muslim hypocrisy even on Australian soil.

The barbarism Animals Australia documented in halal slaughterhouses in the Middle East and Asia from 2004 to 2014 is practically identical to the barbarism People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals documented in kosher slaughterhouses in the U.S. (run by Agriprocessors) in 2004/7/8 and in Uruguay in 2007/10. Offenses documented included multiple cuts to the throat, animals still conscious for minutes after their throats were cut, teams of men wrestling animals on the ground, and cutting up animals while they were still alive.[7]Nathaniel Popper, “Widespread Slaughter Method Scrutinized for Alleged Cruelty,” The Jewish Daily Forward, February 13, 2008, http://forward.com/articles/12666/shackle-and-hoist-kosher-slaughter-comes-under-/; and “Widely Condemned Cattle-Killing Method is Used by Kosher Meat Firm’s Supplier,” Los Angeles Times, April 15, 2010, http://articles.latimes.com/2010/apr/15/business/la-fi-kosher-slaughter15-2010apr15.

Whoever thinks they can eat magically blessed meat with confidence is kidding themselves, not only because kosher and halal are absurd concepts, but because strict ceremonial and animal welfare rules are frequently ignored. These travesties make kosher and halal no more than fake labels. So much for tsa’ar ba’alei chayim—sympathy for the pain of animals. But then, religion has always been about selling a lie, and one of the biggest and most conceited lies of all is that humans are allowed by some god to continue behaving like barbarians and believe themselves blessed while doing it.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Henry Salt, Seventy Years Among Savages (London: George Unwin & Allen, 1921), 150.
2. Quoted in Temple Grandin, “Shackling and Hoisting,” accessed August 19, 2012, http://www.grandin.com/ritual/conservative.jewish.law.html.
3. Quoted in Temple Grandin, “Shackling and Hoisting,” accessed August 19, 2012, http://www.grandin.com/ritual/conservative.jewish.law.html.
4. Foer, Eating Animals, 69.
5. Bill Reilly, “Slaughter Without Stunning,” Veterinary Record. Volume 170, Issue 18 (2012) 468-469.
6. “Live Export Investigation 2010,” Animals Australia, http://www.animalsaustralia.org/investigations/live-export-investigation-2010.php.
7. Nathaniel Popper, “Widespread Slaughter Method Scrutinized for Alleged Cruelty,” The Jewish Daily Forward, February 13, 2008, http://forward.com/articles/12666/shackle-and-hoist-kosher-slaughter-comes-under-/; and “Widely Condemned Cattle-Killing Method is Used by Kosher Meat Firm’s Supplier,” Los Angeles Times, April 15, 2010, http://articles.latimes.com/2010/apr/15/business/la-fi-kosher-slaughter15-2010apr15.

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