Science - April 13, 2011

'Animals suffer pain when slaughtered without stunning'

Jewish and Muslim organizations are up in arms about a possible ban on ritual slaughter without stunning. The Party for Animal Rights is proposing this ban for reasons of animal welfare. Wageningen UR gave advice on this issue.

Normal meat is from animals who were stunned before slaughter, but such stunning is forbidden for religious reasons in kosher and halal meat. The animals are killed by cutting their throats while they are conscious.
Does an animal suffer pain when that happens? Yes, according to research by Wageningen UR in 2008 carried out on request of the then Ministry of Agriculture. Report 161 by the Animal Sciences Group: Ritual slaughter and animal welfare. The main conclusion drawn from this study is 'that ritual slaughter without stunning has an adverse effect on animal welfare in a number of respects when compared with slaughter after stunning.'

Some quotes from this report: 'The requirement to bind (fix) animals that are being slaughtered without stunning to enable the neck to be cut accurately can cause much stress. But the neck cut itself must also cause serious pain given the number of pain receptors in the neck area. (....)
It also seems that things often go wrong when making the neck cut, with extra incisions and additional suffering as a result. (....) For cows 'the neck cut should be made in one or two flowing incisions but an average of 3.2 are needed for kosher slaughter and as many as 5.2 for halal slaughter. On top of that, in one out of ten animals a neck artery is not cut properly or indeed at all. (.....) Sheep also take longer to lose consciousness when not stunned. And although there is no hard evidence, there is an impression that the knives used in halal slaughter are too short and that staff have not had sufficient training.'
The conclusions are based on data from abroad. 'No data was found on ritual slaughter in the Netherlands, except for some verbal communications.'
So should slaughter without stunning be banned?
The study does not say this as that is a political choice. The researchers do make recommendations on how to avoid unnecessary stress and pain during ritual slaughter: 'There are many ways to improve the situation of animals undergoing ritual slaughter. Various Muslim and Jewish organisations already accept some form of stunning. Furthermore, improvements to the abattoir surroundings and the fixing equipment, better training for staff and regular dedicated audits can also help avoid unnecessary stress and pain.'

Resource conducten an interview with researcher Bert Lambooij in 2010.