Is it a good idea to stop halal and kosher ways of killing animals?

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Is it a good idea to stop halal and kosher ways of killing animals?

Viva! campaigner Tony Wardle and social commentator Mohammed Ansar discuss the question


YES: Tony Wardle is Associate Director of Viva! – an animal rights group that finds out about farming and killing animals. He is also a journalist, writer and award-winning TV filmmaker. His book, The Silent Ark, looks at the problems of world meat production.

Tony: Yes, it is a good idea to stop halal and kosher ways of killing animals.

For over ten years I have been arguing that it is a good idea to stop the religious killing of animals when they are not stunned. [Stunning animals before they are killed means they stop moving or they are unconscious]. Viva! has filmed different kinds of killing. They are terrible and we argue against them all. We want people to be vegan and not eat animals or animal products. But some ways of killing are more terrible than others and the animals suffer very badly.

What people say about religious killing of animals when they are not stunned is wrong. It is not true that animals are killed with one cut and do not feel pain immediately. Scientifically, this is nonsense. I will describe the death of a beef cow that we filmed killed by the Jewish shechita (kosher) method.

The cow was put into a cage and its head was forced up to show its neck. Its neck was thicker than my body. How can you cut a thick neck like this with one cut? Of course, you can’t! The knife was moved backwards and forwards 17 times. After the first cut, the animal moved its head backwards violently but it was still standing. Blood poured from its neck. It breathed in some blood, so it choked while it was slowly dying. It was still standing after 30 seconds. This example supports two big studies by the government Farm Animal Welfare Council. They found it took cattle up to 40 seconds to lose consciousness and calves twice as long. They strongly recommended a ban – as the British Veterinary Association (BVA) has just done.

Mohammed: No, it is not a good idea to stop halal and kosher ways of killing animals.


NO: Mohammed Ansar is a theologian, social commentator, civil rights activist and lecturer. He is often on TV and the radio. He speaks against the rise of terror and extremism and works for peace in communities.

‘If you are kind to the creatures of God, you are kind to yourself’ – Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)

Each year in Britain, between 850 million and a billion animals are killed for people to eat. There will always be people like you, Tony, who say animals must not be killed for food. They say that the government and private industry work together to hide the benefits of being vegan. I think this is an extreme view but I support your right to have this idea.

Other people believe that after we accept that people can eat meat, we must think about rules, the way animals are killed and our morality. The way animals are kept, treated and killed and the effect on our environment is very important. As you know, our non-religious meat industry uses ways which are terrible. Some people think 100 million animals or more, suffer very, very badly.

Islam and Judaism say clearly that we must not treat animals badly in any way. I think the professional kosher and halal killing of animals is right for one simple reason - it is certainly the most ‘humane’ way, the kindest way, of killing animals.

Tony: Yes, it is a good idea to stop halal and kosher ways of killing animals.

Thanks for your answer. But sadly you don’t talk about the points I make. I know that the original Islamic teachings on animals say that what we do now is wrong. And that 1,400 years ago they were very kind. But some of the ideas were scientifically wrong.

As you know, Muslims and Jews must not eat or drink blood. And one reason for cutting a fully conscious animal is so that it can lose all the blood from its body. We now know that it loses only 50 per cent, if it is conscious or unconscious. The rest of the blood stays in the animal’s body. If you really want to follow your religion, do not eat meat.

Viva! spoke to workers who have seen or helped with the religious killing of animals. Many say: No-one can tell me it’s painless. And the animals do not die immediately. It can take a very long time and sometimes they’re cut up before they’re unconscious.

The problem with organisations like the ones for halal and shechita (kosher) killing of animals is that they find it impossible to change their ideas. But fortunately, over 80 per cent of Muslims do accept the idea of stunning animals before they are killed. ‘if you are kind to the creatures of God, you are kind to yourself’ doesn’t mean we can cut their throats! It is interesting that you must not kill animals in your most holy of places, Mecca.

Mohammed: No, it is not a good idea to stop halal and kosher ways of killing animals.

Judaism, Christianity and Islam allow people to eat meat. In fact, Moses, Christ and Muhammad (peace be upon them) only ate meat if it was what we see today as halal or kosher. Almost all schools of Islamic thought and Muslim organizations agree that killing after stunning is not halal. If Muslims have been eating so-called stun-killed ‘halal’ meat and they did not know, it is a national scandal.

I recently met the president of the British Veterinary Association (BVA), Robin Hargreaves, to talk about the religious killing of animals. I wanted to know why there is so much very bad treatment of animals in our non-religious system. Cows are cut up alive, chickens’ heads are put into electrocution baths, and pigs are tortured. And I asked why our meat-industry forced a rule over ten years ago that allows many animals to be there when one animal is killed. This is not allowed in halal/kosher.

Animal Aid’s ‘Behind Closed Doors’ report found the rules were not followed in eight out of the nine slaughter houses that they went to. There are so many other animal rights problems so why look at the ways of killing animals used by Muslims and Jews? Hargreaves said they follow their rules well. Intolerance and prejudice comes in many forms. It is very important that animal welfare organizations look at the problem and work with religious groups to ask for improvements in our meat-processing industry. Religious killing of animals is not the problem. It never was, and while we are thinking so much about it, the real problems are still there.

Tony: Yes, it is a good idea to stop halal and kosher ways of killing animals.

You say intolerance and prejudice? Perhaps Robin Hargreaves said it was good that you followed your rules but two months ago the new BVA president, John Blackwell, called for a stop to all religious killing of animals. Because cutting the throats of conscious animals makes them suffer badly and it is not necessary. Science or prejudice?

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) also wants it to stop. Animal welfare or prejudice? Switzerland, Sweden and Norway have stopped it and now Poland and Denmark, too. Are their governments prejudiced? And you say that if Muslims have been eating so-called stun-killed ‘halal’ meat and they did not know, it is a scandal. Well, New Zealand is the world’s biggest exporter of halal meat and stuns every animal before it is killed. It is then imported by Iran, Malaysia, Saudi, Kuwait, Egypt, Syria and Jordan – all strong Muslim countries.

Viva! interviewed slaughterhouse workers and they were shocked by the halal killing of animals. They talked about bad treatment of animals, blunt knives and cutting at animals’ throats. Perhaps this is not surprising, as all Muslims can kill an animal and no training is offered or necessary.

Viva! stopped the home killing of animals in Britain and then Viva! followed British sheep to France to see what happened at the Muslim festival of Eid-el-Kabir. In a large public meeting we saw sheep killed and cut up in front of other sheep. We filmed conscious sheep as they were cut with kitchen knives and took minutes to die.

Mohammed: No, it is not a good idea to stop halal and kosher ways of killing animals.

The call to stop halal and kosher killing of animals is because of a number of things. First, there is little or no scientific research to say that it is more painful than the usual ways of killing animals. Second, if animal welfare is the most important thing in this argument, we must think about the real problems of killing animals in our meat industry. Third, these arguments are heard when we see more far-right opinions in the West. These opinions see religious ways as something strange, and not something for modern society.

Of course it is terrible to see an animal killed but when it is done humanely it loses the poisons and diseases that are also carried. When animal welfare is so important today, it gives a balance between healthier, cleaner and better quality meat, animal care, and what people need who eat the meat. In fact, a lot more people choose halal and kosher meat now. I believe it is cleaner and tastes better.

We all need to think about how much meat we eat. We eat too much meat. Do halal standards need to improve? Yes. OK - you say that all killing of animals is wrong. But the examples you give are of people not following Islamic rules. We need to change things.

Halal is not only about how to kill animals. It is also about looking after animals well and the rules for slaughter houses and the people who kill the animals.

Good halal killing of animals without stunning them is the best thing for British meat. For people who eat meat, it is the way of the future.

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