26 January 1996

Ritual slaughter fears

By Shelley Wright

RAMADAN, the Muslim religious festival, began last weekend increasing the demand for cull ewes.

But the Humane Slaughter Association and the NFU have voiced concern over religious slaughter methods. In the UK all animals must be stunned before slaughter. But Halal meat for Muslims and Kosher meat for Jews can circumvent this legal requirement because their religions demand that animals are still alive when their throats are cut.

The HSA and the NFU insist that the failure to stun an animal before it is killed is a serious animal welfare problem. Over 1.5m sheep and 90,000 cattle are slaughtered by religious methods each year.

Halal slaughter involves rapid cuts usually backwards and forwards severing both the carotid arteries and jugular veins in the neck. Jewish slaughter involves a deep cut into the animals neck with a razor sharp knife.

Miriam Parker, HSA assistant director, said: "We dont believe that cutting an animals throat renders it instantaneously insensible. And the argument often used by religious groups that the cut is painless simply cannot be scientifically proved or disproved."

Pre-slaughter stunning with a captive bolt renders cattle senseless in 1.5 milliseconds and sheep are senseless in 15 milliseconds with electric head stunning.

The HSA and NFU want meat coming from animals that are slaughtered without being stunned labelled. "While we want animals to be stunned before slaughter, we recognise that religious freedom is a strong argument," Ms Parker said.