Poorva Joshipura: Religious practice doesn't excuse the suffering in slaughterhouses

Wednesday 24 June 2009 00:00
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PETA's undercover footage from inside religious slaughterhouses corroborates the evidence presented by the government's Farm Animal Welfare Council about the suffering inflicted on animals during ritual slaughter techniques.

But there is some cause for optimism. After viewing PETA's undercover footage of a kosher slaughterhouse in South America that uses the primitive and cruel "shackle and hoist" slaughter method, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel immediately committed to ending imports of kosher beef from facilities that use the method.

This ruling demonstrated that even the most traditional Orthodox institutions regulating the kosher meat industry can incorporate modern sensibilities when it comes to the humane treatment of animals. Stunning the animals during the shechita process would be another positive step towards preventing prolonged consciousness and would help to protect the animals being subjected to meat-processing while still fully conscious.

Kosher slaughter is predicated on the principle of "tsa'ar ba'alei chayim" (not causing unnecessary suffering to animals). Historically, the kosher killing technique was one of the more humane methods available, especially when other communities still cut the flesh off live animals. Ironically, it is now the kosher and halal slaughterhouses that have been caught processing fully conscious animals.

It is shameful that some religious authorities have treated religious slaughter exemptions as a licence to inflict gratuitous pain and suffering on animals. It is now incumbent on religious leaders to acknowledge basic science and the overwhelming evidence about the superiority of the most advanced methods.

Pre-stunning or immediate post-stunning are not perfect or exact methods, but there is a consensus among scientists and industry experts that stunning, when done accurately and with proper head restraints, is the most humane – or the "least inhumane" – option for modern facilities. Furthermore, this method can be made fully consistent with kosher and halal laws and principles. Of course, the perfect solution is simply to move towards a vegetarian diet.

The writer is director of special projects with PETA Europe, the UK affiliate of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

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