Humane Slaughter of Animals vrs Jewish Ritual Slaughter

    September 2011          
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Freedom of Religion vs. Animal Rights

By Shachna Linderman

A bill passed by the Lower Chamber of the Dutch Parliament would outlaw Shechita, that is the Torah prescribed method of slaughtering kosher animals for food consumption. The Upper Chamber will decide later this year if the bill is to become law.

As an initiative of the Animal Rights Party, the bill passed by a vote of 116 for “stunning” with 30 against. The bill is in opposition to Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights that allows for freedom of religion.

The bill makes it compulsory for animals to be stunned prior to being killed and that stunning renders the animal unfit for kosher food consumption in that it injures the animal prior to slaughter. The problem is that only healthy and uninjured animals are acceptable for kosher slaughter.

In the State of Washington, the courts differ from the Dutch Lower Chamber in that the court ruled that ritual (Jewish and Muslim) slaughter is within the framework of Washington's Humane Slaughter Law. There are similarities and differences between Jewish and Muslim slaughter but both require the severing of the carotid artery, a procedure that many researchers say is more humane than stunning.

The Washington animal rights group claimed that Washington's Humane Slaughter Law favors religion when it stipulates that "the humane slaughter of animals is to be carried out by way of stunning" or "in accordance with ritual requirements of a religion". The court ruled that it does not have the authority to invalidate legislation, meaning the invalidation of Washington's Humane Slaughter Law.

This Washington animal rights group does not concern itself with the boiling alive of lobsters at non-kosher sea food restaurants but for some reaosn it is concerned that Washington's Humane Slaughter Law favors religion when it stipulates that ritual slaughter is humanitarian.

In the United States and Canada, Shechita (Jewish) and Halal (Muslim) are acknowledged as humane methods of animal slaughter under the "Humane Methods of Animal Slaughter Act". Most Muslim religious groups are not affected by stunning legislation because they say that stunning is compatible with Halal. However, there are Islamic streams that say stunning is forbidden.

It is interesting to note that the first enactment by Nazi Germany when it invaded Holland was to outlaw Shechita. This ban stayed in Holland until it was rescinded with the victory of the Allied Forces. Shechita and Halal were illegal in Germany until 2002 when a Turkish Muslim living in Germany brought the issue to court. The German courts ruled in favor of freedom of religion. Today Germany is an exporter of kosher meat.

The British government has rejected a recommendation by the Farm Animal Welfare Council that all animals should be stunned prior to slaughter. While stunning is widely practiced in England it is not mandatory.

- - -

This article explains why stunning is actually a cruelty to the animal and that the Torah method is the more merciful procedure for animal and poultry slaughter.

“Stunning” is a current non-Jewish method to render animals and poultry unconscious before they are slaughtered for food consumption. Animal rights groups are concerned about not causing distress and pain to the animal and they feel that an unconscious animal prior to slaughter is the answer.

According to civil regulation in England the purpose of stunning is to “render the animal or bird unconscious until death”. The two primary British methods in the stunning of cattle and sheep are by Electrocution whereby electrodes are attached to the head and heart, and by the use of a Captive Bolt Gun whereby a steel bolt is shot into the skull at the front of the brain. Do these methods "stun" or actually kill?

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act cite these 4 methods of stunning that are used in America, the purpose of which is to render the animal insensible to pain prior to being killed:

1. Carbon Dioxide Gas

2. Non-penetrative Captive Bolt Gun

3. Gunshot

4. Electrocution

Is the stunned animal in a state of unconsciousness or in a state of paralysis? An unconscious animal would not feel pain, but a paralyzed animal could be in a state of torturous pain. There is no way of telling if the animal is paralyzed or unconscious as the animal is unable to display pain while paralyzed.

Stun-to-stick is the terminology used from the time the animal is rendered unconscious to the time the animal is slaughtered for exsanguination - which means "bleed-out" or "sticking". The four methods approved by the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act and the USDA all have the problem of the animal regaining consciousness prior to being "stuck", which means knifed for slaughter followed by exsanguination.

An animal that has regained consciousness is able to feel the damage done to it as a result of the stun. The resulting pain and distress is actually a cruelty to the animal and everything the animal rights groups and humane legislation seeks to avoid.

Animal welfare groups and the European countries that have outlawed Shechita by way of mandatory stunning do not seem to be concerned by the fact that the animal can regain consciousness after stunning and the resulting cruelty to the animal. Nor do they seem to be concerned that the stunned animal might be in a state of paralysis and thereby susceptible to pain while paralyzed.

There is no stun-to-stick delay or paralysis with the Torah prescribed methodology of animal slaughter. The Shechita procedure renders the animal insensible to pain within two seconds:

A "chalaf", a knife of surgical sharpness severs structures and vessels at the neck with a rapid and expert transverse incision. This causes an immediate drop in blood pressure to the brain resulting in an immediate unconsciousness and insensibility, and unlike "stunning" the process is irreversible without any possibility of the animal regaining consciousness.

Let's take a closer look at "humane" stunning and slaughter approved in the Christian West:

Captive Bolt Gun is a method of stunning whereby a steel bolt is fired into the brain, whereupon the animal is leg-shackled, suspended upside-down and as quickly as possible slaughtered for bleed-out. There is the possibility of the animal re-gaining consciousness so that it is aware of its pain and distress prior to slaughter. To insure against this many plants fire two bolts in rapid succession into the brain, but some plants do not do this. (This is known as the Double Knock).

The two types of Captive Bolt Gun are penetrative and non-penetrative. The non-penetrative bolt is fired into the brain just like the penetrative. It is a bolt with a flat circular head whereby you can avoid the time-consuming removal of large blood clots, hair, bone, splinters and debris from the brain.

The United States Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) amended Federal meat inspection regulations to prohibit the use of bolt penetration devices. The Harvard Study conducted by the USDA concluded that penetrative Captive Bolt Gun devices are a health hazard in that this can transmit BSE agent (Mad Cow Disease). (It is interesting to note that Kosher meat was not affected by the Mad Cow epidemic that plagued England some years back.) Penetrative Captive Bolt Gun is still used in Europe.

Gunshot, like Captive Bolt Gun is fired into the brain. Federal regulation stipulates that a single bullet to the brain must render the animal unconscious, but that might not necessarily be the case.

Carbon Dioxide Gas is used to asphyxiate, and as the animal gasps for its last dying breath, in many instances it is killed rather than stunned. On the other hand, many animals regain consciousness very quickly upon leaving the gas chamber so that it is important to stick the animal for bleed-out as soon as possible before it re-gains consciousness and susceptibility to pain.

In the USA Carbon Dioxide Gas is used primarily with swine, calves and sheep and in England it is used mostly with poultry with a resultant unintentional cruelty. This cruelty occurs in terms of the poultry regaining consciousness and will be explained in the Electrocution method.

Humane stunning by Electrocution induces gran-mal epileptic seizures as a result of electrodes placed on the head and thereby causing insensibility to pain. Electrodes must also be placed on the heart thereby inducing cardiac arrest as Electrocution of the brain is not sufficient. And even with the Electrocution of brain and heart the animal can still regain consciousness so that there cannot be more than a 30 second delay between stun and stick.

This 30 second stun-to-stick delay is accomplished by automation whereby the speed of production is the important factor rather than taking into consideration the welfare of the animal. Shechita takes into consideration the well-being of the individual animal prior to slaughter as will be explained further on.

When Captive Bolt or Electrocution fails the damaged animal is in a state of intense pain as the captive bolt gun is reloaded and fired or as the electrodes are applied once again in order to re-stun the animal.

Studies indicate that Captive Bolt and Carbon Dioxide involves massive sympathetic discharge which is indicative of massive stress response. (Mitchell, 1988; Hartung, 2002)

Electrocution causes asphyxia (lack of oxygen) due to paralysis of the respiratory muscles. Massive sensory stimulation is impossible and this might be extremely painful. Paralysis would mask signs of distress. (Sassoon, 1956; Hillman, 1993).

Poultry slaughter is done by hanging the bird upside-down in leg-shackles and is placed on a conveyer transporting system to be gassed or electrocuted by immersing the head in electrified water. It is then sent on to be decapitated.

Indeed, 20% of poultry are not stunned in this manner and are subject to a torturous death. England's Department for Environmental, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) reported in 2006:

"Pre-stun shocks cause the bird pain. In most cases, pre-stun shocks are due to the drooping of the wings such that the wing tips contact the electrified water before the head has been stunned. The pain caused by the pre-stun shock may result in the bird reacting and "flying the stunner" (flapping so violently whilst shackled that the bird lifts its head out of the path of the water-bath stunner, receiving no effective stun)"

In many instances the bird flaps so vigorously that it avoids the electrified water bath and the cutting edge for beheading. In such cases the bird is moved by the conveyor system on to be scalded alive before being de-feathered.

These cruelties are avoided with kosher slaughter. Each bird is presented individually to the highly trained professional kosher animal slaughterer, called a “shochet”. The bird is presented on its back with the face upward while calm and motionless and is then carefully cut. Only after death is it hoisted upside-down for bleed-out. A stunned animal is bled-out before death and all of the resulting cruelties that it may entail.

Shechita concerns itself with the well-being of the animal or foul. Each animal is slaughtered individually and not machine-slaughtered, although the handling of the animal might be automated. Research done in the United States, England and Denmark show that the animal is not even aware it has been cut, nor does it display any sign of pain or discomfort as a result of the Jewish method of ritual slaughter.

Kindness to animals definitely has Torah origins such as the divine command (mittzvah) not to work animals on the Sabbath (Exodus 20:10); the mitzvah to send away the mother bird before removing her eggs (Deuteronomy 16:6); prohibition against slaughtering a mother animal and her offspring on the same day (Leviticus 22:28); newly-born animals to be with mother for the first 7 days (Leviticus 22:27); animals must be fed before you feed yourself (Deuteronomy 11:15) – and there are more.


The countries that require stunning seem to fall into two types of stunning procedures. One group of countries requires that stunning is to be done BEFORE slaughter, the other group of countries say that slaughter can be done first, but that stunning must be done immediately AFTER slaughter.

Denmark, Finland and Lower Austria say that slaughter can be done first and afterward stunning can be applied. The question is why is stunning mandatory AFTER slaughter when the animal is insensible to pain within 2 seconds after Shechita? By the time stunning could be accomplished the animal is a carcass!

Research conducted at the Danish Veterinary Laboratory in 1996 by Dr. Flemming Bager on twenty bulls indicated that the bulls did not react to the Shechita incision:

"The bulls were held in a comfortable head restraint with all body restraints released. They stood still during the cut and did not resist the head restraint"

Why is stunning necessary when the animal is not in pain?

In Sweden the animal must be stunned prior to slaughter. Yet Swedish law allows for animal slaughter to be carried out in the privacy of one's own backyard without a stun requirement. Stunning is required only in terms of commercial meat production. Why is ritual slaughter not humane commercially, but that it is humane privately?

These discrepancies are a result of countries of Germanic origins not confronting the physiological facts as they present themselves. They refuse to confront reality because they are operating from a preconceived "article of faith" that ritual slaughter is not humane and that modern stunning methods are humane, when in fact evidence points to the contrary.

Animal rights groups are not concerned about the animal left un-stunned or the animal that has regained consciousness. There is no attempt at legislation of stun-to-stick timing or the regaining of consciousness factor or definition of the animal being in a state of unconsciousness or paralysis.

Research conducted in Germany by the use of electrodes placed on the head of the animal to be slaughtered showed that there was a total loss of consciousness that was faster by a number of seconds with the Jewish ritual slaughter method over all current stunning methods.

Kosher slaughter is less expensive, quicker, more merciful and less viable to error than stunning.


Shechita UK, "A Guide to Shechita"; "Physiological Insights Into Shechita", by S.D. Rosen; USDA; FSIS; DEFRA; Wikipedia


from the September 2011 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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