Farmed Animal Slaughter: Ritual and Conventional


            By Dr. Michael W. Fox

The timely Business section of the Star Tribune publishing the front-page article Local Meets Halal by Brooks Johnson on May 1st, which marks the end of the religious fast of Ramadan, details how some local goat producers will be providing goats for halal slaughter in Minnesota. Such meat from goats and other animals who have been ritually slaughtered is now becoming more available across the U.S.

Not many people outside of the community of Islam, for which I have great respect, know anything about ritual halal slaughter. Nor do most practitioners of Islam along with slaughter-house workers since this tradition of killing animals as humanely as possible has fallen behind the scientific knowledge of what this method of killing animals for human consumption entails.

The claims made by the actual practitioners of ritual Islamic and Jewish slaughter who insist that their killing methods are humane I find unacceptable as a veterinarian. Having witnessed both in several countries I can attest to the contrary. The animals should be stunned and rendered unconscious before their throats are cut but stunning is opposed by these religious orthodoxies. The pioneering and bold Islamic thinker of animal rights, the late Al-Hafiz B.A. Masri, advocated captive-bolt stunning as not only permissible in Islam, but worthy of global adoption by all Muslims, in his book Animals in Islam, re-issued in 2022.

Countries where stunning of animals prior to slaughter is required without exception now includes Slovenia, Finland, Denmark, Sweden and the Walloon and Flemish regions of Belgium. In a historic ruling for animals in December 2020, the Court of Justice of the European Union has declared that EU member states can now choose to require the stunning of land animals before slaughter, and do not have to allow exceptions for any reason, including religious rites .(

Halal-slaughtered meat from animals not pre-stunned is imported to the U.S. from Australia and New Zealand where there is no pre-slaughter stunning mandate. There are two main reasons for this in New Zealand where companies obtain halal certification and labelling of meat before it is exported: The importing country (typically in the Middle East and South East Asia) requires it as a compulsory market access condition, or the end-customer requests it for their own commercial reasons.

Ritual Islamic and Jewish slaughter involves severing animals’ tracheas (wind—pipes), jugular veins and carotid arteries. This does not render them immediately unconscious. Time of unconsciousness and death are delayed because arteries coursing up the vertebrae are not severed and supply the brain with oxygen as they struggle to breathe, inhaling and exhaling blood through their severed tracheas before they eventually become unconscious as they bleed-out. All of this can be avoided by stunning with electrocution or a captive-bolt pistol to render the animals immediately unconscious before their throats are cut.

Furthermore, animals in the slaughter-line become stressed and distressed waiting to be killed and seeing and hearing the struggles and distress calls of those being restrained for slaughter. Ideally, they should be held in a separate area before being taken to the point of slaughter. So long as we kill animals for food, we should at least afford them a humane death.

Westerners are not aware of animal slaughter by Hindus in India whom they consider to all be vegetarians. India is the world’s fourth largest exporter of beef (from water buffaloes) according to the USDA. Yet according to FAO estimates in ‘The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, 2020 report, 189.2 million people are undernourished in India.

Animal sacrifice in Hinduism (which I have witnessed in India) is documented in Wikipedia, “ Jhatka is the prescribed method for Hindu ritual slaughter, however other methods such as strangulation and the use of a wooden spile (sphya) driven into the heart is used. The reason for this is priests see an animal making a noise as a bad omen and the animal making noise indicates that it is suffering. The Jhatka method requires the instant killing of the animal in a single decapitating blow with an axe or sword. Those Hindus who eat meat prescribe meat killed by the Jhatka method. This type of slaughter is preferred by meat-consuming Sikhs as well as meat-consuming Buddhists and Hindus of the Punjab region. In this method of butchering, the animal must also not be scared or shaken in any way before slaughter.” Yet I observed their terror and heard their screams and bellows before being decapitated.

Also, see Gadhimai Hindu festival: World’s ‘largest animal sacrifice’ under way in defiance of ban ‘Buffalo calves look on in bewilderment as their mothers are slaughtered in front of them,’ eyewitness writes. Samuel Osborne, December 3rd 2019

I can attest that the conventional slaughter of poultry, pigs and cattle, which I have also monitored in the secular sector of our dominant Western culture, (in one instance accompanied by Dr. Temple Grandin, famed for her “Stairway to Heaven” improvements in the handling of livestock pre-slaughter), as also being inhumane. The most humane killing for those who must eat meat is on the farm with a captive-bolt pistol, which a rancher friend of mine utilized to eliminate the handling and transportation stress to the slaughterhouse/processing facility for his carefully tended beef cattle.

Conventional slaughter methods for poultry and pigs in the U.S. and Europe include electrocution-stunning and carbon dioxide gassing (sometimes in combination with nitrogen and argon gases) to render unconscious. But the animals struggle in the process before they become unconscious, scalded, (sometimes while still conscious) and having their throats cut to bleed out. The stress on the workers doing such killing is also considerable. For more detailed documentation see the book by Gail A. Eisnitz, Slaughterhouse: The Shocking Story of Greed, Neglect, and Inhumane Treatment Inside the U.S. Meat Industry. and also the book b Karen Davis, PhD, Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs: An Inside Look at the Modern Poultry Industry.

A major issue now being raised by the British and American Veterinary Medical Associations (I am a member of both) concerns on-farm mass-slaughter which is often called for to control contagious diseases and when there is a break in the processing chain with shortage of slaughterhouse staff or closures. The method of killing by heat stroke through shutting off the ventilation in animal factory farms and turning up the heat and increasing humidity is being challenged in the veterinary literature, as per the letters concerning Ventilation shutdown, (Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Nov. 15th, 2021, p 1102-1104)

These ethical and humane concerns coupled with the enormous contribution of raising animals for human consumption (much of it being subsidized by tax- payers) to the climate crisis, loss of biodiversity and public health risks from antibiotic-resistant bacteria and zoonotic, animal-to-human diseases like avian and swine influenza, call for a change in our economy and what we chose to eat.