Dialogue on religious slaughter
DIALREL: An inventory of practices, beliefs and regulations presented in
What percentage of meat is currently slaughtered according to Halal or Shechita
practices? What is the impact on animal welfare and how can this be improved? How is
religious slaughter regulated in the various EU countries? The outcome of these and
other questions were presented on 15-16 March in Istanbul, at the closing meeting of the
EU DIALREL project (dialogue on religious slaughter), in the presence of some 80
participants – including legislators, animal scientists, sociologists and representatives of
the religious communities concerned. This 3-year research project was launched in
October 2006 to “explore the conditions for promoting the dialogue between interested
parties and stakeholders, facilitating the adoption of good religious slaughter practices”.
An additional aim of the multidisciplinary project team was to review and propose a
mechanism for the implementation and monitoring of good practices.
To this end, a number of investigations, field studies, surveys and meetings were held, of
which the results were presented and discussed in Istanbul.
Today‟s regulation of religious slaughter is based on two principles, which are regarded
as conflicting. On the one hand, there is an increasing awareness of animal welfare,
which has led lawmakers to prohibit slaughter without previous stunning. On the other
side, there is the protection of the fundamental human right to religious freedom. The
prohibition on stunning animals before slaughter, upheld by most orthodox Jewish
communities and a number of Muslim ones, is the characteristic of religious slaughter
that is taken into greatest consideration by States‟ legal systems. A majority of EU
countries allow slaughter without previous stunning – Latvia and Sweden are the notable
exceptions, while Denmark prohibits this practice in cattle – although some countries
prescribe post-cut stunning: Austria, Denmark (cattle only), Finland and Slovakia.
However, wherever religious slaughter is carried out, this is generally done under certain
conditions, such as the requirement of a licence of competence of the slaughterer.
“Without making a value judgement, neck cutting without stunning clearly poses the
highest risk for animal welfare because restraint before the cut and during bleeding
imposes extra manipulation of the animal. Additionally, pain, suffering and distress
during the cut and during bleeding are highly likely”. This was one of the conclusions
reached by Karen von Holleben, veterinarian of the Advisory and training institute for the
considerate management of slaughter animals (BSI Schwarzenbek, Germany) and
Antonio Velarde, veterinarian from the Animal Welfare Research and Technology Institute
(IRTA, Spain). In an extensive report, which covered the physiological basis of pain, fear
and distress, the principles and requirements of restraining, they compared the different
slaughter methods. They also looked at blood loss in cattle and sheep and the time it
took to lose consciousness without stunning. “Most cattle seemed to lose consciousness
between 5 and 90 seconds after the cut, however even under experimental conditions, a
possible regain of consciousness lasting more than 5 minutes has been reported”. Most
sheep and goats seem to lose consciousness within 2 to 20 seconds after a ventral neck
cut although some sheep have reportedly shown signs of recovery for up to 2 minutes.
In a study, conducted in a Halal slaughter plant with highly skilled staff, 14% of the
cattle stood up again after the first collapse before collapsing again. Eight percent of
animals took 1 minute or longer to finally collapse and 2 out of 174 took more than 4
minutes. “A major concern is that animals will either experience pain or will be further
processed and exposed to painful stimuli, recalled Karen von Holleben, such as the
release from restraint or being shackled during the period they are still conscious”.
Regarding the pain from the actual cut, this was considered difficult to assess and cannot
be measured using cortisol levels since ACTH is prevented from reaching the adrenal
glands via the blood. Although the pain from a very sharp cut is often thought to be low
(e.g. when surgeons cut themselves in the course of an operation and only notice it
much later), it should be taken into account that the throat cut involves a major tissue
damage over a large area and that pain is not exclusively related to the “quality” of the
cut. Risk factors for pain comprise multiple cuts, back up cuts, increased cutting time, a
blunt blade, a blade with nicks, increased diameter of the neck, or excited animals
moving their neck during the cut.
“One of the upsetting findings was the number of cuts necessary in slaughter without
previous stunning”, reported Antonio Velarde, who presented the results of a survey
current Halal practices in several EU countries (Belgium, Germany, Italy, the
Netherlands, Spain, UK) as well as Turkey and Australia. Spot visits in 18 cattle, 12
sheep and 5 poultry abattoirs consisted of the assessment of the handling and restraint
methods, stunning, neck cutting procedures and post-cut management. In sheep, the
minimum number of cuts required to sever the major blood vessels of the neck for Halal
and kosher slaughter ranged from 1 to 6. For cattle between one and up to 60 sweeps of
knife were observed.
The average number of cuts observed in order to kill the animal were highest (an
average of 10) if animals were restrained in the upright position. If turned on the back or
on the side, this was clearly easier for the slaughterer („only‟ 3-5 cuts necessary) but the
percentage of animals struggling or vocalising during restraint was higher if they were
turned on the side or on the back.
The veterinary representatives of the DIALREL team called for the definition of standard
Over the last decade, recognisable markets have emerged for halal and kosher meat in a
number of European countries, according to social scientists John Lever and Maria Puig
de la Bellacasa (University of Cardiff). “For example in the UK, the halal meat market is
growing at a remarkable rate: in 2001 it was estimated that the market had an 11%
share of all meat sales in the UK, despite the fact that Muslims accounted for less than
3% of the UK population”. The Halal Food Authority (HFA), one of the most influential
and longstanding certification bodies, estimated a 30% growth of the market for halal
food in 2006 alone, despite the fact that the Muslim population was growing at a rate of
only 3%. The HFA now estimates that around 25% of the entire UK meat market is halal.
In 2007, it was estimated that 114 million animals were slaughtered in the UK using halal
methods. The HFA also licenses restaurants and fast food outlets; in 2009 they initiated a
halal trial at eight Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets in areas where demand was high,
which has since been extended to over 100 outlets in the UK alone.
The market for kosher meat seems to be less dynamic, with lower availability and
demand, as a large percentage of the Jewish population is disconnected from their
religion and does not strictly eat or demand kosher food and meat. There are a number
of independent wholesalers and processors producing prepacked kosher meat products
for the major supermarkets; many of Tesco‟s stores now have a kosher section or sell
kosher products. Although official statistics are lacking, it is estimated that 2.1 million
animals are slaughtered for kosher meat each year.
Although dialogue with the religious communities on the topic of stunning of slaughter
animals was not always easy, it was not impossible. In particular the Muslim
communities seemed more open to reversible captive bolt and post-cut stunning
techniques. However, the possibility of labelling meat as coming from stunned/unstunned
animals provoked much opposition, in particular from the Jewish religious communities,
which only use part of the carcass and might find difficulties to sell the remaining part.
Some even went as far as viewing any labelling initiative as “pure discrimination” against
people of Jewish faith. It should perhaps not be forgotten that during the early Nazi
regime, Hitler forbade all slaughter without stunning, thereby obliging the Jews in
Germany to forgo all meat, pay for expensive imports or find a way to permit shechita
under Nazi regulations. The rabbinic opinion against any form of stunning was “no” then
– as it is today.
“In 2002 the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe (FVE) adopted a position stating that
we consider, out of respect for an animal as a sentient being, the practice of slaughtering
animals without prior stunning is unacceptable under any circumstance”, confirmed
Nancy De Briyne, veterinarian and FVE‟s deputy executive director, addressing the
audience during the DIALREL conference. “Having said that, being realistic, our position
paper also set some so-called “minimum requirements” to be respected for the slaughter
of animals without prior stunning.” For example, the FVE believes that the 180° inversion
of cattle should be prohibited, that animals destined for religious slaughter should be
pre-selected and that farmers should have the right to know how their animals are
The FVE does not believe that labelling is discrimination, and holds the opinion that
consumers have the right to be informed if the meat is derived from an animal (not)
stunned prior to slaughter. Nancy De Briyne also called for standard operating
procedures and in particular for their enforcement. “The official veterinarian would be the
ideal person to verify the monitoring procedures and correct adherence to standard
operating procedures.” She saw the DIALREL project as an important step forward. “For
the first time, we have statistics regarding the number of animals involved, insights into
the motivations of halal and kosher consumers and we have the most comprehensive
review on veterinary aspects in relation to slaughter without stunning ever”.
- Animal must be alive at time of slaughter
- Blood must flow out of the cut
- Allah‟s name must be pronounced
- Slaughterer does not need to be Muslim (but must have a belief) but must be
approved (although not necessarily trained!)
- Slaughter in the direction of Mekka is not an absolute requirement
- Reversible captive bolt and post-cut stunning may be acceptable solutions to the
*according to the presentor (many different interpretations exist)
- Animals (certain species only) must be killed properly and humanely
- Animal must be healthy and free of specific defects
- Slaughter (shechita) can only be carried out by a shochet (certified, trained ritual
- The knife (chalef) must be very sharp and twice the length of the neck
- The animal and head must be restrained, although upright slaughter may be
- The animal must be bled with only one cut
- Some parts of the animal are not considered kosher and must be removed (blood,
certain fats, sciatic nerve and its branches). Since they contain much forbidden fat
and the sciatic nerve is difficult to remove, the hindquarters are generally not
consumed but sold as non-kosher meat
- Stunning (including post-cut stunning) is not acceptable under any condition
The DIALREL project is funded by the European Commission and involves partners from
11 countries. It addresses issues relating to religious slaughter in order to encourage
dialogue between stakeholders and interested parties. Religious slaughter has always
been a controversial and emotive subject, caught between animal welfare considerations
and cultural and human rights issues. There is considerable variation in current practices
and the rules regarding religious requirements are confusing. Consumer demands and
concerns also need to be addressed and the project is collecting and collating information
relating to slaughter techniques, product ranges, consumer expectations, market share
and socio-economic issues. The project was multidisciplinary and based on close
cooperation between veterinarians, food scientists, sociologists, lawyers and other
DIALREL has produced a number of reports and fact sheets, on topics including religious
requirements, legislation, veterinary and animal welfare concerns, current slaughter
practices, halal and kosher consumer attitudes and the development of halal and kosher
meat markets in the UK.
DIALREL Glossary (1/2008)
The glossary includes shared terms and is meant as a guide for technical and practical
purposes. The project team is well aware that these terms may be used in many different ways
and some are also contested. These are key research questions in the project. Several tasks are
dedicated to find out about the variability of definitions and practices, which will be reported
Bleeding: cutting the major blood vessels supplying or draining blood in the brain (see also
Captive bolt stunning: Stunning by concussion of the brain through an impact of the bolt
with the skull of animals.
Chest/thoracic sticking: severing major blood vessels emerging from the heart by inserting a
knife in front of the brisket or sternum (double cut: first the skin, then, with another knife, the
Corneal reflex: blinking response to touching the eyeball indicating an active brain stem or
Death: a physiological state of an animal, where respiration and blood circulation have ceased
as the respiratory and circulatory brain centres in the Medulla Oblongata are irreversibly
inactive. Due to the permanent absence of nutrients and oxygen in the brain, consciousness is
irreversibly lost. In the context of application of stunning and stun/kill methods, the main
clinical signs seen are permanent absence of respiration (and also absence of gagging),
absence of pulse and absence of corneal and palpebral reflex.
Electric stunning: Stunning by electric current passing through the brain. Electric stunning
may be carried out as a reversible stunning method or as an irreversible stunning method (see
also Stun, Stunning and Stun/kill or stunning/killing).
Exsanguination: see Bleeding or Sticking Gas stunning: Stunning by exposing animals, to a
predetermined gas mixture contained within a well or tunnel.
Halal slaughter: Muslim slaughter method (see religious slaughter). Meat declared fit for the
consumption by Muslims is called Halal; unfit meat for the food of Muslims is called Haram.
Halal slaughter is slaughter of an animal that is lawful according to Islamic law (halal) and
that is alive at the time of slaughter. The slaughter process must be carried out by a trained
Muslim and begins by invocation of Allah (Bismillah, Allahu Ekber, In the Name of Allah).
Halal slaughter is considered complete if the trachea, oesophagus and main arteries and veins
are cut in the neck region (at least three of the four structures oesophagus, trachea and both
carotid arteries must be cut completely). The instruments for slaughter must be sharp to
ensure the most stress-free and quick halal slaughter possible and optimal bleeding.
Hoisting for carcass processing: lifting an unconscious animal or carcass to an overhead rail,
normally using shackles and a chain attached to a leg, for the purpose of bleeding or
Insensible: inability to perceive stimuli (unable to feel pain).
Jewish method of slaughter: see Shechita
Muslim method of slaughter: see Halal slaughter
Neck cutting: severing major blood vessels in the neck region (skin and vessels cut
Religious Slaughter: sometimes called ritual slaughter means slaughter according to religious
rites or rules (see also Halal slaughter, Shechita). Religious slaughter does not necessarily
mean that slaughter is carried out without stunning (see also Stun, Stunning).
Restraining: means restricting the movement of an animal/ holding the animal in a correct
position, so that a procedure (e.g. sticking or stunning) can be carried out accurately.
Rhythmic breathing: regular breathing indicating an active brain stem, and can indicate the
start of recovery after stunning.
Schächten (German term): This colloquial German term covers both the religious slaughter
according to Islamic as well as to Jewish rules. The term “Schächten” has to be understood to
mean both a “religious slaughter without stunning” as well as a “religious slaughter with
Shackling: attaching a shackle to the hind leg(s) of an animal to allow it to be carried away
for further procedures like stunning or bleeding.
Shechita (Schechita): Jewish slaughter method (see religious slaughter). Meat declared fit for
consumption by Jews is called Kosher; meat unfit for consumption by Jews because it was not
slaughtered properly is called Nevailah. Colloquially, all unfit meat is also called Treifah,
although that term has a more precise meaning. The Jewish slaughter method, shechita, is
mainly characterized by the slaughter of the animal being carried out by a highly trained,
devout Jew using a perfectly smooth knife to slice the throat in a continuous motion resulting
in rapid exsanguinations and loss of consciousness. For the meat to be kosher, the animal
must free of specific physical defects (i.e. not a treifah) at the time of slaughter as determined
by a post-mortem examination by a specially trained rabbi. Thus, shechita is but one step in
the production of kosher meat, which includes the selection of a kosher species, its proper
slaughter, the post-mortem inspection, and the removal of certain non-kosher sections.
Shochet: person officially certified as competent to kill cattle and poultry in the manner
prescribed by Jewish law.
Slaughter: means the process of bleeding to induce death, usually by severing major blood
vessels supplying oxygenated blood to the brain.
Sticking: act of severing major blood vessels (also see neck cutting, chest/thoracic sticking,
Stun or stunning: stunning is a technical process that each animal is subjected to. Its purpose
is to induce immediate unconsciousness and insensibility in animals, so that slaughter can be
performed without avoidable fear, anxiety, pain, suffering and distress.
Stunning methods can be reversible or irreversible (see also Stun/kill or stunning/killing).
Stunning is performed before slaughter except in the case of post-cut-stunning, where it is
performed immediately after the cut.
Stun/kill or stunning/killing: process of rendering animals unconscious first and then
inducing death or achieving these simultaneously.
Unconsciousness: Unconsciousness is a state of unawareness (loss of consciousness) in
which there is temporary or permanent disruption to brain function. As a consequence the
individual is unable to respond to normal stimuli, including pain.