Humane Halal & Kosher Kind | Mercy In Slaughter

Kosher and halal dietary guidelines—particularly
in regards to the treatment and slaughter of animals—have long sparked controversy and debate, even within their respective religious communities. The most contentious aspect of ritual slaughter—taking
the international stage more than once—is whether shechita and zabiha are the most humane and merciful or the most brutal and barbaric. Hi it's Emily from Bite Size Vegan and welcome
to another vegan nugget. I’ll be honest that this has been one of
the most daunting and profoundly challenging videos I’ve ever made. As a vegan educator, I know all to well that
dietary practice alone is a hot button issue. Add in religion, culture, heritage, politics,
and money, and you’ve got a proper powder keg of a topic.

So before we get started, there are some very
important caveats I need to clarify. As Jewish and Islamic scholars continue to
study, debate, and deepen their own understanding of kashrut and halal meat and slaughter even after thousands thousands of years, it’s not only unrealistic but also irresponsible to assume that I can adequately
comprehend and convey the entirety of their teachings within a single video. Presenting incredibly complex concepts in
a simplified format always runs the risk of being overly reductionist. This is why—as with all of my content—this
video has an accompanying blog post with citations, an extensive bibliography, and in this case,
portions of my original essay that were cut for the sake of time. That it remains a comparatively lengthy video
is a testament to the complexity of this topic.

Additionally, this video is not an attack
on Judaism, Islam, or even religion as whole. The aim here is to take a hard look at kosher
and halal slaughter and evaluate whether they are genuinely humane, merciful practices. Such an assessment is perhaps even more vital
for their adherents, as violation of these principles compromises the very foundation
of their faith. In fact, the values espoused by animal advocates
opposed to ritual slaughter are, according to Jewish and Islamic leaders, the very basis
of halal and kosher practices. But this potential common ground is rarely
explored as almost every public debate over ritual slaughter arises from undercover footage
exposing the horrifically brutal treatment of animals in halal and kosher slaughterhouses. As this abuse grossly violates halal and kosher
laws, rightly drawing outrage from all sides, the ultimate conclusion is almost always a
call for better regulations and stricter enforcement of halal and kosher standards, leaving unanswered
the very the question of whether these methods—when carried out as intended—are humane, and
failing to address what truly lies at the heart of the humane slaughter debate as a
whole: is it even possible to end the life of another being in a way that is kind? In the effort to actually address this core
question through the overwhelmingly complex lens of the ritual slaughter debate, I’m approaching this topic in a deliberately different manner.

Let’s begin with a brief overview of the
similarities and differences between kosher and halal dietary laws. Meaning “right/proper” and “lawful/permitted”
respectively, both terms encompass far more than their most recognized application to
meat and slaughter. Their origins are rooted in scripture—the
Tanakh and Talmud (written and oral Torah) for kashrut and the Quran and various hadith
(report describing the words, actions, or habits of the Islamic prophet Muhammad) for
halal. Both dictate which species may or may not
be eaten, expressly prohibit the consumption of blood—thus requiring complete exsanguination
of the corpse—and specify animals must be alive, healthy, and uninjured at the time
of their slaughter, which is to be performed with a swift cut from a sharpened knife (chalaf
or chalef in kosher) in order to minimize pain and provide the quickest death.

While there are numerous differences and nuances
between the two sets of laws, the most notable variation in regards to the humane debate
is their stance on pre-slaughter stunning. Kosher standards explicitly require animals
be fully conscious and aware when killed. Some Jewish individuals, like Rabbi Shmuly
Yanklowitz, advocate the adoption of post-slaughter stunning—meaning immediately after the throat
is cut—stating that “the drawn out moments between the slaughter and final death are
terribly painful and stressful for the dying animal [who is] completely conscious and continues
to shake in extreme pain for minutes after the neck is cut.” However post-slaughter stunning lacks any
majority acceptance within the Jewish community. While halal slaughter is traditionally—and
still typically—also carried out on fully conscious animals, some Muslim authorities
have approved very particular methods of pre-slaughter stunning, given they meet specific requirements
(must be nonlethal such that animal would regain consciousness in less than a minute
and be able to eat within five minutes) and almost all halal slaughter plants in Australia
and New Zealand perform pre-slaughter stunning.

This brings us to another layer of complexity. Irrevocably intertwined with the question
of ritual slaughter’s “humaneness” is the role of governmental bodies in its regulation. Every country with humane slaughter regulations—which
in and of themselves are a study in human ingenuity and self-deception—requires stunning
animals prior to slaughter. However, the vast majority—including the
United States—contain exemptions for religious slaughter, with the whole of the European
Union specifically mandating member states permit non-stunning kosher slaughter. Just as the humane treatment of animals is
confoundingly offered as both the main objection to and justification for ritual slaughter,
the issue is further muddied when every government’s humane regulations require stunning, yet simultaneously defend ritual slaughter with arguments of its enhanced humaneness. How can this possibly be? All methods of slaughter cannot simultaneously
be the most humane. Who is truly in the right? Perhaps the most influential and oft-referenced
study in regards to the humanness of ritual slaughter is the 1994 paper from Dr.

Temple
Grandin, widely heralded as the foremost authority on humane livestock handling and slaughterhouse
restraint system design. Grandin emphasizes the “need to critically
consider the scientific information available about the effects of different slaughter practices
on animals before reaching any judgments about the appropriateness of a particular form of
slaughter” and to “understand the importance of these practices to the people who follow
these religious codes.” The study outlines three basic concerns: stressfulness
of restraint methods, pain perception during the incision and latency of onset of complete
insensibility, meaning how long it takes for the animal to lose consciousness—and thus
stop feeling pain—after their throat is cut. Because animals are conscious at the time
of ritual slaughter, they must be fully bodily restrained. A large contributor to the confusion within
the humane debate is the extreme variation of restraint systems and methodologies utilized
around the world and even from factory to factory. For a rather exhaustive 76-slide PowerPoint
presentation—from meat industry insiders—detailing these variations, complete with photographic
illustrations and their impact on profits, see the blog post.

One of the most objectionable and decidedly
stressful forms of restraint is shackling and hoisting animals while fully conscious,
a method banned in Canada and other countries, but still used in North and South America,
Israel, and many others. The primary method of restraint utilized for
ritual slaughter without stunning in Europe, as well as Israel, and select US plants, is
a full inversion pen, wherein cows are flipped upside down with a head restraint exposing
their neck for slaughter. Largely preferred by Jewish and Muslim communities,
because they allow for a more natural and controlled cutting motion, Grandin’s research
along with subsequent studies, including one in 2004 from the European Food Safety Authority
(EFSA), found this method highly stressful for cows, recommending instead upright restraint. However, facing pushback from religious communities
and what it cryptically refers to as “different stakeholders,” the European Commission ordered
an extensive investigation and report comparing upright and inverted methods. The report, issued on February 8, 2016, exactly
3 years and 2 months after its due date and over 6 years after its commission, concluded
that there was no discernable different in animal welfare between the methods.

It’s no wonder there’s such confusion
and conflict surrounding ritual slaughter. With such variation in methodology, conflicting
scientific studies and governmental back and forth, influenced to varying degrees by religious
tensions, political pressure and meat industry interests, how can anyone be sure what kosher
and halal even mean anymore? Just as humane and free-range labels lack
any meaningful improvements for animals, and governmental mandates lack timely—or any—enforcement,
halal and kosher certifications have time and again been exposed as inadequately enforced,
with rampant violations of both religious and governmental laws being the norm rather
than the exception. A particularly horrific undercover investigation
conducted in Postville, Iowa, at AgriProcessors, the largest kosher slaughterhouse in the America,
revealed unbelievably barbaric footage, subsequently featured in the documentary Earthlings, and
sparked international outrage from all camps.

While I believe it’s of vital importance
to witness the reality of what we do to animals, I’m not including this footage here as it
would no doubt result in this video being age restricted, thus severely limiting accessibility
to the remaining information. I have provided a link to the video, along
with a mini-documentary response from the Jewish community and additional videos of
halal investigations. The undercover investigator at AgriProcessors
described in his notes seeing cow after cow loaded into the full inversion rotating restraint
and having their trachea or esophagus ripped out of their open throats as they aspirated
on their own blood.

They were then dumped onto the blood-soaked
floor and many struggled to stand with their heads nearly severed off. One managed to stand and walked into the corner. Some cried out despite their torn throats. He wrote: “The first time I saw a cow stagger to his
feet and walk around with his trachea dangling outside of his body, I thought to myself,
this can’t be happening—but after several days I knew better. There is no justification for the cruelty
I documented in that slaughterhouse. The presence of the USDA didn’t have any
effect, nor did the presence of the rabbis. These animals were failed by both religion
and regulations.” Jewish and Islamic communities were appalled
by this footage, and even Temple Grandin said it was “the most disgusting thing I’d
ever seen. I couldn’t believe it.” When Grandin, visited the plant, workers had
performed the slaughter to her standards, as they did for visiting rabbis.

But the undercover footage taken over seven
weeks showed this barbaric treatment was in fact standard operating procedure, leaving
Grandin to conclude “the only way to ensure that correct procedures are followed in this
plant is to install video cameras that can be audited over the internet.” This of course begs the question: what is
going on inside of every other plant she’s approved—or any slaughterhouse for that
matter—when no one is watching? These atrocities are not anomalies. In an interview with activist Anita Krajnc
of Toronto Pig Save, a kill floor worker from Riding Regency Meat Packers, a Halal and Kosher
slaughterhouse in Toronto, Canada, observed rabbis reaching into the cows’ neck and
grabbing their esophagus. He described how cows are routinely still
conscious when chained and hung upside down, taking four to five minutes to die, such that
the first few cows of each day reach the “scalper” and are fully aware when the skin is peeled
from their face. Where is the regulation in all of this? For many in the Jewish community, that was
the most astounding aspect of the AgriProcessers scandal.

In the face of this blatant brutality decried
by every side of the issue, The Orthodox Union, which certified the plant as kosher, stated
“We continue to vouch for the kashrut of all of the meat prepared by AgriProcessors,
Inc., which was never compromised." In a most poignant summation, religious scholar
Dr. Aaron Gross writes: “the fact that the products of factory farming
and even abusive facilities like AgriProcessors are given moral legitimacy by being deemed
‘kosher,’ transforms kashrut from an ethical system into one that helps mask organized
animal abuse. This awkward situation is so far from the
moral vision of kashrut that it is painful to even acknowledge.” As I said at the start of this video, while
it’s vital to acknowledge that violations are the norm rather than the exception within
kosher and halal factories, in order to truly evaluate the ethics of ritual slaughter, we
must strive to assess the principles in their ideal manifestation, even if such a manifestation
doesn’t actually exist in any current application.

In the end, after all of this human-created
noise and confusion, the best way to answer whether ritual slaughter is humane is by simple
observation. I’m even going to far as to edit out the
actual cutting of the throat or any visuals of blood. So let’s observe this most profoundly idealized
example of ritual slaughter. “The position has to be very comfortable
for the animal first, so he can cooperate with me and I’m be comfortable to give him
a good slaughter.

I want to assure you – only lucky animals
are slaughtered here—they are very proud to fulfill their mission—it’s a necessary
act for this meat to reach your table.” Even in this most idealized and artificially
sterilized scenario—which even the slaughterer states is the exception—its evident this
sheep was not a wiling participant. Ending the life any sentient being prematurely
and against their will cannot possibly be a humane or merciful act. Just like children, these beings cannot give
us their consent.

His cessation of struggling after much manipulation
and assurance is more of a sad statement of his innocent yet misplaced trust in his caretaker
turned slaughterer than any form of willful submission through a full comprehension of
what’s to come. The assertion that this act is necessary,
thus justifying the lesser of the evils, is one of the main rationalizations offered by
meat eaters, secular and religious alike. But no religion—Judaism and Islam included—mandates
the consumption of animals. In fact, as I cover in my video series History
of Veganism, primarily in the Middle Ages episode, the Quran and hadith contain numerous
verses in support of compassion and respect for animals, even emphasizing the consumption
of fruits and vegetables to sustain humans and animals alike. And following Genesis 1:29, Rabbinic tradition
has taught that human beings were originally vegetarian in the garden of Eden and it was
only after the fall and the flood that meat eating was reluctantly permitted. Thus the spiritual ideal is a diet free of
animal products. There are countless Jewish and Muslim vegans,
many of whom state their decision to go vegan was a natural extension of their religious
practice, and greatly deepened their connection to their faith.

The myth of humane slaughter reaches beyond
any religion. Humanity as a whole consistently strives to
excuse and justify the enslavement, torture, and murder of sentient beings. There’s a level of absurdity with how much
time, energy, detail, government money, and paperwork goes into finding just the right
way to kill. We point fingers at inexcusable abuse in other
countries, cultures, religions, and specific companies, erupting in righteous outrage and
conveniently avoiding any assessment of our own complicity in the deaths of the animals
on our plates. I’ll conclude with the words of Jewish author,
noble laureate and Holocaust survivor Isaac Bashevis Singer, “People often say that humans have always
eaten animals, as if this is a justification for continuing the practice. According to this logic, we should not try
to prevent people from murdering other people, since this has also been done since the earliest
of times.” I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments
below. If you’d like to help support Bite Size
Vegan so I can keep putting in the long hours to bring you this free educational resource,
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Humane Halal & Kosher Kind | Mercy In Slaughter

Are halal (حلال) and kosher (כשר) slaughter humane and merciful or brutal and barbaric? Sparking controversy on an international scale, the debate over ritual slaughter is a hotbed of religion, politics, dietary practice, corporate greed, systematic abuses, and special interests. In all of this noise and confusion, the core question remains: is it even possible to end the life of another being in a way that is kind?

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