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Cruelty and Suffering Billed as “Religion”

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Once again, ritual slaughter is being debated in Europe. Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Lithuania, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, other European countries and New Zealand have banned or limited religious slaughter. Now, new rules in the Netherlands state that no more animals can be killed for kosher and halal meat than “necessary to meet the actual need of the religious communities present in the Netherlands.” Also, if an animal is not “insensitive to pain” within 40 seconds of slaughter, it must be shot.

In both kosher (sanctioned by Jewish law) and halal (sanctioned by Islamic law) slaughter, cattle, sheep, goats and poultry have their throats cut while they are fully conscious. After a disturbing film of hog slaughter was shown in 1957 to Congress, the 1958 Humane Methods of Slaughter Act was passed in the U.S. which requires animals to be made insensitive to pain before being “shackled, hoisted, thrown, cast or cut.” Ritual religious slaughter is exempted.

In 2004, undercover video at the Agriprocessors’ kosher slaughterhouse surfaced, showing cows that did not die from having their throats cut but got up and thrashed around in heartbreaking agony. The video led to a USDA investigation that “reported many violations of animal cruelty laws at the plant,” reported the New York Times. (Trump commuted the sentence of an Agriprocessors’ owner for financial wrongdoing late last year.) The undercover activists who shot the video were later identified as Hannah and Phillip Schein, a married couple who keep kosher themselves, dispelling charges that their motives were anti-Semitic.

When the grisly video surfaced, a coalition of rabbis and kosher certifying agencies in the United States was quick to defend the images. “After the animal has been rendered insensible, it is entirely possible that it may still display certain reflexive actions, including those shown in images portrayed in the video,” they wrote on a kosher-certification website.

“These reflexive actions should not be mistaken for signs of consciousness or pain, and they do not affect the kosher status of the slaughtered animal’s meat. There may be exceptional circumstances when, due to the closing of jugular veins or a carotid artery after the shechita cut, or due to the non-complete severance of an artery or vein, the animal may rise up on its legs and walk around. Cases when animals show such signs of life after the slaughter process are extremely rare, and even such an event would not invalidate the shechita if the trachea and esophagus were severed in the shechita cut.”

In the United States, the sale of kosher meat has escalated through the perception that it is comparable to organic or halal slaughtered meat. In fact, kosher and halal slaughter are so similar that Muslims “often substitute kosher foods when their own ritually produced and certified halal foods are not available,” reports the Sioux City Journal.

Not surprisingly leaders of both religions and even some food scientists charge that laws to reduce animal suffering from ritual slaughter persecute. “This is not about animal rights,” said Joe M. Regenstein, a professor of food science who runs a kosher and halal food program at Cornell University about new Netherlands laws. “It’s an invitation to Jews and Muslims to leave.”

But animal advocates say the opposite. Former actress, sex symbol and current animal rights advocate Brigitte Bardot is a strong critic of ritual slaughter and the holiday Eid al-Adha, during which Muslims ritually slaughter sheep and other animals, often in public. “1,000 sheep were slaughtered last month only 300 yards from my house,” she lamented to a U.S. newspaper, asking when the French government would enforce its stunning laws.

Ritual slaughter is capable of causing great suffering, agrees animal expert Temple Grandin, noting how long conscious animals experience extreme pain before they die. “Some plants use cruel methods of restraint, such as suspending a conscious animal by a chain wrapped around one hind-limb” and the animals’ “vocalizations can be heard outside the building.” These plants “persist in hanging large cattle and veal calves upside down by one hind-leg. There is no religious justification for use of this cruel method of restraint.”

During a time of such religious discord,

it is ironic that one of the few things Islam and Judaism agree upon is so widely considered elsewhere as cruel.

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Martha Rosenberg is an investigative health reporter. She is the author of  Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health (Prometheus).

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