Ritual Slaughter: Still Criticized… and Supported

Since the publication of the first edition of my book, Big Food, Big Pharma, Big Lies, ritual slaughter of animals — kosher, sanctioned by Jewish law and halal, sanctioned by Islamic law — has received more news coverage.  Because the cattle, sheep, goats, and other animals are not stunned or rendered insensate during ritual slaughter, the suffering and agony can be prolonged and upsetting to watch.

In 2017, before Eid al-Adha, or the Islamic Feast of Sacrifice, Veysel Eroğlu the Minister of Forestry and Water of Turkey admonished Turks to slaughter their animals rapidly to prevent gruesome images of animals pathetically fighting for their lives. Yet, as some countries have sought to limit or outlaw ritual slaughter, other voices charge “religious persecution” when such restrictions are considered. For example, a 2019 New York Times editorial called bans on ritual slaughter possible “smoke screens for bigotry against Jews and Muslims.” It warned that “those who really care about the welfare of animals should be wary of making common cause with right-wing nationalists whose hostile intent is to make life more difficult for religious minorities.” But animal activists asked if minority religious laws required child abuse would that also be tolerated?

Some EU countries now require stunning before ritual slaughter and ritual slaughter is banned entirely in Slovenia. Yet Poland overturned a 2013 ban on unstunned slaughter practices on the grounds of religious freedom. The following year, 2022, Belgian lawmakers legalized ritual slaughter in Belgium’s capital, Brussels, after the country had banned kosher and halal slaughter in 2019. The Netherlands sought to tighten its ritual slaughter laws but after a backlash ruled only that a veterinarian must be present during slaughter and if the animal doesn’t lose consciousness in 40 seconds, it must be stunned. Clearly, there are strong sentiments on both sides. In 2020, nine out of ten Europeans polled wanted a ban on slaughtering animals that have not been stunned.

Humane Slaughter In the US Was Not Always Conducted

After an upsetting 1957 film of hog slaughter, created by Arthur P. Redman was shown to Congress, the idea of stunning animals before their deaths surfaced.

“We are morally compelled, here in this hour, to try to imagine—to try to feel in our own nerves—the totality of the suffering of 100 million tortured animals,” said Sen. Hubert Humphrey, then a Minnesota Democrat and later vice president under President Lyndon B. Johnson. “The issue before us today is pain, agony and cruelty— and what a moral man must do about it in view of his own conscience.”

Humphrey is remembered today as a civil rights leader and voice during the Vietnam War, but he spearheaded the drafting and passage of the 1958 Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, which requires animals to be made insensitive to pain before being “shackled, hoisted,  thrown, cast or cut.”

President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the act into law and remarked that “if I depended on my mail, I would think humane slaughter is the only thing anyone is interested in.”

Humphrey had wanted humane slaughter to be the law of the land, but a compromise was forced in 1958, making it only a condition of doing business with the federal government.

In 1978, the year Humphrey died, the late Sen. Bob Dole (R-KS) strengthened the law to make it mandatory for the nation, except for religious slaughter. (Senator Dole was also instrumental in passing the 1985 Improved Standards for Laboratory Animals Act.)

Who were among the big opponents of the 1958 Humane Methods of Slaughter Act? The United States Department of Agriculture.

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).