Getting religious with slaughter

by Dr. Temple Grandin
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photo of Dr. Temple Grandin

When religious slaughter is being evaluated from an animal-welfare standpoint, the variable of the restraint method must be separated from the variable of slaughter without stunning. Many plants have replaced cruel shackling and hoisting of conscious animals with restraint equipment that holds the animal in a
comfortable, upright position. This has greatly improved welfare.

I have observed that cattle held in an upright restraint device had almost no reaction to correctly done kosher slaughter that was performed with a special long knife. The cattle reacted much more vigorously when I invaded their flight zone and waved my hands in their faces. The cut with the special knife appeared to not cause pain. I have observed slaughter without stunning done with a short knife that caused violent struggling. From my observations, it appears that when good practices are used, the steer or lamb will stay still and not react to the cut.

For religious slaughter it is important to use a knife that is long enough to fully span the neck; keep the tip of the knife outside the neck during the cut; use a very sharp knife; and hold the wound open during the cut.

N.Z. research

T.J. Gibson and his colleagues at the Institute of Veterinary, Animal and Biomedical Sciences at Massey Univ. in New Zealand published the results of their research in the New Zealand Veterinary Journal. They reported that slaughter without stunning causes pain. They used a new EEG (brain wave) method that can determine when an animal is feeling pain. In these experiments, lightly anesthetized calves were cut. The reason for anesthetizing the calves was to prevent movements (movement artifact) that would distort the EEG patterns.

In these experiments, they used a knife that was 24.5 cm (9.65 in.) long on calves weighing between 240 lbs. and 375 lbs. The EEG reading showed that the calves were feeling pain during the cut. Unfortunately, the methods section of the paper did not contain sufficient detail to determine if the wound was held open during the cut. In properly done kosher slaughter, the wound is held open during the cut. The knife used in this study was much shorter than the special kosher knife, but it was similar to many of the knives used for halal slaughter. Another possible variable is the sharpening method. The knife used in the New Zealand study was sharpened on a mechanical knife-sharpening device and a kosher knife is sharpened on a whetstone.

This study definitely shows that cutting the throat of a calf with a relatively short machine-sharpened knife causes pain. It is very clear that many of the knives that people are using for halal slaughter need to be improved. I recently visited a plant where the knife was so dull that it was like trying to cut meat with a butter knife. At this time, I wish to make two recommendations. First, repeat the New Zealand experiment during actual kosher slaughter with the special long knife. Secondly, I can’t emphasize enough that some of the knives that are currently being used for halal slaughter are not acceptable.

Dr. Temple Grandin operates Grandin Livestock Systems Inc., Fort Collins, Colo., and is a faculty member in the animal science department at Colorado State Univ.

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