SheepOnGrassYvonne Maffei, the author of my halal kitchen, wrote a nice series of blog posts myth-busting common misconceptions about Halal. This post quoted an article which caught my eye: The Halal Journal on humane slaughter. I’ve written about Halal slaughter before, and I continue to be interested in the topic, which method is best from a humane standpoint? The following discussion is graphic, so read on only if you want to know!

The butcher I use the most feels very strongly that the bleeding method of slaughter is cruel and causes animal suffering. His biggest worry is with cattle, which he feels take a very long time to bleed out to the point of lost consciousness. He is willing to work with clients who want to do Halal slaughter, but he is very uncomfortable with it. He much prefers to stun animals first, and has told me that with a large-headed animal, he may even switch to a rifle, to ensure a swift death. I respect his opinion, his emotion about the subject comes from the right place, of holding animal welfare in high regard.

I used a different local butcher recently when my main guy wasn’t available, and was surprised to see him trot the lambs out of my van, and throat-cut them right there in the parking lot! (This place is a a ways upriver from us, where such things can still be done in view of the street…Winking smile) I inquired of his opinion on the matter. He feels strongly that with sheep, their heads are so small compared to cattle, that the bolt tends to shoot right through the other side, which is undesirable from a brains-all-over-the-place standpoint (sorry, graphic, but realistic). And, with bad aim, there is the possibility that it doesn’t kill or render the animal unconscious. He explained that when they do the throat cut method, the key is that not only do they cut the jugular, they twist the knife into the spinal cord, rendering the animal immediately brain-dead and thus unable to experience pain.

The above-mentioned article cautions that with Halal, the spinal cord must not be severed, because the goal is to have the brain alive and intact, so it can keep sending messages to the muscles and heart to contract, ensuring the bleed-out is thorough and swift. I’ve always felt that the rapid drop in blood pressure likely renders the animal unconscious within moments. Akin to how we faint quickly from plummeting blood pressure. And, most of us know that the immediate sensation of a deep cut with a sharp knife is strikingly nonexistent- we don’t usually feel pain until after we look at the cut!

The article seems to confirm both of these ideas, and raises some interesting questions about whether what the animal experiences during Halal slaughter may actually be good: the brain state of deep sleep. Its assertions of the brain echoing pain while the animal is apparently unconscious in the stunning case is interesting: hard to know what this means. If we are unconscious and our brain is issuing pain signals, does a part of our unconscious mind still experience pain? Does it matter?

So, maybe the jury is still out on whether one method is superior to the other as far as minimized animal pain or suffering. But it’s reassuring to think that though throat-cutting may seem graphic or primitive, it is likely not significantly worse for the animal than a stun-first method, and could possibly be better. And, I will add that in my observation, because people doing Halal slaughtering are approaching the act with a prayerful mindset, they are  usually gentle, calm and respectful toward the animal. I can’t always say the same about American-style butchering outfits. There, hassling the animals out of a vehicle or trailer may turn into a bit of a rodeo, with plenty of disrespect being passed between human and animal, in both directions! Stress and adrenaline before slaughter are big contributors to meat toughness, so definitely something I do not like to see.

The discussion about the mechanics of captive-bolt stunning and how it may increase the risk of pathogenic brain material contaminating meat is a thought-provoking notion. Especially given our limited knowledge of how mad cow can be transferred via brain or spinal tissue. And that stunning may actually lower the quality and palatability of meat. Hmm, lots to think about!