The Evening Standard, Daily Mail and Daily Star all report on The Times’ story on Monday on research suggesting animals are needlessly suffering under unstunned slaughter methods because of “Muslim ignorance”.
The Times article, ‘Animals dying in pain because of Muslim ignorance over stunning’, presented research conducted by academics at Bristol University who interviewed “Islamic scholars at 29 mosques, 15 Islamic centres and six Islamic schools” and “more than 300 halal consumers”.
Whether such a small sample could render results suitable for wider generalisation is open to question given that there are over 1000 mosques in the UK, all of whom have a variable quality of Islamic “scholar” running them and the British Muslim population is close to 3 million.
Nevertheless, the newspaper derives the basis for its headline from the results of the interviews which show “Sixty nine per cent of scholars answered “no” when asked whether they agreed that stunning prior to slaughter had been shown to reduce the pain felt by animals.”
The article continues, “300 halal consumers asked the same question were more likely than scholars to accept that research had shown stunning did reduce pain, with 58 per cent saying no.”
It is worth contrasting the abstract from the journal article with the headline in The Times. While the newspaper focuses its coverage on data from the research survey on the number of scholars and consumers who are not aware of stunning lessening pain felt by animals, the researchers present one of their key findings as: “The majority of scholars (> 95%) and consumers (53%) said reversible stunning is Halal compliant.”
The Times buries this piece of detail in paragraph fifteen of the article.
The Times mentions “numerous experiments over the past 35 years” which have “demonstrated” the “humaneness” of pre-stunning.
Interestingly, though not all that surprisingly, the entire focus of the article is on Muslims despite religious slaughter being a ritual practiced assiduously by observant Jews as much as it is by observant Muslims. There is a single mention of Jews in the article, in a sentence reiterating the UK’s exempting religious slaughter from EU regulations on pre-stunning of animals slaughtered for food.
The article presents no counter-factual evidence to test the claims of the study, nor does it invite contesting opinion in an area that is fraught with contrasting views. For example, in the report published by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Beef and Lamb, ‘Meat Slaughtered in Accordance with Religious Rites’, among the questions examined by MPs were: “Is there a difference in the pain experienced by an animal killed without stunning versus one killed with stunning?” and “What scientific evidence is available to support the position that one method is more humane than another method?”.
The group’s findings are interesting given both the evidence presented to it and the recommendations advanced by the MPs.
The APPG report pointed to the permissibility of shechita (kosher) slaughter in the US as a humane form of slaughter in its own right, and not as a derogation. It further noted research conducted by the University of Hanover in Germany which indicated that religious slaughter is a humane method.
Other evidence presented by advocates of religious slaughter was harm caused to animals by “mis-stunning”, something that was taken up in the report’s recommendations with MPs urging statistical data on mis-stunning as well as mis-slaughtering in both stunned and non-stunned animals be made available to the public.
The APPG report highlighted an interesting point of detail raised by the Veterinary Adviser to Defra in relation to research conducted on pain suffered by animals at slaughter. Rebeca Garcia Pinillos stated that much of the department’s research focussing on pain at slaughter had been done in conjunction with halal slaughter and not shechita slaughter. The available research, from Defra and now the University of Bristol, perhaps explains the heavy emphasis on halal meat in debates about how humane religious slaughter is despite the practice not being exclusive to Muslims.
It is fascinating to observe the frequency with which religious slaughter is singularly associated with Islam when, according to a HoC library briefing paper from February 2015 on ‘Religious slaughter of animals’, figures from 232 red meat slaughterhouses and 69 white meat slaughterhouses in September 2013 found that “2% of cattle, 15% of sheep and goats and 3% of poultry were not stunned prior to slaughter in accordance with religious rites.”
The briefing paper also noted, “No animals slaughtered by the Shechita (Jewish) method were stunned. The 2015 survey found that 75% of cattle were stunned before halal slaughter, 63% of sheep and goats and 84% of halal poultry was pre-stunned.”
Pre-stunning of animals would appear to be practiced a majority of the time, something The Times does acknowledge in the caption “The majority of halal meat is from stunned animals.” But one wonders whether the caption is enough to deflect attention from the headline itself which is more damning of Muslims?
In its 2014 report, the APPG on Beef and Lamb recommended more research be done to address the “knowledge deficit” on “whether or not the cut is painful.”
It would be helpful if such research were disseminated in ways that are not demonstrably biased against Muslims.
To appreciate the impact of the bias, one need only review some of the 1,200 comments appended to the MailOnline article. There are multiple references to “banning” halal meat and referring to religious slaughter as “barbaric”.