Halal describes what is lawful for Muslims to eat. Halal food laws are based on interpretation of the Quran, the Muslim scripture, and set out the range of beverages and foods (including meat) that are acceptable for Muslims to eat. The procedures for Halal slaughter can vary from place to place because of the differing interpretations of the Quran: this article describes Halal slaughter in Australia.
The main concern with halal slaughter is whether or not pre-slaughter stunning is used. In Australia, the national standard for meat production requires that all animals must be effectively stunned (unconscious) prior to slaughter. The vast majority of halal slaughter in Australia complies with this standard, that is, all animals are stunned prior to slaughter. The only difference is that a reversible stunning method is used, while conventional humane slaughter may use an irreversible stunning method. The time to regain consciousness following a reversible stun may vary depending on the intensity of the stun. At Australian abattoirs, the aim is to ensure that reversible stunning is done in a way that depth of unconsciousness is sufficient to allow for the animal to bleed out and die before there is a chance of regaining consciousness.
Halal slaughter in overseas abattoirs often does not include stunning - this is the key difference between halal slaughter in Australia and many other countries. Although reversible stunning is far better from an animal welfare perspective than no stunning at all, irreversible stunning is more effective in inducing unconsciousness than reversible stunning and is therefore the preferred method.
Exemptions from pre-slaughter stunning requirements
There are a small number of abattoirs in Australia that have been granted permission from the relevant State or Territory food authority to conduct religious slaughter without prior stunning – for either Halal or Kosher (Jewish slaughter) purposes. These ‘approvals’ are effectively exemptions to standard Australian slaughter practice. The proportion of animals slaughtered under these exemptions is very small, but nevertheless that any animals are slaughtered without stunning is of concern to the RSPCA.
For cattle and sheep, the requirements for religious slaughter without prior stunning are set out in a nationally adopted guideline Ritual Slaughter for Ovine (Sheep) and Bovine (Cattle):
The requirements for cattle and sheep are different because cattle take longer than sheep to lose consciousness as they have an extra blood supply to the brain at the back of the neck running along the vertebrae.
All Halal slaughter of chickens in Australia includes prior stunning.
The RSPCA is concerned there are much greater risks of an animal suffering during slaughter without stunning than for conventional slaughter. Slaughtering an animal while fully conscious requires additional handling and restraint and means that the animal will experience pain associated with the throat cut and subsequent bleeding out. For these reasons, the RSPCA is strongly opposed to all forms of slaughter that do not involve prior stunning of the animal.
What you can do to help
It is the state/territory food authority that provides abattoirs with special permission to conduct religious slaughter without prior stunning. If you are opposed to slaughter without prior stunning, please contact your state/territory Minister for Agriculture to make your views known.
For further information see:
Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Livestock at Slaughtering Establishments
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