What is Kosher slaughter?
Kosher food laws are based on interpretation of the Bible and the Torah, the Judaic scriptures, and set out a range of beverages and foods (including meat) that are acceptable for people of the Jewish faith. For meat to be Kosher, animals must be slaughtered in accordance with Judaic rites which requires for slaughter to occur without prior stunning.
What is Halal slaughter?
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. The procedures for Halal slaughter can vary from country to country due to the differing interpretations of the Quran. In Australia, halal slaughter in most cases allows for animals to be stunned prior to slaughter using reversible stunning methods.
How is religious slaughter different from conventional slaughter?
Religious slaughter may mean animals are slaughtered without prior stunning or using reversible stunning methods (for halal slaughter), whereas conventional slaughter may use irreversible stunning methods. Halal slaughter requires that the animal is killed from the throat cut and bleeding out process rather than the stunning method. Kosher slaughter has similar requirements, however in Australia does not currently accept reversible stunning methods.
The time to regain consciousness following a reversible stun will vary depending on the stunning method used. The aim of reversible stunning is that unconsciousness is maintained long enough for the animal to bleed out following the throat cut and die before there is a chance to regain consciousness. Although reversible stunning is far better from an animal welfare perspective than no stunning at all, there is still a risk that animals could regain consciousness during the slaughter process. Irreversible stunning methods are more effective in inducing unconsciousness than reversible stunning methods and are therefore preferred.
Exemptions from pre-slaughter stunning requirements
A small number of abattoirs and poultry processors in Australia have been granted ongoing permission from their relevant state or territory authority to conduct religious slaughter without prior stunning – to produce either Halal or Kosher meat. This exemption to the requirement for pre-slaughter stunning is permitted under the current Australian standards for the hygienic production and transportation of meat and meat products for human consumption (AS 4696:2007) and Australian standard for construction of premises and hygienic production of poultry meat for human consumption (AS 4465:2005).
Our understanding (as of 2020) is that there are 9 abattoirs and poultry processors in Australia with approval to conduct slaughter without prior stunning:
- New South Wales – 2 abattoirs
- South Australia – 3 abattoirs
- Victoria – 4 abattoirs
The requirements for religious slaughter without prior stunning of cattle, sheep and goats are set out in a national guideline. The Meat Standards Committee Guideline MSC 01/2004 Ritual slaughter for ovine (sheep) and bovine (cattle) states:
- For cattle, stunning is required but occurs immediately after the throat is cut. This requires two slaughtermen to be present, one to perform the cut and one to perform the stunning. The animal must be restrained (including head restraint) in a manner that ensures it remains standing in an upright position during the slaughter process.
- For sheep and goats, stunning is not required unless the animal is distressed or does not rapidly lose consciousness, in which case they must be immediately stunned.
The requirements differ because cattle have a different blood supply to the brain meaning they may take longer to lose consciousness than sheep and goats.
What are the animal welfare concerns associated with religious slaughter?
The main animal welfare concern with halal slaughter is whether or not animals are rendered unconscious (stunned) before they are killed. For halal slaughter in Australia, all export and most domestic slaughtering establishments comply with standard slaughter practice where animals are stunned prior to slaughter using reversible stunning methods.
For kosher slaughter there is no requirement for animals to be stunned prior to slaughter.
The RSPCA is concerned that there are much greater risks of an animal suffering during slaughter without prior stunning than during conventional slaughter.
Slaughter without prior stunning requires additional handling and restraint meaning animals experience increased amounts of fear and stress. The throat cut aims to sever the major blood vessels in the neck as well as the surrounding tissue (including skin, muscle, trachea, oesophagus, and nerves). When an animal is fully conscious during the throat cut, the extensive tissue damage and blood loss means the animal experiences pain before death. 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 or territory authority that provides slaughtering establishments with permission to conduct religious slaughter without prior stunning. If you are opposed to slaughter without prior stunning, please contact the state or territory Minister for Agriculture in NSW, SA and VIC as well as the Federal Minister for Agriculture to make your views known.
For further information see:
- Australian standards for the hygienic production and transportation of meat and meat products for human consumption
- Australian standard for construction of premises and hygienic production of poultry meat for human consumption
- Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Livestock at Slaughtering Establishments
- Halal certification in Australia: a quick guide
- Kosher certification in Australia: a quick guide