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By Josh Loeb
Many Islamic scholars would accept pre-stun slaughter of livestock – but only if shown proof that animals continue to live after being stunned up until the point of having their necks cut.
This finding by academic and halal slaughter expert Awal Fuseini has fuelled calls for Defra to undertake a study aimed at determining whether animals die post-stunning, and, if so, at what point.
In a paper recently published in the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare’s journal Animal Welfare, Fuseini wrote that the debate within the Muslim community about whether stunning was acceptable arose from a lack of consensus about the definition of death.
This matters because, for meat to be considered halal, animals must be still alive at the point of cutting the neck.
If it can be demonstrated that animals show a return to rhythmic breathing after being stunned, those Muslim scholars currently of the view that meat from stunned animals cannot be halal might drop their opposition.
This is to do with the way that death is defined
Fuseini explained: ‘This is to do with the way that death is defined, either within the Muslim community or just generally – even medically.
‘If you look at the definition of death, death is defined in different ways. There’s neurocentric death, whereby death is defined based on the functioning of the brain, and then there’s cardiorespiratory death, whereby death is defined based on the functioning of the heart [ie, heartbeats or lack thereof].
‘Depending on how they define death, a [Muslim] person may or may not accept stunning.’
According to Fuseini’s research, the vast majority (95 per cent) of Islamic scholars in the UK would accept pre-slaughter stunning as halal if they were presented with evidence showing that such processes do not result in instantaneous death for the animals concerned.
This research was based on interviews with key individuals at 55 Islamic institutions, including madrassas.
An animal welfare enthusiast, Fuseini is part of the BVA’s working group on welfare at slaughter, which is attempting to make progress on the vexed issue of non-stun slaughter. It is expected to report its findings in the autumn.
Fuseini said: ‘When we first started asking them [the Islamic scholars], we asked them, do you think stunning is halal? The majority said no. They said that they would never recognise it as halal.
‘However, it depends on what question you ask. When we changed the question and asked whether, if the animal is stunned, and if the method of stunning doesn’t kill the animal, would they then accept that the meat is halal, then 95 per cent said yes.
‘They said, if you can prove to us that the animal doesn’t die as a consequence of stunning, then we would accept it.’
He said Defra should seek to scientifically determine the point of death, post-stun, and he urged scientists to try to better understand the concerns of the Muslim community about this issue.
‘Until the scientific community starts to engage with the Muslim community, this disagreement [to do with non-stun slaughter] will always be there,’ he said.
However, there could be a number of legislative obstacles to a ‘determination of life’ or a ‘determination of death’ study, and these would need to be overcome for such a study to go ahead.
For example, regulations governing animal welfare in abattoirs stipulate that animals must be killed as soon as possible after stunning. If slaughterhouse staff were required to wait until an animal showed a return to rhythmic breathing before slaughtering it, so as to demonstrate that it was still alive, that would transgress this legislation.
Certain forms of stunning are widely accepted in many Muslim-majority countries, such as the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia and Indonesia.
And in New Zealand, all halal meat is stunned because the Muslim community there is satisfied that stunning doesn’t kill the animals.
The latest Food Standards Agency figures show that a quarter of all sheep killed in English and Welsh slaughterhouses are slaughtered without any form of stunning. Virtually all this meat is intended for the halal market.•
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