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Published on Aug 19, 2012
The ritual slaughter of animals decreed by Jewish and Muslim dietary laws require that the animals are conscious when they have their throats slit. In the European secular food industry, regulations strive to minimise "the risk of causing pain, fear or distress to the animals" in their being slaughtered for food. Crucially, these rules require the stunning of animals before being killed, either with a bolt to the brain, or with electricity. However, the law kowtows before the Jewish kashrut and Islamic halal guidelines in permitting avoidance of stunning.
In 2009, New Zealand veterinarian scientist Craig Johnson was given an award from the Humane Slaughter Association, for his body of work that demonstrates that animals suffer more without stunning. In one crucial experiment, Johnson et al administered mild anaesthetics to calves so that they could not feel the pain of the incision, but the pain response was still measurable. It remained present in the animals without stunning, but was immediately erased by stunning.
"I think our work is the best evidence yet that it's painful", Johnson told New Scientist. While this may appear to come from the oft-referenced University of the Bleeding Obvious, in fact defenders of Jewish shechita and Muslim dhabiha slaughter cite scientific evidence that the practice is not painful to the animal. In 2003, the Muslim Council of Great Britainclaimed that "the brain is instantaneously starved of blood and there is no time to start feeling any pain." Johnson's work says otherwise. 
Since then at least two studies have been published in Europe (Lambooij 2008 and DIALREL 2011).
In the DIALREL report of last year, nine researchers (among them Lambooij) concluded that throat cutting without anaesthetic carried the highest risks of animals suffering: 'Pain, suffering and distress during the cut and during bleeding are highly likely.' Sedation methods are admittedly not without risks for animal wellbeing, but they are considerable smaller, claim the researchers. They cite from about 300 scientific articles and base their views on observations by veterinary researchers in slaughterhouses in Germany, Spain, England, France, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, Israel and Australia.
The European Union directive, "European Convention for the Protection of Animals for Slaughter", generally requires stunning before slaughter, but allows member states to allow exemptions for religious slaughter: "Each Contracting Party may authorize derogations from the provisions concerning prior stunning in the following cases: -- slaughtering in accordance with religious rituals ...".
In May 2009 the European Parliament voted in favour of allowing ritual slaughter in member states.
What is the difference for the animals?
Non-stunned animals are slaughtered in vivid mindfulness, they experience unacceptable suffering. Their agony can last several minutes.
In the context of slaughter with stunning, the animal does not suffer at the time of slaughter, since there is loss of consciousness. Scientists have clearly stated: "Because of the serious animal welfare associated with slaughter without stunning, stunning should always be carried out before the slaughter."
In some countries, ritually killed animals are stunned before bleeding (Norway, Sweden, Austria, Switzerland, New Zealand). The steps are then the same as for conventional slaughter.
This video demonstrates the difference between slaughter with prior stunning, vs slaughter without stunning (ritual or religious slaughter). While the animal in the first method is rendered unconscious immediately, the animals slaughtered without prior stunning experience their agony in full consciousness. You don't need to be an expert to see that this causes immense unnecessary suffering to the animals.
If we, as the dominant species on Earth (!), are to use and consume animals, it is our duty to minimize their suffering in doing so. The anachronism of slaughter without stunning has no place in the modern world and should be outlawed. This special indulgence to religious practices should be replaced with the evidence-based approaches to which the rest of us are subject.
For us, religious freedom stops where human or animal suffering begins.
Our petition requests that the European Parliament prompts the Council to delete from Council Regulation (EC) No. 1099/2009 of 24 September 2009 on the Protection of Animals at the Time of Killing the derogation whereby animals can be killed without prior stunning where such methods of slaughter are prescribed by religious rites (Art. 4.4).