As of Wednesday, this is a difficult issue for the Environment Committee of the Brussels Parliament to address. On the program: ban or no ritual slaughter as it is currently practiced. Speakers will be invited to speak on the topic, especially representatives of religions. The verdict was due before June 8, while the parties are very divided on the issue. At the heart of the debate is one issue: the suffering of animals killed by this method.
What exactly are we talking about?
By “ritual slaughter” we generally mean two techniques: the shehita for the Jews and dhakat for Muslims. For one as for the other, in most cases it is a matter of slaughtering the animal without making it numb or anesthetizing it beforehand. In detail, there are some differences. that shehita should be practiced by a pious and technically qualified man, the shotwhere is dhakat can be achieved by any devout Muslim, quite simply. In any case, the question that creates the most tension is the time that elapses between the slaughter and the unconsciousness of the animal.
That is precisely why there are rules in the field. Basically, the European Union imposes anesthesia according to specific methods so that the animal is unconscious and desensitized. Only ritual slaughter escapes this obligation. That said, several states have decided to move forward by agreeing that anesthesia should be used in all cases, whether ritual or not. In Belgium, the Walloon and Flemish regions did so in 2019, not Brussels. Hence the debate that is stirring up the Belgian capital today.
Sometimes a very long time before unconsciousness
To return to the basic problem: how much do animals suffer with shehita and dhakat? Several reports have tried to look at the matter more clearly. In France, the National Institute of Agronomic Research (INRA) has been working to calculate the time between the puncture wound and the unconsciousness, the latter being caused by the lack of blood flow. “Studies of direct bleeding sheep show fairly consistent results: 14 seconds on average to unconsciousness. In poultry, the results are more variable, between 14 and 44 seconds“, Reports to the newspaper Le Monde Claudia Terlouw, ethologist at INRA in Clermont-Ferrand. For cattle, it is much more: between 17 seconds and 5 minutes in calves, between 19 seconds and 11 minutes in adults. This difference is due to the vertebral artery, which is not cut during slaughter, and to the blood clots which develop at this time in certain cattle. Consequence: the brain is watered longer.
This time, of course, does not take into account the time of suffering prior to the killing, which, incidentally, is common to conventional and ritual slaughter. There is the transport to the slaughterhouse, hours of waiting in a climate characterized by stress and so on. Claudia Terlouw also evokes the intensive use of the electric prod to move cattle forward. All this to say that it is not only the moment of slaughter that is being criticized.
One method worse than the others?
But compared to other killings, is the ritual killing more painful? In 2019, INRA researchers, gathered with veterinarians for a day of reflection, all agreed: “slaughter without anesthesia, as practiced in an industrial context, causes further suffering“.”With surgical techniques, brain death is then almost instantaneous. From 5 to 15 seconds is enough to eliminate all pain and stress“, they conclude.
Researchers from New Zealand University of Massey, for their part, measured in 2009 by encephalogram the pain felt by calves slaughtered via this ritual method. They noted signs of pain that lasted up to two minutes, blamed on the incision of the nerves of the neck (not the bleeding). With a numbness five seconds before the incision, the pain disappeared almost instantly.
In 2010, a consortium of European veterinarians, Dialrel, came to a similar conclusion during a comparative study of different types of slaughter. They concluded that due to the disorder caused by cutting into tissues rich in nociceptors, the sensory receptors of pain, slaughter without anesthesia is the method that violates animal welfare the most.
Improving ritual slaughter?
In light of these conclusions, many opponents of ritual slaughter as it is often used. “The suffering of the animal is beyond doubt and is recognized by all. Scientific studies have been conducted and prove it“, explains L’Express Christophe Buhot, President of the Federation of European Veterinarians (FVE).”Only anesthesia prevents suffering“, He decides.
Yet some disagree. One man, Joe Regenstein, a professor of food science at Cornell University in the United States, defends ritual slaughter, for example. “If done right, ritual slaughter is not inhuman“, he assessed during an interview with the Quebec daily La Presse. Experts in halal and kosher believe that it is possible to improve the methods of killing shehita and dhakat, to better reconcile denominational preconditions and animal welfare. How? For example, by following the case of a kosher slaughterhouse visited by Temple Grandin, a professor at the University of Colorado. There was a loss of consciousness on average 17 seconds after the neck was cut across, with a record of about thirty seconds. The technique: to slaughter calm animals, with a sharp and quick blow with a very thick knife and with an incision in the pharynx immediately after restraint.
Electron anesthesia is also not without blame
The suffering time is therefore limited, but remains higher than the figures given by INRA for other techniques such as electron anesthesia. The latter consists in causing cervical lesions by electric shock, and several studies show that the loss of consciousness can be immediate thanks to it … if it is well done. Pierre Le Nignant, a researcher at INRA, noted in a report that “one of the major disadvantages of electronarcosis, especially when automated, is associated with poor handling, difficulty in placing the electrodes and their parameterization. Used incorrectly, they can stimulate pain receptors without causing unconsciousness“. Electron anesthesia at perforating rod would have an error rate”6% to 16% in cattle at commercial slaughterhouses“.
Animal rights associations like L214 also show that this technique is not without blame. Stunning does not affect all slaughtered birds, animals are hung in the legs while still conscious, etc. In other words, not everything is black or white.
Find a deal
To move forward in the debate, voices are raised to find compromises. In particular, the Federation of European Veterinarians proposes to anesthetize the animal after bleeding, in order to avoid breaking the ritual regulations and at the same time limit the animal’s ailments. The anesthesia “after jugulation” is also offered by the association Œuvre d’assistance aux animaux d’abattoirs (OABA), with a few seconds difference between the neckline and the shot from a perforating barbell.
Electron anesthesia is therefore sometimes laid on the table in a format that is compatible with religious regulations. Stéphanie Wattier, professor at the Faculty of Law at the University of Namur, reminds us of this. In Le Soir, she explains that “thanks to technical advances, an electron anesthesia process has been developed which is reversible (and therefore non-lethal)“.”It ensures that the animal does not die of anesthesia and will only be in a state resembling sleep so that it will not realize that it is being laid down and in principle does not suffer from it.“.
Can these techniques really be used within the framework of shehita and dhakat? Is it possible. L214 notes, for example, that in Indonesia, the country with the most Muslims in the world, animals can be stunned before slaughter. Ditto in Jordan in particular. In La Libre, Hebrew law specialist Liliane Vana notes that “the principle of anesthesia is not prohibited by Jewish law“, in contrast to “some amazing methodsBut this position is not unanimous, neither in Jewish nor Muslim communities. They also reject the anesthesia after jugulation. Which is very unfortunate “, regrets Liliane Vana.
The possibility of a ban raises fears
So far, the debate continues. But what would be the consequences of a ban on ritual slaughter, other than the case of animal suffering? For Albert Guigui, chief rabbi of Brussels, they would be annoying, as he says in a carte blanche in La Libre. With the closure of the Anderlecht slaughterhouse and the loss of jobs, those who got their supplies there had to pick up their supplies from other countries, where slaughter sometimes takes place under poorer conditions, not to mention the distance to transport. Moreover, he says he does not understand why ritual slaughter would be banned when other dubious practices are allowed as “battery breeding, the miserable conditions of animal transport, forced feeding of geese, scalding of lobsters, etc.“, without forgetting the hunt.
The Walloon Agricultural Federation is also opposed to the ban on ritual slaughter. In a letter, she recalls that “only the slaughterhouses in the Brussels-Capital Region still allow the Belgian beef sector to supply the Muslim community present on its territory;“.”A mere elimination of this possibility would be tantamount to a total relocation of the halal beef sector, which would have no choice but to pick up its supplies abroad.“.
A vote that promises to be tight
The decision is now with the parliamentarians in Brussels, and the fight has been fierce since the submission in late January of a proposal for an order to impose prior anesthesia on everyone, proposed by Défi, Groen and Open Vld. Two petitions are circulating: one against the ban with more than 110,000 signatures, one for the ban that Gaia has carried and has collected more than 70,000 signatures.
After the hesitation, PS finally chose not to adopt the proposal that was on the table. PTB should follow the Socialists. Ecolo will let its deputies decide, and is in favor of a vote not registered in the government agreement. The challenge is internally divided, but should mostly support the text, like Groen, Open Vld, CD&V, N-VA, Vlaams Belang and the majority of MR. In the end, the vote looks tight. Absences and minority votes within the parties may prove crucial, especially within Engagés and Ecolo.