Secularism 2019: Dr Joyce D’Silva, Non-stun slaughter and religious freedom

In our next session we’ll be addressing
the broad themes of religious freedom, law and society. While religious freedom
is a hallmark of democracy, religious institutions can put tremendous
pressures on social cohesion and integration when their teachings come
into conflict with the law. Religious fundamentalism and extremism threaten
the very freedoms we cherish, including freedom of belief, which is why tackling
extremism has become one of the burning issues of the day. To begin this session
I would like to introduce Dr. Joyce D’Silva. She is Ambassador Emeritus and
former Chief Executive of Compassion in World Farming, a charity dedicated to
animal welfare. Dr. D’Silva speaks and publishes on the welfare of farm animals,
and she played a key role in getting recognition of animal sentience
enshrined in the European Union treaty. I will now hand you over to Dr. D’Silva.
Please be warned that some of the photos in her presentation may be upsetting. [JD’S] Good morning and I’m delighted to be
here. Thank you for inviting me. well Gandhi said “the greatness of a
nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way it’s animals are
treated” and you could probably insert many other words into that space where
animals is, but I do think it’s probably one of them. The root of all this problem,
you could say, goes back to the Bible: “Let man have dominion over the fish of the sea,
and the fowl of the air, and the cattle, and over all the earth.” And boy, you know,
have we been doing that for thousands of years. We certainly have, with little
consideration, perhaps, for all those other creatures. But I think we need to
see this whole question of slaughter within a kind of global context, and the
figures I’m giving you are from the Food and Agricultural organization of the
United Nations, FAO. So this is the predicted growth in demand for meat, and
as people come out of poverty across Africa, China, and so on, the one thing
they want to add to their plate is meat. And the same goes for dairy products.
China’s importing loads and loads of high quality dairy cows to set up
intensive dairy farms throughout China where the animals never go out at all. So
looking at the global figures for slaughter. At the moment we slaughter
about 70 billion farm animals every year, and that’s not including fish, of course.
And the figure is billions and billions more than that if you count fish. And in
the UK, these are the figures for the UK, and obviously, if you look at those figures,
you see most of the animals who get killed are birds, they’re poultry, mostly
chickens. And I would say the core welfare principles about slaughter is
that animals should be stunned. They should be made unconscious before their
throats are cut, and that stunning, making them unconscious, should last
until the animal is dead. And obviously all animals die because the throats are
cut, or shot or something, and there’s a time period after the throat is cut
where they could be in great pain, but that’s why we stun them, so that they’re
unconscious for that period. And it’s very important that the stun lasts until
they have actually died from the loss of blood. Now, there are other methods, such
as gas, which produces gradual onset of unconsciousness, and that may take a
minute or two. It depends. And it’s very important that the gas that’s used
is non aversive. At the moment most pigs are slaughtered with a high carbon
dioxide mixture, which is actually very aversive to pigs, and Compassion in World Farming is trying to get that changed. So, just to say very briefly something
about the common stunning methods, most cattle, or nearly all cattle and some
sheep, are stunned by something called a captive bolt . It’s a gun which fires a retractable metal thing into the brain,
on the front here, and the animal instantly falls down, as long as it’s
placed correctly. If it goes in the wrong place you may have to do it two or three
times. Then the animal is hauled up and it’s cut and dies from blood loss.
There’s percussion stunning which is basically a sort of knockout punch to the
brain, which has a similar effect. For poultry, often they’re hung up by the
legs and the head is plunged into electric water baths, which should stun
them. Sometimes. of course, they lift their heads and generally in this country
people are moving towards gas stunning of poultry. Then with sheep and pigs, and
obviously pigs don’t apply to the Islamic or Jewish community,
but electrical tongs, a bit like speakers either side of the head
and the current is sent through the brain, which knocks them out. But
electrical tongs can be used attached to the brain and either the heart or the
back to give a heart attack, so the animal actually is stunned and killed at
the same time. And then as I mentioned the gas stunning of
pigs and poultry which stuns and then kills. So, you know, the whole business
isn’t delightful anyway. I have to say I sometimes wonder how we can have
artificial intelligence and go to the moon and haven’t found a better way of
killing animals for food. So, you see, this cow has had the captive bolt into the
brain, from the front, and the slaughter regulations from the EU says
that animals should be stunned before they’re killed, but there are exemptions.
So, as I say, poultry is often hung upside down. I think this is a halal slaughterhouse
because it looks as if they are still alive, and just about to have their
throats cut. In this country, the number of sheep etc. slaughtered is about 950
million a year. Most of those, as I’ve said before is poultry, of those 950
million, 225 million slaughtered for Halal and 1.3 million for Kosher –
none of them are stunned. Some of the Halal animals are stunned. And why should
we stun animals? Well, some of the sort of official bodies – FAWC is the farm
Animal Welfare Committee of the UK government – “throat cutting of an
unstunned animal would result in very significant pain and distress in the
period before insensibility supervenes” and EFSA is the European Food
Safety Authority, says “there is a high risk that animals feel extreme pain during
the cutting of the throat”. I know one animal welfare professor said, because
sometimes people argue that actually the cut itself doesn’t hurt, that even if the
cut itself didn’t hurt the animal would be conscious of choking to death in its
own blood. EFSA also said “without stunning, the time between cutting
through the major blood vessels and insensibility is up to 20 seconds in
sheep, two minutes in cattle or two and a half or more minutes in poultry”. So it’s
that, the time between the cut and the actual loss of consciousness and death
that’s the crucial thing and that’s why we have laws that say that animals should
be stunted so they know nothing of that. The Food Standards Agency did a survey,
not so long ago and this is to do with the electrical water bath stunning of
poultry which used to be until very recently, the way that poultry were
stunned, and so they say still 25% of poultry are stunned but of these,
about three-quarters are stunned for halal but they’re using currents that aren’t
actually perhaps sufficient to get a proper stun that would immobilize the
animal so the result is that many millions of poultry are being stunned
for Halal but the electrical parameters they’re using are not perhaps good enough to
achieve an effective stun. And so we do need to do research and I think that is
beginning to happen – stunning method for Halal poultry from
which the animals can recover – because it’s very important for halal slaughter
that the animal is alive when it’s throat is cut, not knocked out or made
unconscious and then cut. So, we have to have a stun from which the animal would
recover if its throat wasn’t cut. And so at the moment we don’t have a complete
answer, probably individual stunning of birds on the head may be the answer. So
let’s just look what the Quran says about animals and “there’s not an animal
on the earth nor two-winged flying creature but they are communities like
you” so, you know, Islam rates animals pretty highly. It also says “the grazing
livestock He has created for you and from them you can eat” so it’s not advocating
vegetarianism but it’s interesting – says ‘grazing livestock’ which perhaps does not
apply to the many millions of animals who are kept in factory farms – that’s
something to discuss with the Muslim community. Then there was a very – lovely man –
we actually supported the late Mr. Masri who had been an imam of Woking mosque. He
wrote a book, the latest edition of which was produced by the Islamic foundation
in Leicester with our blessing, “How right is it to deny these creatures of God
their natural instincts so that we may eat the end produce” and he was talking
about that actually factory farming is not really compatible with Islam. And I
put it this picture of this really rather distressed looking camel because
in the hadith, which are the Islamic books about the Prophet Muhammad and his
life and words, there’s a really interesting story about Muhammad and his
followers ready to meet somebody and outside this man’s house there was a
very distressed camel, probably a bit like this one, and when the owner of the
camel came out of the house it is recorded that Muhammad said “do you not
fear God that you treat your camel like this because your camel has told me
that you beat him and work him endlessly” and it also says that Muhammad had tears
in his eyes. Now the picture that one usually picks up of a rather sort of, possibly aggressive kind of warlike leader of Muhammad seems completely
opposed to this idea of a man who had tears in his eyes on seeing a
camel – that’s really interesting. But in Islam, food should be halal which simply
means permitted, allowed but also Tayyib which means it should be wholesome,
good, pure and again I would say I very much doubt that factory farmed meat or
eggs from hens kept in cages could be tayyib but there’s also a record in one
of the hadith, Muhammad saying “If you kill, kill well and if you slaughter,
slaughter well. Let each of you sharpen his blade and let him spare suffering to
the animal he slaughters” Now obviously, in Muhammad’s day, there were no captive
bolts, there were no electrical stunning devices so I understand that prior to
Islam some animals used to actually have
chunks of meat cut off their rumps and the animal left alive just sort of heal
up and then you take another bit because without refrigeration in hot
countries how do you get fresh meat? So he was actually kind of improving the
welfare of the animals that were being used for meat at that time. You could say
logically therefore Muslims should use the highest and best welfare, best
stunning methods today. In the Jewish community there’s an important principle
which I’ll probably incorrectly pronounce and perhaps those of you who
are Jewish could put me right, Tza’ar Ba’alei Chayim, which means you are prohibited
from causing unnecessary pain to animals. And interestingly, someone who has already
been mentioned – the former chief rabbis of the UK and Ireland Jonathan Sacks and
David Rosen don’t eat meat at all and David Rosen is actually a vegan and the
Nobel prize-winning author Isaac Bashevis Singer who’s a convinced vegetarian –
I think that’s rather a lovely quote – he didn’t become a vegetarian for his
health but for the health of the chickens. However, the EU regulation on
the protection of animals at the time of killing – and these are the actual words
of that law – So “it’s important that derogation from
stunning animals before slaughter should be maintained, leaving a certain level of
subsidiarity to each Member State.” So countries are allowed to make a
derogation from that law and it says, I think this is really important if you
been to be engaging this subject, so “this regulation respects the freedom of
religion, right to manifest religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and
observance, as enshrined in article 10 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the
European Union’, which of course if Brexit it happens may go out the door, along
with much else but never mind. As long as slaughter without pre
stunning is permitted sometimes you can sort of meet people halfway by saying
there should be post-cut stunning of cattle and sheep and this happens in the
United States certainly with some of the Orthodox Jewish communities – they have
accepted that as soon as the throat is cut you immediately do the capture bolt
and the animal becomes unconscious so you don’t save it from the pain of the cut
but you would save it from that distressing time when it’s bleeding out.
We also think that meat should be labeled as “stunned” or “unstunned” so
consumers can make informed choices and also the other thing that could be done
is ensuring that no more animals are slaughtered without stunning than are
needed for the requirements of the religious communities. So, you know, if the
Jewish community needs X number of cattle per year, that is the number of
cattle that will be stunned for kosher. Just for your own information, both RSPCA
Assured meat, Red tractor and Soil Association, they all require stunning before
slaughter. I can’t recommend Red Tractor on any other grounds because it’s not a
high welfare mark at all, whereas RSPCA Assured and Soil Association, which is
organic, are higher welfare but they do all prohibit
animals going into the chains unless they’ve been stunned. So Compassion in World Farming’s view
on religious slaughter – we don’t oppose religious slaughter
when animals are pre-stunned and if someone wants to say a prayer over an
animal when they’re killing it, that’s fine by us
as long as they are going to be stunned. And we oppose all slaughter without
pre-stunning as well as poorly executed stunning and I have to say Compassion
in World Farming has investigated all kinds of slaughterhouses in this country and
in other parts of Europe and further afield and even where animals
are stunned, often, especially with electrical stunning, it has not been done
properly and you often see very poor treatment of the live animal before
stunning. Now many halal animals, not kosher but
halal animals, are stunned before slaughter but not always correctly, especially in
the case of poultry and this needs reform. Compassion in World Farming is
engaging with the halal food authority and even with its rather more
fundamentalist, I wouldn’t say companion organization because they’re often at
loggerheads, the Halal Monitoring Committee which was set up a few years
ago to take a slightly more harder line attitude against stunning, but the Halal Food
Authority is engaging and has engaged and does seem open to trying to find a
way where you can have, they can be assured that a stun is being used from
which the animal could recover, even though hopefully it won’t, before its
throat is cut. And just to remind everyone, the Lisbon Treaty for 2008
recognizes that animals are sentient beings, in other words they can suffer,
and this is supposed to apply to animals in agriculture and Fisheries – I could say
that there are all sorts of practices in farming and in
agriculture and then just basic fishing
were this is completely disregarded but it is actually a basis on which we can
hope to make better laws in the future. If Brexit happens, the UK government –
Michael Gove – has said that the UK will continue to recognize animals as
sentient beings but until that’s written into some new law, you know, we will
continue to agitate to make sure it happens. And just to say, lots of other
things happen to animals which are very unfortunate – animals are transported
all over the world, farm animals. These sheep were from France. There were two
lorry loads, one from France, one from Scotland, trucked across Europe to
South East Italy, to Bari where they were going to be shipped to Greece for
slaughter and probably be served to English tourists who loved animals but
you know they got to Bari, it was August it was tourist time, the truck wasn’t
allowed to get on the boat because the tourists had, took up the space and these
animals are kept in their trucks over a weekend in August by which time many on
the top floor had died, and you never sort of think of sheep as panting like
dogs but the ones that were still alive were panting. There are some awful things in dairy farming – this is
just a few years ago – we filmed many dairy farms around Europe and these
oversized udders because cows have been bred to produce more and more milk, ten
times more than a calf would ever suckle from them, they’re living in extreme
discomfort and these ones are actually chained as well. The chickens that we eat
and as I mentioned most of those massive slaughter figures refer to chickens,
nearly all the chickens apart from the backyard ones, are now kept indoors in
very crowded environments and they are slaughtered by the time they’re five or
six weeks old. So from tiny fluffy chick to, you know, two kilogram carcass in your
supermarket the growth rate is astonishing. As a result, many of them go lame.
Most of the lame ones get cut up for chicken portions etc. but they live short
and very miserable lives. And just to put in a few quotes from people who I expect
you’ve heard of – good old Voltaire – who I think I’m right in saying was a convinced
atheist – said “How pitiful, and what poverty of mind, to have said that the animals are
machines, deprived of understanding and feeling” and I think he said this in
opposition to the philosopher Descartes who believed that animals were machines
and apparently cut up his wife’s pet dog on the table in front of his friends as
the animal was screaming, said “no, no, no, it’s just a mechanical reaction”. Jeremy
Bentham is often quoted by animal welfarists because I think this is
absolutely right – “the question isn’t can they reason? nor, can they talk? but can
they suffer?” and there’s more and more research into the sentience and
cognition of different species of farm animals and, you know, some of them
definitely do seem to be able to reason on all sorts of things and we’re
discovering more and more about their communication with each other
but they can certainly suffer. And Darwin, who was a kind of conflicted Christian I
think, said “The difference in mind between man and the higher animals” – he divided
animals into high and lower – “great as it is, certainly is one of degree and not of kind”,
so he was recognizing way back then that many animals had similar capacities to
ourselves. And I just, as we wonder about should we blame the Bible – all this stuff
about dominion – well, you know, the beginning of the Bible, in Genesis 1:29,
it says “I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of
all the earth, and every tree, which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you
it shall be for meat.” so, it’s quite interesting that the Bible was
advocating a totally plant-based vegan diet right in the beginning.
Yes, so perhaps we shouldn’t blame it. Okay, thank you.

2 thoughts on “Secularism 2019: Dr Joyce D’Silva, Non-stun slaughter and religious freedom

  • I saw your move against Christain Doctor through by General Medical Council (GMC) in UK.

    I will not support your religion bigotry, and I will speak against your hypocrisy.

  • The impending UK exit from the EU will provide an opportunity to change UK rules to an entirely humane method of slaughter. The UK is a secular country and this pandering to religious bigotry must be brought to an end.

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