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In Melbourne Shabbat begins Fri 10 Apr 2020 05:41 PM and ends Sat 11 Apr 2020 06:40 PM

Is Kosher slaughter humane?

י' חשון ה' אלפים תשע"ד

Judging by the attitude taken by many national Governments, many must think that it is not. Kosher slaughter is banned in New Zealand, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and now Poland.

There is heated debate elsewhere, including Australia, with some prominent politicians arguing that Kosher slaughter is scientifically proven to be more painful than the common equivalent.

An animal would naturally find it painful to have its throat cut with a knife, in which case ‘stunning’ the animal - making it insensitive to pain somehow, would make for a more humane process. So goes the popular argument. What about the scientific argument?

It might be surprising to know that many prominent experts argue otherwise.  The most illustrious of them is Professor Temple Grandin. But before I tell you what professor Grandin claims, a little introduction is required because Temple Grandin is not an ordinary scientist. She has overcome severe autism to become the most acclaimed expert on animal husbandry and animal welfare. She is listed in the ‘Time’ magazine’s Top 100 most influential people in the world category. As a Professor of Colorado University, Grandin did something few scientists ever do - she stepped out of the academia’s ivory tower and into the real world transforming the day-to-day practice of  the animal handling and slaughter industry. Hundreds of abattoirs in the US and elsewhere have been built according to her designs and thousands more incorporate her animal handling principles. It is a testament to her extraordinary reputation among her peers that during her recent visit to Australia to present at a Veterinary conference Professor Grandin was mobbed in  a rock star-like reception. I know a number of colleagues who traveled from Melbourne to Queensland just to hear her speak. So what she thinks about Kosher slaughter matters a lot. You may even argue that were she to find Kosher slaughter an acceptable, humane method, it would give it a significant seal of approval. But Professor Grandin doesn't just find Kosher slaughter acceptable, she feels that judging on animal welfare, there is no difference at all between Kosher slaughter and conventional methods which include ‘stunning’. In her own words:

“ ...the animal has little or no reaction to the throat being cut. There was a slight flinch when the blade first touched the throat. The flinch was much less vigorous than the animal’s reaction to an ear tag punch .”


“It appears that the animal is not aware that its’ throat is being cut. After the cut the animal either immediately collapsed or looked around like a normal, alert animal.”

It is important to note the Professor Grandin makes a special point to recommend the use of the sharp, long knife as is mandated by the traditional Kosher practice. In fact, when giving instructions on performing humane Halal (Muslim) slaughter, she recommends the use of the Kosher slaughter knife! Professor Grandin is not the only high profile proponent of Kosher method. Another is Professor Joe Regenstein of Cornell University who argues that the lack of pain during Kosher slaughter is due to the

“ ...animal producing large quantities of endomorphins putting it into a state of euphoria and numbness.”

So with the proponents like these, who is claiming the opposite view? Having reviewed the literature, what struck me most is the scarcity of research in the field of Kosher slaughter pain. One would imagine that the subject as polarising as this (and with so many claiming the strength of their evidence) would attract a large amount of scientific research. In fact there is only one study - a 2009 trial by a New Zealand Veterinarian Dr Craig Gibson, which is sighted by every ‘review’ as incontrovertible proof that Kosher slaughter is painful. The 2009 Australian Department of Agriculture Review sites the Gibson study as conclusive proof. So does the equivalent British Government ‘literature review’.

In his trial Dr Gibson anaesthetises calves with anaesthetic gas, fitted them with a brain ECG detector and had his assistant cut the calves’ neck while measuring ECG readings. In the overview of his published study Dr Gibson claims that his findings constitute conclusive evidence that cutting the neck without ‘stunning’ is painful. This is a very audacious claim to say the least. One need not be an expert to realise that what Dr Gibson did is not what happens in the real world. First of all, the study animals were anaesthetised but the real life animals are not. Anaesthesia doesn't relieve pain - it changes the body’s perception of pain. Sometimes it makes pain perception paradoxically more acute. There is also the obvious question of how Dr Gibson’s assistants performed the slaughter and with what. If you are a thinking type, you might propose some obvious avenues for further research - such as doing a study on what actually happens in the real world. And what about the pain of ‘stunning’? Performed as a blow to the head with a weapon powerful enough to launch a bullet, a human equivalent might be to suffer a head punch from the likes of Mike Tyson. True enough, after a blow like that most of us would feel ‘desensitised’ to almost anything. Then again, this is one experiment I would not be volunteering for.

The Jewish tradition speaks passionately about the need to alleviate animal suffering. We all should be scientifically informed to speak about the humanity of Kosher slaughter and the way it compares favorably to even the most advanced modern alternatives.


About the Author

Dr Vadim Chelom BVSc.
Experienced Veterinarian - 12 years of practice.
Worked at RSPCA in Melbourne and SPCA in Jerusalem.
Appeared in TV show 'RSPCA Animal Rescue'
Treated animals injured by the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires.

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