National

Slaughtering Animals for Food

By M.R. Shamshad

Recently the Supreme Court issued direction to all the states and the Union Territories to submit their response on the humane method of slaughtering animals for the purpose of food by proposing the mechanical stunning of animal by using Captive Bolt Pistol (CBP) of two types, penetrating and non-penetrating.  In both the processes the pistol is positioned on the mid-brain of the animal and fired. In the penetrating method, physical damage is caused by the bolt to the brain and it is said that due to that injury, the animal becomes unconscious.  However, in the penetrating method, research shows that most of the animals die instantaneously.  In case of non-penetrating method, the bolt is fired from gun powered by compressed air or blank cartridge at the same position and due to a percussive blow, the animal becomes unconscious.  In both the methods, the process of bloodletting by cutting the throat may be performed later while the animal is unconscious.   

The concern of the Supreme Court is that while slaughtering the animal for the purpose of food, the animal be subjected to least pain thereby causing least cruelty to the animal dying to facilitate food for human beings.  At the same time the issue of the proper way of killing the animal should also not offend the religious beliefs of different communities which is protected by the Central legislation of 1960 which states that “…..as respects manner of killing prescribed by religion- Nothing contained in this Act shall render it an offence to kill any animal in a manner required by the religion of any community.  In terms thereof, the mandate of religion of any community has been permitted while killing the animal.  In the year 2001, the slaughter house rules were framed wherein no particular way of stunning the animal was prescribed.  

For over the last one hundred years, Islamic and Jewish methods of killing animals have been a subject of debate and different arguments have been advanced.  The Islamic and Jewish methods are to slaughter by deep cutting the throat of the animal using a sharp weapon and the said method has remained prevalent since the inception of the said religions.  For non-Islamic and non-Jewish communities, the traditional method of killing animals have been through the “hammer” or “pole-axe” system till as recently as 1904 when this system was replaced by a mechanical stunning method. By hammer and pole-axe system, the animal used to be killed by hitting its head by hammer and by piercing the neck of the animal using a pole-axe.  Undoubtedly, these two processes are/were comparatively brutal and very painful.

On the other hand, the Islamic and Jewish systems have strict mandate that while killing the animals, least cruelty should be inflicted by deep-throat-cutting using a sharp-edged weapon. In Islamic religious texts, instructions say that the weapon should not be shown to the animal before they are cut and one animal should not be cut in front of the other animal.  

It has been found by scientific research that upon deep cut throat, the main blood supply to the brain through carotid is stopped abruptly and there is immediate disconnection with the brain.  Simultaneously, due to rapid bleeding from these arteries, 25% of blood pressure drops within the first three seconds and due to these two effects, the animal collapses within the first ten seconds.  This itself is a very effective method of “stunning” the animal for killing. The prolonged convulsion of stretching the body parts of animal is mere reflex action of the animal which has already collapsed. Though the said reflex action may visually reflect to the human being that the animal is in severe pain but the animal at that time has already collapsed.  In addition to that, the other benefit is that due to deep cut throat, invariably 50% of blood oozes out within the first 10-15 seconds and hence the chances of blood getting clotted in the animal’s flesh are least and that minimises the  microbiological infection to the meat.   

On the contrary, the CBP method of stunning, which came in 1919, was not considered to be very effective and subsequently the same was replaced by the electrical method of stunning in which, depending upon the animal, around 75 volts of electricity was supplied for not less than seven seconds and due to various inherent tribulations attached thereto, another method was found, i.e., chemical method of stunning wherein the animals used to be stunned through chemical method.  Like the electrical method, even the chemical method could not prove to be less cruel and these two methods also were stopped. In many countries these methods were banned due to the high level of cruelty to the animals.  Ultimately, again by and large, the non-Islamic and non-Jewish method of stunning is back to CBP-non-penetrating method where it is stated that the animal becomes unconscious and thereafter the process of cutting the throat takes place to comply the rituals of religion and also for letting out the blood.    

The question would be whether this proposed method is, in any manner, better than the ritual deep-cut-throat method. The research by Schultze-Petzold in 1973 of Germany, while doing the investigation, with electroencephalography (EEG), by making comparative observation of the blood pressure and brain pressure measurements, angiography, reflex studies and functional investigation of adrenorcotis with the special emphasis on the factor of “time/pain” suffered by the dying animals, had held that the ‘deep cut throat method’, if not less cruel than the ‘CBP’, it is also not more cruel than it. If that is the situation, the legislative protection should prevail and any particular method, which is not in consonance with the religious values, should not be made mandatory.

The author is Advocate-on-Record, Supreme Court of India

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 May 2014 on page no. 7

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