Ritual slaughter, performed according to Islamic and Jewish tradition, is considered a humane method of slaughter under the Humane Methods of Livestock Slaughter Act (HMSLA), the US federal law designed to decrease animal suffering. In ritual slaughter, the trachea, esophagus, carotid arteries, jugular veins and vagus nerve are cut with a swift action using an extremely sharp blade, resulting in quick death.
But a growing number of countries, including Poland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland, have restricted ritual slaughter, under the guise of animal welfare.
Now, starting Monday, by order of Danish Agriculture and Food Minister Dan Jorgensen, Denmark is banning ritual slaughter, claiming that “Animal rights come before religion.” The ban would require stunning, a method of slaughter not permitted under Jewish or Islamic law (some authorities permit reversible stunning, such as electrostunning, prior to the cut).
Claiming animal welfare as a basis to restrict humane Jewish and Islamic slaughtering practices is wrong, and is a further erosion of religious liberties in a country already attacking other religious rituals, including circumcision.
Denmark allows traditional hunting. With hunting, animals are shot at a distance, and can end up wounded, and suffering, for hours before death. Hunting is certainly more painful than religious slaughter, which renders the animal almost immediately unconscious.
The hypocrisy is even more glaring given that Denmark is the number one farmed mink producer in the European Union, with around 14 million mink killed for fur every year. In addition to the unnatural, painful and agonizing confinement of these wild animals, the methods of killing them are far crueler than a slit to the throat.
These include “breaking the animal’s neck, gassing, lethal injection, genital electrocution and anal electrocution.”
Minister Jorgensen claims that slaughter “must be done in a way that does not bring pain to the animal. This can be accomplished only by stunning.” Contrary to Jorgensen’s sweeping assertions, there is nothing cruel about the age-old practice of killing animals with a swift cut to the throat. Neurophysiological research also disputes Jorgensen’s claims. For example, a study in the Veterinary Record concluded that ritual slaughter “is a painless and humane method of animal slaughter.”
Stunning is not foolproof either. When the machinery fails, the animals suffer.
The Torah and Koran both require that animals be treated compassionately and humanely prior to and during slaughter.
By claiming that animal rights conflict with religion, Jorgensen demonstrates an anti-religious bias and complete misunderstanding of Abrahamic religions.
Ritual slaughter is not cruel. Abrahamic traditions have prohibited animal cruelty thousands of years before modern civilization even started passing laws on humane animal treatment.
If Denmark is really concerned about animal welfare it should be focusing on humane husbandry practices that prevent animal suffering in cattle and fur farms, not on targeting a humane ritual slaughtering method.
The author has written for USA Today, Forbes, Huffington Post, Fox News and other publications on religion, culture, business and law. Follow him on Twitter @EliFederman.