Stunning of animals – Q & A
Why are animals stunned?
Stunning an animal consists of rendering it unconscious, through the use of different methods, before or immediately after the sticking process. Official documents reveal that animals are stunned for economic reasons, for the safety of the staff in the slaughterhouses and for the welfare of the animals. Mostly, advocates of pre-slaughter stunning claim that it’s the most humane way to kill an animal. While this seemingly intuitive argument holds widespread appeal among the public, a consensus among scientists is lacking with research on animal suffering thus far providing no conclusive answer. What is, however, unquestionable is that stunning increases rates of production and therefore overall volumes and ultimately profitability: stunned animals, which are either immobilised or more often than not already dead as a result of the stunning, are quicker to stick than during non-stunning ritual slaughter.
What are the different stunning methods?
Used for sheep, poultry and calves, electronarcosis is a stunning process, which consists of administering an electric discharge to the animal (the current passes through the brain and/or the animal’s entire body). For calves and sheep, the electric discharge is administered by placing a tong with two electrodes on their head (or one on their body and the other on their head) while poultry are plunged headfirst into an electrified water bath.
The captive bolt (or pistol)
Mainly used to stun cattle, the captive bolt is a gun that is either equipped with a long rod that pierces the skull, or a blank cartridge that crushes the animal’s brain.
This method, used mainly on poultry and pigs, consists of stunning the animal by making it inhale gas (often a mixture of carbon dioxide and other gases).
Why is AVS opposed to all stunning practices?
In the slaughterhouses, evidence shows that many animals die as a result of stunning, particularly in the case of a majority of poultry and adult cattle. Besides, in an industrial environment, the stress on speed is such that it is impossible to verify whether the stunned animals are still alive at the time of sticking, and if the meat is therefore lawful (halal) for consumption.
Moreover, in the current state of scientific research on animal suffering, it is impossible to claim that knocking an animal senseless, euphemistically called « stunning », does not in itself cause great suffering, especially given than the practice is not always mastered by those who perform it in slaughterhouses. It is therefore possible that stunning instead of lessening the suffering actually constitutes a sort of double punishment for the animals. For these reasons, we feel it’s safer to reject this practice.
How can one claim that ritual slaughter (without stunning) is less painful when many scientists and animal campaign groups argue the opposite?
While some scientists and organisations do indeed argue that stunning is more humane, other scientists such as professors Joe Regenstein and Temple Grandin have conducted research showing that under optimum conditions – in particular if the blade is sharp enough for just one slit to the throat to be effective – non-stunning ritual slaughter offers least suffering to the animal. The different parties should therefore just recognize that no scientific consensus currently exists on these issues. This is all the more true given that several studies highlight the difficulty of measuring animal suffering. What is interpreted as such is sometimes only a human projection of animal behaviour.
In any case science is not an absolute truth, but a constant quest for understanding: what can be considered as a scientific truth today could be invalidated by further scientific research tomorrow. At AVS, we start from a religious premise: when God commands or permits an act, we see it as a good deed in itself, whether or not this command or permission causes suffering. Hunting may seem cruel to some and yet it is allowed in Islam. Taking the life of a living being will always be a violent act, whether the animal is stunned or not, hence the need in Islam to pronounce before sticking the animal the basmalah, which is an implicit permission that we ask of God to take the life of another being to strengthen one’s own. And this authorisation raises other ethical issues: notably our relationship with food and the environment.
Some councils of Muslim scholars endorse the practice of stunning, so why not AVS?
It is incorrect to claim that some councils of scholars endorse stunning. Their endorsement is premised on the absolute necessity that the animals are alive at the time of the sacrifice. In fact, every single council of scholars currently bans the practice of stunning in the case of poultry and adult cattle because mortality rates as a result of stunning are very high for these two species. The only question mark arises over sheep and calves because studies have shown low or zero mortality rates after electronarcosis. This explains why some councils have authorised the practice of stunning concerning these two categories, but only if one can guarantee the animal is alive before sticking. It should be added that some councils categorically reject the practice of stunning for all animal species.
If the parameters or tools, used to stun livestock, guaranteed reversibility for all animals, would AVS remain opposed to this practice?
The position of some Muslim experts is that if reversibility can be guaranteed then one cannot reject the practice. However, other Muslim scholars consider that the stunning inflicted on animals is tantamount to further suffering and are therefore strongly opposed to it even when reversibility is guaranteed. AVS takes a precautionary approach, concurring with this latter view, as we firmly believe that stunning is simply endorsing the industrialisation of the farming and slaughtering processes. As industrialisation is the real cause of animal suffering the only way to limit this suffering is a return to human-scale farming. But as long as this sector continues on its current course animal suffering will continue to plague us, whatever the slaughtering methods used.
Some organizations advocate a compromise suggesting post-cut stun, i.e. that the stunning is carried out immediately after the sticking. What is AVS’s position on this practice?
We performed post-cut stunning on turkeys for a while but concluded that the practice only increases animal suffering and so we abandoned it. Post-cut stunning is however accepted by some councils of scholars.
Post-cut stunning is nonetheless permitted by several councils of scholars, but it is important to stress that while people are not often aware of the differences between pre and post-cut stunning, some dishonest people exploit this confusion to claim that Muslim scholars endorse the stunning practice, without specifying that it only concerns post-cut stunning. It is also to avoid fuelling further confusion that we choose to avoid this practice.
Why is the issue of stunning so important to AVS?
According to prophetic tradition eating non-halal food is a rupture in our relationship with God, which is why being able to consume halal food is fundamental for a believer. At AVS our goal is to ensure the authenticity of the halal meat that we certify, and our conception of halal comprises a categorical rejection of the practice of stunning. It is therefore natural that this issue should be of great concern to us. It is on this issue that we particularly distinguish ourselves from conventional slaughter methods, and which allows us to challenge and limit the abuses of the widespread current system.
Existing European legislation ensures that ritual slaughter for religious minorities can be exempted from the practice of stunning in the name of religious freedom. But this right is now being increasingly challenged on ideological as well as political and economic grounds and in some European countries like Denmark it is currently impossible to perform ritual slaughter without stunning. To counter this trend we need to raise more awareness on the issue.
 Sticking refers to the cutting of the animal’s throat
 A stunning is reversible when it allows the animal to regain consciousness after a certain period of time.