"I've noticed that quite a lot of people who are prominent in the animal liberation movement are Jews. Maybe we are simply not prepared to see the powerful hurting the weak." --Peter Singer (Author, Animal Liberation)


Scientific Study Says Animals Feel Pain Following Shechita

For the sake of this post, I'll assume that the study's findings are accurate. I am not an animal welfare scientist and have not independently verified the results.

New Scientist
reported yesterday that according to a new study, animals subjected to shechita (kosher slaughter) continue to feel pain after their throats are slit. "I think our work is the best evidence yet that [Jewish and Muslim ritual slaughter is] painful," said Craig Johnson, who led the study at Massey University in New Zealand. New Scientist explained:
The team first cut calves' throats in a procedure matching that of Jewish and Muslim slaughter methods. They detected a pain signal lasting for up to 2 minutes after the incision. When their throats are cut, calves generally lose consciousness after 10 to 30 seconds, sometimes longer.

The researchers then showed that the pain originates from cutting throat nerves, not from the loss of blood, suggesting the severed nerves send pain signals until the time of death. Finally, they stunned animals 5 seconds after incision and showed that this makes the pain signal disappear instantly.
A representative from Shechita U.K. dismissed the findings, saying that shechita acts in place of stunning and that animals lose consciousness 2 seconds after they are shechted. Feeling pain for up to 2 minutes and taking up to 30 seconds, or longer, to lose consciousness do not qualify as instantaneous death without suffering. It appears that the findings of this scientific study disprove the longstanding notion that shechita kills animals instantly without extended suffering. (Shechita's defenders oppose stunning because animals must be completely healthy at the time of their death in order for their meat to be considered kosher. Rendering them unconscious prior to killing them is viewed as making them less than completely healthy.)

In the U.S., animals are required under the Humane Slaughter Act to be stunned prior to slaughter so that they are rendered insensible to pain, but an exception is made for kosher and halal slaughter in order not to infringe on religious practice. In Europe, there have been numerous efforts to ban shechita (some of which have been successful) outright. The grounds for allowing shechita, as opposed to conventional slaughter with stunning, is that it is considered humane. Shechita was certainly less cruel than alternatives in Biblical times. Today, its defenders consider it humane and pain-free according to theological belief more so than empirical science.

In the kosher meat scandals of recent years, part of the debate over whether cruelty occurred centered on whether animals could still feel pain after they had been shechted. Did already shechted cows at AgriProcessors suffer when their throats were cut a second time and their esophagi and tracheas were ripped out? Were already shechted cows at AgriProcessors who were moving about and bellowing in apparent agony still able to feel pain? Were already shechted cows at Local Pride still sensible to pain when their throats were ripped into with metal hooks? Were already shechted cows in Uruguay in distress when they were hoisted in the air by one leg to bleed out and then had their heads, necks, and joints cut into? According to Johnson's study, it would appear that the answer is yes. This is far from an unprecedented view in the debate, but it is one that begs to be taken seriously because it is grounded in empirical science.

The ramifications of this study do not only apply to improper handling after the initial cut has been made, which can be avoided. The study casts a dark shadow on all shechita: It now seems that shechted animals inherently feel pain and suffer over an extended period of time, not just for a second or two after the cut of the knife.

On the one hand, it seems that slaughtering animals without stunning them does lead to pain and suffering, raising serious doubts over the humane reputation of kosher meat. On the other hand, legal bans on kosher slaughter would infringe on religious practice, are sometimes motivated in part by anti-Semitism, and unfairly single out one arguably cruel practice, at the expense of kosher-keeping Jews, when so very much is wrong with the practices of industrialized animal agriculture. Jewish Vegetarians of North America has stated that it has "consistently opposed efforts to single out shechita for criticism," and as far as legal measures are concerned, I agree with that stance. What's a kosher-keeping Jew to do? There's really only one sure way to keep kosher and avoid causing animals the extended pain and suffering that now appear to be inherent to shechita: Don't eat meat.

Hat Tip: Failed Messiah


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