Shechita – the Jewish religious humane method of animal slaughter for food
What is shechita?
Why is shechita practised?
How is shechita performed?
Who performs shechita?
Why can't animals be mechanically pre-stunned i.e. before slaughter and still be kosher?
Why is mechanical pre-stunning different from the integral stun of shechita?
The conventional way this is done is for large animals such as cattle to be shot in the head by a steel bolt. This bolt penetrates the skull and injures the brain, with the intention of making the animal unconscious and unable to feel pain. Most commonly, in abattoirs the animal is then hoisted upside-down by shackling a rear-leg. The throat of the animal is then cut and the animal bleeds out until it is dead. This shot to the head is not intended to kill the animal, only to render it unconscious. Death comes from bleeding out, which is the legal definition of “slaughter”.
Smaller animals such as sheep, goats and pigs are “stunned” by gas or by the use of large electrical calipers. The animal is gripped at the head and the calipers pass a voltage through it, giving it an electric shock. The animal’s throat is then cut, or it is stabbed in the thorax, to make it bleed out until it is dead.
Live poultry are shackled upside-down first and then receive an electric shock by immersing their heads in a water-trough through which a voltage is passed. After the birds are shocked, their throats are cut, allowing bleed-out. Sometimes birds and pigs are gassed using a carbon dioxide/argon mix to make them unconscious.
A kosher animal/bird must be healthy and uninjured at the time of shechita. All the mechanical methods outlined above are forbidden in shechita because they cause injuries to the animal or bird before slaughter. It must also be definite that the animal has been slaughtered by shechita alone and its death is not caused by, or in conjunction with, another method.
The law in the UK recognises that these “conventional” stunning methods are not permitted for kosher food and legislates for shechita to be exempted from such stunning, provided the animal is “shechted” by a duly licensed Shochet. When the shechita incision is made it severs the major organs, arteries and veins, thereby causing a massive and immediate drop in blood-pressure in the brain. At the moment that blood-flow to the brain is lost, all awareness ceases and there can be no recovery from unconsciousness. Thus, shechita provides an immediate and irreversible stun and the animal is dispatched humanely.
Why is there opposition to shechita?
Sadly, as has been seen throughout history, there are also those whose opposition has little to do with animal welfare, but is rather motivated by ill-will toward Jews and/or population control.
What is the Jewish community’s position on labelling?
The current fashionable recommendation for meat labelling is to identify only two categories: ‘stunned’ and ‘unstunned’. This would be inadequate and fails to offer consumers other relevant details. Firstly, shechita contains an integral stun and would need to be labelled as such. Secondly, consumers have the right to know whether an animal has been mechanically stunned prior to slaughter by gassing, electrocution, shot with a captive bolt gun or any of the other approved methods. Similarly, consumers should have the right to know if the animal endured repeated stuns if the first attempt was ineffective as is often the case.
Comprehensive and fair labelling is supported by all faith communities and should be supported by animal welfare groups too, not least because it is the only approach which offers all consumers genuine choice.