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Apr 30, 2012

Your Sunday roast, brought to you by ritual animal slaughter

Legal loopholes mean you could be inadvertently buying meat coming from animals that were fully conscious when they were slaughtered, writes Sandi Keane.

Loopholes in the law mean that Australian consumers are unknowingly buying meat from animals that have been slaughtered without being stunned first, as required by law.

Exemptions from the requirement to stun animals are granted to a small ritual market — but cuts of the meat not suitable for the kosher market then end up on the supermarket shelf or at the butcher, without special labelling.

Animal welfare was again on the agenda at last Friday’s meeting of the COAG Standing Council on Primary Industries. Discussions included an on-going issue that has slipped beneath the public radar: the ritual slaughter of farm animals in Australia. But, once again, it failed to make a decision.

Thanks to labelling laws, what goes into sausages is no longer a mystery. But for RSPCA’s Melina Tensen, it doesn’t go far enough.

“People are unwittingly buying non-stunned lamb because it is unlabelled. Unlike halal, only the forequarter of the animal is suitable for the kosher market so the rest ends up on the super market shelf or at the butcher,” she said.

As one meat producer in Victoria explained: “That’s 70% of the animal including two family favourites — the Sunday roast and barbecued loin chops.”

Meat regulators in Victoria and NSW confirmed that there is no legal requirement under the national Food Standards Code to label meat that has been processed under ritual slaughter arrangements as “kosher”. There is no kosher slaughter in South Australia, according to the South Australian Minister for Primary Industry’s office.

Four Corners’ award-winning 2011 investigation, A Bloody Business, exposed animal treatment in Indonesian abattoirs. It ignited a national debate about live exports and mandatory stunning. But few ABC viewers were aware that slaughtering conscious animals was legal under a religious “loophole” in Australia. The recent televised footage showing the killing of a pig in NSW revived the debate and led to the abattoir’s closure.

According to Glenys Oogjes of Animals Australia, Hawkesbury Valley is one of several abattoirs in Australia with an “approved arrangement” under current Australian standards, which allows the slaughter of fully conscious livestock for the halal and kosher market.

“Two abattoirs in New South Wales and South Australia have an ‘arrangement’ with the state authority.  In Victoria, four exporting abattoirs have a similar exemption with the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service,” she said. “The authorities and AQIS don’t make the information public. Animals Australia has had to get an FOI order.”

Lee Norris, of Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union (Queensland), agreed: “Because of the secretive nature surrounding the granting of exemptions, it is not possible to compile an accurate list of establishments.”

According to Norris, there is widespread acceptance in Australia that reversible “electrical” or “percussion” pre-stunning is consistent with halal slaughter. These methods temporarily stun without causing injury.

The president of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, Ikebal Patel, said all but a conservative minority support pre-stunning. “In Islam, kindness to animals is encouraged,” Patel said.


Oogjes estimated around 250,000 sheep are killed annually without stunning. Limited exceptions for the kosher market, for a small number of cattle, allow stunning immediately after the throat is cut. But not so for sheep.

“It’s important to note, that this is almost exclusively a kosher kill issue,” Norris said.

Government studies show that slitting the throats of conscious sheep causes pain, distress, terror and panic for up to 20 seconds. “Try counting to 20 and imagine the beast’s horror,” Oogjes said.  

But Rabbi Mordechai Gutnik from Kosher Australia disagreed: “We have studies proving it is not inhumane.”

Rabbi Gutnik said there was evidence that when the cut to the throat is done by trained kosher slaughtermen, the animal feels little pain.

Greens’ spokesperson for animal welfare, Senator Lee Rhiannon, said the Greens’ position was unequivocal: “All abattoirs should be required to pre-stun before slaughter.”

The AMIEU and the Australian Meat Industry Council have lined up with the Greens and animal welfare groups. Until October 2011, so did the South Australian agriculture minister. The new leader, Jay Weatherill, has replaced Michael O’Brien with Gail Gago. The former Bligh government in Queensland was alone in banning the practice.

In an opinion piece on February 16, 2012, federal Labor MP Melissa Parke said that, during the live export ban, farming groups had accused the minister of “… having a conflict of interest because he had to attend to the welfare of animals as well as the concerns of the industry.”

Last December, Parke moved a motion at the federal Labor conference for an independent Federal Office of Animal Welfare. Delegates voted unanimously to establish the federally funded office.

In Jordan, 80% of livestock is now stunned before slaughter, after Animals Australia’s Lyn White teamed with HRH Princess Alia bint Al Hussein, sister of Jordan’s king. “But as long as governments prevaricate,” said Oogjes, “the delay will send a terrible message to our international trading partners.”

Melina Tensen from the RSCPA agreed: “Until they resolve the issue domestically, there is little to stand on for arguing for stunning in countries that import Australian livestock for slaughter.”

*This article was first published  Independent Australia

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11 thoughts on “Your Sunday roast, brought to you by ritual animal slaughter

  1. Robert Barwick

    The Nazis slandered the Jewish kosher tradition as cruelty to animals; now Animals Australia have picked the same target. Disturbing.

  2. puddleduck

    This is a national disgrace (as is the continued live export industry), as is our government’s continued inaction on the issue.

  3. shepherdmarilyn

    Guess what, every day 30,000 kids die of starvation while concsious.

    People are blown up while walking around or in their homes.

    People are shot or stabbed to death or have accidents.

    They are usually conscious and some take a long time to die in agony.

    Cows are bred to die and be eaten and if they are awake or asleep one thing is certain, they will be dead at the end of the day.

  4. Charlie Maigne

    I don’t see a problem.

    The Jewish community is going to buy and eat however much kosher (no-stun) beef that they do. contributes nothing to the demand for kosher beef. It’s just soaking up the excess supply.

    Conversely, insisting on non-kosher beef would lead to more wastage, the parts of the animal unfit for kosher consumption will simply be discarded. More animals would have do die to support the same level of consumption, for no appreciable benefit beyond “making a point”.

  5. eddieward

    Big deal. I kill animals to eat them all the time. 100 percent of the time they are alive when I kill them. A cow or a chook or a deer is just food walking around. I can’t understand this sooking about how tough it is on the animals. The animals can suck it up. If we kill them we should be able to eat them. I really don’t understand this stuff. It’s just a freaking animal. Meanwhile no one gives ashit about living human beings who are working and still can’t afford a roof over their head in Australia. Why give a shit about animals when we don’t even give a shit about other human beings? This is a crazy world.

  6. Frank Campbell

    A good example of primitive, barbaric beliefs protected by religion.

    Relihion should be stunned, then humanely slaughtered…

  7. shepherdmarilyn

    Why, we don’t humanely slaughter human beings.

  8. Malcolm Street

    Would un-stunned slaughter be accepted if it were for any reason other than religion? Why are religions allowed an automatic exemption from all sorts of legislation?

  9. AR

    Religion is the ‘sacred cow’ – pun intended – in this matter. It it were not for the adherents of the various Flying Spaghetti Monsters there would be no such problem.
    Nor live export.

  10. Stephen

    After the cruelty of the recent Kevin Rudd exercise, we must completely outlaw the practice of God’s creatures being fully conscious when slaughtered.