Today the Eyes on Animals/Animal Welfare Foundation team that is working on getting welfare improvements at the Turkish slaughterhouses, drove to Mouskroen in Belgium to visit Euro-Meat Group. We were told that this Belgian plant had taken significant steps to reduce the suffering of animals during Halal slaughter. Perhaps there were some ideas we could pass on to the Turkish plants so that suffering could be reduced also there?
Halal slaughter is traditionally conducted without rendering the animal unconscious first. It is highly criticized for causing lots of pain as the animal is conscious while a knife is used to make several swipes of the throat area to ensure that the carotid artery, esophagus and trachea are cut. It can also take up to several minutes before the animal loses enough blood to fall unconscious.
The Director explained to us that he has held diplomatic and respectful talks with the three local Imams and together they reached a compromise- the cattle could be stunned with a captive bolt pistol immediately after the religious cut was made. This is a remarkable step as still many Imams are uncomfortable allowing any kind of stunning.
The Director also showed us other steps he took to ensure that suffering was limited before the animal was slaughtered.
He has placed speakers in the lairage to play classical music. It may sound silly, but indeed scientific studies have shown that classical music has a calming effect on cattle. Dairy cows even produce more milk in parlours where classical music is played!
The floors in the corridors and lairages have been grated to make them anti-slip so that there is less risk of cattle falling and hurting themselves. As well the unloading ramp has side protection and 0° inclination.
The plant has several individual pens to keep animals separate that are not used to being with others. Charolais and other social breeds of cattle are housed in group pens.
A shocking welfare problem in Turkey is that even injured animals in pain are forced out of the truck to go through the Halal slaughter process while still conscious, as the captive bolt pistol is not permitted. At Euro Meats this remains a problem- animals stunned before the cut are not considered good for Halal meat… but the manager assured us that injured animals destined for Halal slaughter are instead rendered unconscious immediately and simply removed from the Halal certification.
The corridor leading up to the kill-box has solid walls, which reduces distraction and stress for the animals.
Cattle are not hoisted up by one leg while still conscious, as seen in the Halal plants in Turkey. Instead they are fixed in a restraining box, remain standing up with the head pushed up for the Muslim slaughterer to make the ritual cut. (We were not allowed to take photos of an animal in this system, but below is a photo of the empty restraining box with head lift). It was not nice to watch, but still was much better than what we saw in Turkey as the struggle and suffering lasted just for a few seconds here, compared to 5-10 minutes in the Turkish plants.
Both the Muslim slaughterer and the Director showed us their latest idea to decrease suffering– using salty water and a sponge to quickly wet the neck area. They say this helps make a cleaner and faster cut. Right beside the salt bucket there are two captive bolt pistols. The man working the restraining box then stuns the animals immediately after the ritual cut is made. Should one of the captive bolts not work, there is always a second back up.
During our visit there were two Belgian-Blue calves that had difficulty walking. One in particular did not put any weight on his fourth leg and did not want to move forward. We were disappointed to see a worker twist his tail to make him advance. The Director asked him to stop twisting the tail but found the animal in good enough condition to go through the Halal slaughter process. We would have much rather seen this animal rendered unconscious on the spot where he lay.
We would like to thank the Director for his time, and congratulate him and the local Imams for discussing how to improve animal welfare together in a respectful and progressive way. We feel very strongly that their efforts have greatly reduced the suffering of animals being ritually slaughtered and will use this plant as an example for the Turkish plants to follow.