Script: Humane Handling Series – Ritual Slaughter Part 4
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Hello and welcome to our fourth podcast in our seven-part series on the
humane handling and slaughter of livestock animals.
I’m Paul Koscak from FSIS and with me again today is Joan Collins, a program
manager in the Office of Field Operations.
Joan has been with FSIS for more than 20 years and has a great deal of
experience training front line supervisors on the statutes, Rules of
Practice and administrative enforcement.
In our last episode, we had a very in-depth tutorial on the methods of
stunning animals allowed under the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. Today,
we’re going to focus on ritual slaughter of livestock for human food.
Joan, what does ritual slaughter mean?
Ritual slaughter is basically the killing of an animal for food in
accordance with strict religious rules. It’s also sometimes referred to as
religious slaughter. The most commonly seen ritual slaughter is in
accordance with the religious requirements of the Jewish and Islamic faiths.
Ritual slaughter is covered in Section 1906 of the Humane Methods of
Slaughter Act and the ritual methods are constitutionally protected under
the legal framework of religious freedom.
Are there any special requirements under religious slaughter?
Well, under religious slaughter, plants aren’t required to stun livestock
prior to the ritual cut. However, you may see animals knocked or stunned
before or after the ritual portion of the slaughter is complete.
You just mentioned ritual cut. Please describe this in more detail.
Sure. In Kosher slaughter, the ritual cut is done by a Shochet, or
slaughterer. This person is chosen from the community, trained in the laws
of the orthodox religion, and supervised by a rabbi. The cut is made with a
razor sharp knife called a Chalef that is honed after each cut.
Then in Halal slaughter, the ritual cut is done by a person of the Islamic
faith. Although there is a lot of variation in this type of slaughter, a
prayer to Allah is typically recited during the procedure.
In addition, most religious authorities permit stunning either before or
after the religious slaughter cut.
What should FSIS inspection personnel do if something occurs that concerns
them during a ritual slaughter?
If they notice something that concerns them, they are to immediately contact
their supervisor and the FSIS District Veterinary Medical Specialist for
guidance on what actions need to be taken.
So, what else do we need to know about ritual slaughter?
Paul, I’d like to stress that it’s important for owners and operators of
ritual slaughter establishments to understand that they’re required to meet
all the humane handling regulatory requirements except stunning prior to
shackling, hoisting, throwing, cutting or casting animals.
For example, FSIS inspectors may verify the availability of water, check the
condition of pens and ramps and ensure that there is no excessive prodding
in any part of the establishment when animals are moved.
They might also verify that after the ritual cut and any additional cuts to
facilitate bleeding, no dressing procedure – for example head skinning, leg
removal, ear removal, horn removal or opening the hide – is performed until
the animal is insensible to pain.
Joan, our listeners may be wondering, how do you determine if an animal is
That’s a great question. Essentially, all livestock must remain insensible
to pain from the time they are stunned until they are dead.
When trying to assess unconsciousness, plant officials can use the following
However, you may observe movement of the head and neck. This movement can
occur due to involuntary reflexes caused by random firing of damaged muscle
neurons. Or, it may be associated with the movement of equipment.
- The head dangles from a flaccid neck. For example, if the animals
are suspended down from an overhead rail, the head should hang straight
- The tongue may hang straight down and out of the mouth.
- Eyelids should be wide open and the pupils fully dilated, so at a
distance, the eyes appear black.
- There is no vocalization from the animal. For example, no mooing,
bellowing, baaing, or squealing.
Is there a chance the animal could be regaining consciousness?
Yes, the movement in the head and neck could be voluntary as the animal is
A previously stunned animal that regains consciousness may vocalize or show
a “righting reflex.” The term “righting reflex” is used to describe the
physical actions taken by an animal to move itself into a normal lying,
sitting or standing posture.
For example, a conscious cow hanging from a bleed rail will show a
contracted back, stiff extended neck and rigid extended forelegs as it tries
to pull itself into a normal upright position. An animal lying flat on its
side may try to lift its head, and may try to roll up onto its chest or
On occasion, an animal’s neck may flex laterally – that is, to one side –
after it’s been stunned and hoisted. Don’t mistake this sideways spasm for a
Plant officials need to be sure to look at the head to determine if the
animal is unconscious.
And where are FSIS inspection personnel during all this?
When assessing unconsciousness, FSIS personnel will observe the animals at
different places along the bleed rail.
They might perform verification just after stunning when the animal is in
the shackle pit and after they have been hanging on the bleed rail for
several minutes. If they observe an animal regain consciousness after
stunning, they will immediately contact their supervisor and take
Joan, thank you for providing our listeners with this information. More
information on religious slaughter and the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act
is available at www.fsis.usda.gov.
Join us next time when we’ll discuss humane handling of exotic species.
Well, that’s all for this episode. We’d like your feedback on our podcast. Or if you
have ideas for future podcasts, send us an e-mail at
firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about food safety, try our web site at
www.fsis.usda.gov. Thanks for tuning
Last Modified: April 20, 2009