On Thursday January 25, Fondation Brigitte Bardot organized a conference on the issue of slaughter without stunning. Sponsored by Pascal Durand, Member of the European Parliament (Greens/EFA, FR), the conference gathered veterinarians, animal advocates, industrial stakeholders, lawyers, and Muslim and Jewish representatives from France to discuss the challenges of slaughter without stunning and opportunities for improving practices.
The event started with a reflection on animal sentience and consciousness during slaughter, with speakers from the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique presenting consciousness and loss of consciousness mechanisms in animals during slaughter and insisting that even in the absence of physical pain, an animal can still suffer due to the experience he/she has of the situation around him/her. A former slaughterhouse inspector backed this up with a reflection on the numerous challenges existing for ritual slaughter operators to comply with the law and the discomforts animals have to undergo.
This was followed by a look at the different interests of the stakeholders involved in the slaughter of animals without stunning, the market dynamics of halal meat, and the opportunities to improve practices in halal slaughterhouses, providing figures on religiously certified animal products in France: every year, 3,4 million animals are slaughtered without stunning, representing close to a third (32%) of all animals slaughtered. Halal meat generates a yearly revenue of 2 billion euros.
The Association Nationale Interprofessionnelle du Bétail et des Viandes (Interbev) stated that producers had no financial interests in not performing stunning, apparently a response to animal advocates arguing that operators divert the exemption provided in the law for religious reasons away from its original purpose to speed up assembly lines in slaughterhouses. Their statement conflicts with the EU Court of Auditors’ finding on the overuse of the exemption from mandatory stunning for religious purposes to serve financial interests, outlined in a report published in 2018. The Federation of Veterinarians in Europe considers the practice of slaughtering animals without prior stunning unacceptable under any circumstances.
According to Christophe Marie, CEO and spokesperson for the Fondation Brigitte Bardot, improvements depend on engagement with religious authorities; to this end, the participation of a close adviser of Dalil Boubakeur, headmaster of the Paris Mosque showed the willingness of Muslim communities to work closely with advocates. However, his position was that only the Legislature has the power to impose a ban on slaughter without stunning, and that the communities he represents will not respond to societal demand in the absence of such a ban. Liliana Vana, a religious scholar specialized in Jewish law, said that compassion for animals is rooted in the Bible and the Talmud, and that Jews have a genuine concern towards their fellow creatures. She outlined the differences between halal slaughter and shechita, insisting on the necessity for animal advocates to distinguish between the two, and advocating for a vegetarian diet as a way to solve animal suffering more efficiently and inclusively.
Finally, a discussion centred around the legal texts regulating slaughter without stunning in France in light of EU law and the principle of separation between Churches and the State, with a comparative analysis between religious and secular law. Dr Michel Courat, a veterinarian from Oeuvre d’Assistance aux Bêtes d’Abattoirs (O.A.B.A) – which co-sponsored the event – went through the state of play in Europe regarding existing full or partial bans on slaughter without stunning, as well as corporate initiatives in the UK aimed at providing consumers with more information regarding slaughter methods.
Pascal Durand, known for his dedication to animal welfare, concluded by congratulating the Fondation Brigitte Bardot for the successful event, with encouraging words for it and other Eurogroup for Animals’ members Compassion in World Farming France (CIWF_France), Welfarm and La Fondation Droit Animal Ethique & Sciences (LFDA), who, together with other French NGOs, are calling on the French Government to revise the law in order not to deviate from mandatory stunning.