Penny Jayewardene -Trustee, Poorna Health Care Trust

For those of us who still consume the flesh of living things, it is important to realise that slaughter is like any other business and is subject to all the usual business approaches efficiency, incentives, and cost control. The animals and birds are units of production and the quicker they are killed the higher the earnings, the greater the profits. Slaughter becomes a production line just like a car factory.

We, the tax payers of Colombo, were advised by a newspaper article of a new slaughterhouse to be built on the premises of the old Dematagoda slaughterhouse. This slaughterhouse, partly funded by ORET of the Netherlands, and the Colombo Municipal Council, with our tax monies, will be constructed at the cost of Rs.243 million. Let us not be misguided by the term 'humane slaughter'. The humanitarian concern of a painless death for the animal or bird is both impractical due to the nature of the action of killing being carried out and the other often forgotten factor of basic economics. The drive for speed and efficiency and speedy processing of the carcasses once the animal is dead can result in rules being bent and the stunning done prior to killing by cutting the throat is sometimes way off its mark as the animal is agitated as it smells the blood and gore and hears the screams of the animals that have been killed before it. However since we are on the topic of humane slaughter, I would like to share my knowledge on the subject with readers of this article.

There are three methods of slaughter namely, electric tongs, the captive bolt and the electrified water bath. There is a fourth method, which is ritual slaughter, which will also be dealt with in this article. The electric tongs are used on pigs, sheep goats and calves. The captive bolt is used on cattle, calves and goats and sheep and the electrified water bath is almost exclusively used for poultry.


The animals are taken to the stunning point either individually or in groups where they are penned and stunned one by one in front of each other. The low voltage tongs consist of terminals which look a bit like headphones and are attached to insulated handles imagine a large pair of garden shears with a round bit on the end of each blade. The slaughter man then clamps the terminals to the animal's head, supposedly in front of its ears, and triggers an electric shock with is meant to render it unconscious. A chain is then placed around a hind leg and the creature is hoisted into the air where its throat is cut. This is called 'sticking' allowing it to bleed to death called 'bleeding out. This is the theory, but the stunning lasts for only about 20 seconds and if the slaughter man is too slow the animal can regain consciousness. This happens quite regularly according to the Food Research Institute. It found that with sheep, the time between stunning and sticking was usually more than 30 seconds and in some cases more than a minute. What this means is that millions of animals may well be conscious when their throat is cut.

Productivity has a bearing as slaughter-men are usually paid on piece rates, being paid on the basis of how many animals they kill. To be truly effective the tongs need to be placed in exactly the right position on the animals head and held there for at least seven seconds. This is difficult to achieve as animals prior to slaughter are in great states of agitation and fear, resulting in movement of the body in an effort to get away from its captors. Animals can and do regain consciousness prior to sticking and this has been recorded on film. Electric shock can also induce paralysis for upto 30 seconds and if the animals has regained consciousness and is rendered immobile, it will be stuck or bled while it is fully conscious.


This little device is like a pistol but when the trigger is pulled and the cartridge explodes, instead of firing a bullet it shoots out a metal bolt. The bolt can only travel nine centimetres as it is still attached to the pistol. Cattle to be killed are driven single file into a metal box one at a time, the pistol is placed against their forehead and the bolt fired into their brain. Done properly the animal will immediately lose consciousness, but often it is not done properly. A bad or hurried aim, a sudden movement from the agitated and frightened animal and the bolt can miss its mark which results in agony for the animal and it then needs a second attempt. According to British RSPCA 53% of young bulls are victims of non-stunning requiring two and three attempts to render then lifeless. Again the method of the actual killing is to haul the animal up by a back leg and cut its throat. The reason that animals are first stunned rather than being killed immediately is to allow their body to continue to function for a short time, enabling the animal's heart to pump out its own blood. Bacteria in the blood does cause the meat to deteriorate, but it's now known that it makes no difference to the amount of blood lost whether the heart is beating or not. It is hard to imagine that we sanction suffering on such a gigantic scale in our civilised societies.


Poultry represent the ultimate in efficiency. They enter the packing stations as living creatures and leave as wrapped, fresh or frozen table birds, or in sausages and various products to be served up at tables through out the country. This efficiency is a carefully planned production line and is organised with lorries laden with crates full of birds arriving at set times through out the day. The chickens have their legs placed in metal shackles and are hung upside down on a moving conveyor. Many of these chickens will already have broken bones. The conveyor belt passes over an electrified bath and one by one their heads are dragged through it. Some birds miss the bath by raising their heads and these arrive at the human throat cutter fully conscious. The larger packing stations often use mechanical throat cutters and for smaller birds it can mean that the blade misses their throat and cuts their head while for larger birds it can mean a cut on the breast. If these failures aren't noticed, it can mean that fully conscious birds are dipped into scalding water. This is a procedure which loosens the feathers and is another stop on the relentless production line.

These are the three known methods of slaughter in modern slaughterhouses. Ritual slaughter for Muslims of goats, cattle, sheep and chickens have specific rules that have to be followed. Basically though the throat is slit and the animal or bird is bled to death. When the rules are followed and killing is done quickly, the meat is then termed 'halal' or permissible. What has been recently overlooked, according to the Qur'an and the Hadith, is that the care and welfare of the animals before they are killed are just as important as the way in which they are killed.

"If animals have been subjected to cruelties in their breeding, transport, slaughter or in their general welfare, meat from them is considered impure and unlawful to heat (haram). The flesh of animals killed by cruel methods (Al-Muthiah) is carrion (Al-Mujathamadh). Even if these animals have been slaughtered in the strictest manner, if cruelties were inflicted on them otherwise, their flesh is still forbidden (haram) food." -The late Immam B.A. Hafiz al-Masri of the Shah Jehan Mosque in Woking, United Kingdom.

An hadith reported by Muslim states "When you must kill a living being, do it in the proper way when you slaughter an animal, use the best method and sharpen your knifo so as to cause as little pain as possible." When he saw a man sharpening his knife in the presence of the animal he was to kill, the Prophet (pbuh) said, "Do you intend inflicting death on the animal twice one by sharpening the knife within its sight, and once by cutting its throat?"

If the halal method of slaughter is to be strictly followed, a sharp knife and a quick deadly cut to the jugular must be enacted. No other method of slaughter would make the meat halal or permissible.

My dear readers, I trust that this article would have clarified any misconceptions you had on humane methods of slaughter. All beings fear pain, thirst, hunger, anxiety and death. To service a killing station like our Mayor intends to construct, it would be mandatory to bring cattle and goats to Dematagoda from all over the country. This would result in terror and torment to animals who are very resistant to being loaded onto lorries for transport. During transport they are subject to fear and hardship and suffer greatly from lack of food and water.

The choice no longer remains ours as to whether this slaughterhouse will be constructed or not. This is therefore an appeal to the Government to look into this matter and do all within its power to prevent the construction of the slaughterhouse, which will, in time to come mass slaughter animals.

Please write to His Worship the Mayor of Colombo protesting against the construction of this new Slaughter House in Colombo. His address is as follows:

Mr. Omar Kamil Mayor of Colombo Colombo Municipal Council Colombo 7 Tel. 94 ( 01 ) 691849 or 94 ( 01 ) 678422 Fax 94 ( 01 ) 698067

Penny Jayewardene
Trustee Poorna Health Care Trust
1A, Health Care Trust
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