Cultural awareness needed by industry

29 Nov, 2017 04:00 AM
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Harvard University faculty director, animal law and policy program professor Kristen Stilt.
Harvard University faculty director, animal law and policy program professor Kristen Stilt.

LIVESTOCK exporters were encouraged to make associations with a wide variety of people in the Muslim nations they sought to expand their trade into, during the LIVEXchange 20017 conference in Perth two weeks ago.

Harvard University faculty director and animal law and policy program professor Kristen Stilt said during her address ‘Islamic law and halal slaughter’ that exporters should take a step back “at face value” – because there were varying opinions on the practice of stunning animals before slaughter.

She said there was not one standard across the Muslim world when it came to slaughtering livestock – which was an opportunity for Australia to promote best practice and encourage the education and skills training to better the industry in these developing countries.

“I would urge you not to accept or work with views that are not most protective of animals, because they are really against the weight of authority and also against the weight of a growing public sentiment in awareness of Muslim communities worldwide,” Ms Stilt said.

“Cruelty to animals is due to lack of knowledge and awareness – including religious knowledge.

“It’s also due to a lack of equipment and training and this is where you can play a very valuable role in improving all of these deficiencies through active engagement and consistent and continual training.

“Keeping in mind we need the countries that we export to, to be honest, but they have very weak legal systems and very weak enforcement mechanisms and those are really crucial points.”

Ms Stilt said although the authoritative voices in Islam did agree that “compassion” and animal welfare were part of the Islamic faith’s teachings and were required under Halal practices, one country would have a different interpretation of what was allowed than another.

“The idea that the animal must be slaughtered in the most compassionate way possible causing the least amount of pain and stress comes directly from within the Islamic tradition,” Ms Stilt said.

“This is not an idea imposed upon Muslim countries by the West.

“In fact, Muslims are proud that their compassion for animals dates back to the earliest years of their religion at the time of the prophet (Muhammad) who died in the early seventh century.”

She said that there was “no pope in Islam – and that’s an extremely important point”.

“So there is no one person saying his is the one view – this is the right view and all other views are wrong,” Ms Stilt said.

“In general, it is a matter of a competition of ideas.

“The situation gets even more complicated because today nations will legislate one view on topics because in some areas of the law it’s hard to have multiple views in a country.

“You can have multiple views on things such as dress or clothing – but in general two systems of criminal law at the same time (doesn’t work) so often times that State will pick one view and legislate it as national law.

“But just because Malaysia, for example, adopts a view of something doesn’t make it authoritative for Egypt – Egypt may have a very different view.

“However, there are some areas of Islamic law where there is significant agreement – even consensus – and animal welfare is one such area.”

Ms Stilt said Halal slaughter, with an emphasis on compassion, required the use of modern technology to cause as little pain to the animal at the time of slaughter as possible.

She said engaging with a variety of sources in a country and finding those with a similar understanding was the way to help people understand this notion.

But education and training was needed to improve animal welfare standards – without those nations seeing it as the West trying to impose its philosophies on them.

“Working with local partners and engaging in a dialogue on issues of compassion of animals before and during slaughter (should be the focus),” Ms Stilt said.

“Skills training is vital in Muslim countries to bring industry standards up to acceptable levels.”

She said it was important not to let the issue of stunning become a political debate – instead of an animal welfare issue.

Ms Stilt’s research and opinion was based on a book she has written called Halal Animals, which will be published by Oxford University Press.

She said the technical aspects of Halal slaughter were “actually fairly simple”.

“Generally accepted requirements are that the slaughterer must be a Muslim, that he/she says the name of God at the time of slaughter, that the animal’s vitals are cut with a sharp instrument and that the animal dies from blood loss,” she said.

Some exporters agreed with her comments that they had found a variety of positions on the issue of stunning in various countries and the only way forward was to find like-minded organisations or officials who could influence change – which was a challenge and needed an investment of time and resources.

This issue is important because Australian standards require the welfare of the animal all across the supply chain from farmgate to slaughter – despite what various market positions are.

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