P.E.I. Muslim society disagrees with national vet group's slaughter recommendations

The Muslim Society of P.E.I. disagrees with the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association's call for stunning all animals being processed with halal slaughter methods. 

Muslim Society of P.E.I. does not think stunning necessary when killing smaller animals

The president of the Muslim Society of P.E.I., Najam Chishti, says his members have some differences with new recommendations about halal slaughter practices from a Canadian Veterinary Medicine Association committee. (John Robertson/CBC)

The Muslim Society of P.E.I. disagrees with the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association's call for stunning all animals being processed with halal slaughter methods. 

The CVMA's animal welfare committee did a review of all slaughter methods in Canada, and released a number of recommendations in January, including several around halal practice. 

Halal means "permitted" in Arabic, and the term is used to describe meat from animals killed through a cut to the jugular vein, carotid artery and windpipe in accordance with Islamic law. It's a religious practice protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has guidelines for how it is done. 

The Muslim approach to slaughter traditionally does not include stunning before an animal is bled out.

Muslim Society of P.E.I. president Najam Chishti says his members agree cattle should be stunned before slaughter because of the size of the animals, but he does not believe it is necessary with smaller animals, such as lambs and goats. 

"You don't need a smaller animal to be stunned because we can manage it," he said. "As long as the knife is sharp, it takes five seconds."

AVC prof part of committee 

Dr. Michael Cockram is the chair of animal welfare at the Atlantic Veterinary College, and a member of the CVMA committee that made the recommendations. He also co-edited a textbook published last year on the welfare of animals during slaughter with prominent author and speaker Temple Grandin

"This is quite a controversial topic and you have various views," Cockram said. 

Atlantic Veterinary College Prof. Michael Cockram was on the Canadian Veterinary Medicine Association committee that made the recommendations in January. (Atlantic Poultry Research Institute)

"Research has shown that, as far as we can tell, that there is a delay before the animal fully loses awareness of the situation."

Cockram is asking for further dialogue on the matter "so that we can discuss some of these concerns and look at ways that we can try and reduce the suffering that can be involved." 

Open to discussion

Chishti said he is open to discussion and also open to having Cockram witness halal slaughter on P.E.I. 

"It doesn't cause any pain to the animal," Chishti said about dealing with a lamb or goat that weighs less than 45 kilograms.

He does agree that it is humane to first stun a cow that might weigh 900 kilograms, since it is difficult to hold them in place. "Once they are stunned, it makes it easy."

Prince Edward Island's Muslim population has been growing to the point that a halal shop might be feasible, says the head of the Muslim Society of P.E.I. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

The society has 15 to 20 lambs and goats slaughtered a month at a local butcher shop to provide for its members' needs, according to Chishti, and they all believed the butcher was following halal practices.

But it has been at least two years since Chishti attended a slaughter, and the business has since changed hands. 

During the investigation into this story, CBC News learned the butcher has been stunning all the animals first. The butcher declined to do an interview, but told CBC News he would not slaughter the animals without stunning them.

Members' reactions mixed 

Chishti shared this revelation with members of the society and said reactions were mixed. 

Some members of the community have stopped buying the meat from that butcher, according to Chishti, and are buying commercially produced halal meat in Island grocery stores instead. But Chishti said others are still relying on the butcher. 

He said society members had in the past discussed the idea of opening a halal butcher shop on the Island, and the news about the butcher is renewing interest in that possibility.

The community is growing, the market is there.— Najam Chishti

With 600 to 700 Muslim people living here now, and more expected when pandemic travel restrictions are eased, Chishti believes there would be enough business.

Chishti said many in the community would prefer to support local farmers and a local business than buy halal lamb imported from Australia or New Zealand in the grocery store.

"If it can be done, I will appreciate it. Because the community is growing, the market is there." 

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