In order for meat/poultry to be kosher, the animal must be slaughtered by an observant Jew. Its throat must be cut using a sharp blade and in one stroke. The animal is then inspected to verify it had no maladies or wounds. The meat must be “kashered” prior to consumption by smearing it with salt and letting most of the blood drain out. The Torah prohibits the consumption of blood. It also, according to standard interpretation, prohibits cruelty to animals. “Cruelty to animals” is only prohibited if there is no benefit from the suffering. As it so happens, we cannot eat meat without killing the animal (it is also forbidden to eat the limb from a living animal). Killing is otherwise considered “cruel”.
Islam copied the laws of kosher slaughter along with many other things. Of course, Muslims do not require a Jew to do the slaughtering. According to Islam, any food that is kosher is also permissible to Muslims. This does not work the other way; even though kosher is halal, halal is not kosher.
Through most of history, the kosher way of slaughter was considered humane; it involved less pain than striking the animal repeatedly with a hammer, eating it while it was still alive or inflicting many small wounds all over its body. With the advance of technology, more humane methods of slaughter were devised. At the same time, more people developed a new-found conscientiousness regarding the welfare of animals (but not usually insects or microbes).
While advancements in our standards of mercy are generally a good thing, I think it is important to maintain perspective. Even as the uproar plays out in the U.K. over the sneaking of halal meats into the mouths of non-Muslims, we should take media claims with a grain of salt. I do not believe that most meat-eaters care about the suffering of animals during their slaughter. They just want their meat. The real issue here is not so much cruelty to animals but cultural imperialism. Those who oppose the mass implementation of halal in the U.K. are probably more concerned with their own suffering – at the loss of their civilization – than with the suffering of animals. Here we have yet another case of people protesting what is permissible to protest (“inhumane” slaughter of animals) rather than what is forbidden to protest (their own genocide through mass immigration).
I do not see anything wrong with halal (kosher) slaughter. In nature, animals kill each other in the most cruel and unspeakable ways. Humans are the only animal that deliberately minimizes the suffering of its prey. Even then, not all humans share this sensibility. In Korea, dogs and cats are tortured and cooked alive. That most of us find this reprehensible puts us on a higher level than those Koreans. I do not think the solution is for Americans to pass laws against eating dogs or cats.
While it may feel good to adopt a holier than thou attitude about methods of slaughter, in the end such attitudes may force us all to be vegetarians. After all, if our goal is to minimize animal suffering, vegetarians are the Brahmans of this caste system. Koreans would be untouchables and the rest of us somewhere in between. If a plant-rights movement ever gains momentum, then we would all starve. It seems to me that, when it comes to humane slaughter of animals, there are very few clear-cut cases of “acceptable” and “not acceptable”. Instead, we have a continuum. Since there does not seem to be any less painful way to slaughter an animal (in the absence of modern technology) than the kosher/halal way, I think this would qualify it as reasonably humane.
What about those who shudder at the thought of blood, and who cannot accept any pain for the animal? Those people might consider becoming vegetarians. Here is a test for those who object to kosher/halal slaughter on humanitarian grounds: visit a modern slaughtering facility and watch the entire process – while eating a hamburger. If this does not bother you, then we can discuss kosher/halal slaughter on a more meaningful level.
As for halal slaughter taking over Europe, the problem is not excessive pain for the animals but rather excessive numbers of Muslims in Europe. The sooner Europeans learn to recognize the real issue, and debate it honestly, the more hope for their long-term survival as Europeans.