Mechanical/Machine Slaughter on Poultry

In the industry there are 2 main methods of slaughtering poultry:

Hand Slaughter

The process in which the slaughterer manually slaughters the animal without the aid of a mechanically operated blade

Machine Slaughter

The process in which a mechanically operated rotating blade slaughters an animal on an assembly line.

Mechanical slaughter is one of the most controversial topics of the Halal slaughter process. Islamic scholars have detailed arguments for and against the use of this method. There is a large number of Muslim consumers who do not consider the mechanical slaughter method to meet their Halal standards and thus will neither purchase nor consume those products. There is no clear consensus on the validity of the use of mechanical slaughter method. On the other hand, all Islamic scholars and Muslim consumers universally agree upon the validity of the hand slaughter method.

As a Halal certifier promoting a higher and inclusive standard of Halal, HFSAA’s Halal standards only permit for the hand slaughter method. This ensures that every Muslim consumer is accommodated for and can consume HFSAA certified products.

Why Even Use The Debated Machine Slaughter Method?

Mass Production

A machine can slaughter 140 birds a minute and thus has a high throughput

Reduced Costs

Save money on labor while being able to improve speed and throughput

The financial incentive results in mechanical slaughter being the most widely applied method in the industry. The majority of poultry in North America marketed as Halal is mechanically slaughtered. This includes poultry exported from North America to Muslim countries, poultry products sold in American Halal meat stores, and poultry products served in American restaurants with Halal foods.

Overview of the Machine Slaughter Process

Preparation

The chicken’s legs are tied to hooks and it is hung upside down on a conveyor belt.

Stunning

The operator presses the button to begin moving the belt and the chicken is passed through an electric current water bath to stun it.

Slaughter

The chicken’s legs are tied to hooks and it is hung upside down on a conveyor belt.

Backup

A backup slaughterer will slaughter any animals missed partially or completely by the rotating blade.

The Debated Aspects of Machine Slaughter

The slaughterer must be either a Muslim or a believing Christian or Jew
A machine does not fulfill this requirement. Sometimes the operator does not fulfill this requirement.
The slaughterer should have the proper intention (Niyyah) for slaughter
A machine is not capable of this. Some argue that the intention (Niyyah) of the operator is limited to just 1 animal and not the entire assembly line.
The actions of a machine cannot substitute the actions of a human for religious actions.
Ex: A robot cannot lead congregational prayer even if it were programmed to mimic all the postures of prayer and recite the Qur’an.
The verbal blessing (Tasmiya) is not recited at all
Many Islamic Scholars maintain that it is a requirement to verbally bless each animal individually as the Qu’ran mentions numerous times: “Do not eat from an animal upon which the name of Allah was not recited.”
The verbal blessing (Tasmiya) is not recited on every animal
An argument that is brought up is that reciting the verbal blessing once at the beginning of the shift does not suffice for the remaining animals.
The verbal blessing (Tasmiya) is recited by a third party
An individual is stationed next to the mechanical blade as the ‘blesser’. It is argued that only the one doing the actual slaughter may conduct the verbal blessing.
The verbal blessing (Tasmiya) is played via an electronic recording
The playing of an electronic recording is not considered as a valid alternative for the verbal blessing.
The correct vessels are not severed
Due to size differences, potential movements of the animal, and other factors, the blade may not sever the required vessels of the animal or completely missed it.
The backup slaughterer is not a Muslim
Facilities appoint a back-up slaughterer to examine the throats of the birds and ensure that the required vessels are cut. The back-up slaughterer may not fulfill the requirement of being a Muslim or believing Christian or Jew.

The Solution?

Islamic scholars have discussed an idealistic method in which the operator starts & stops the assembly line for the slaughter of each individual chicken, but this does not practically exist in the industry.

As mentioned previously, while there is much debate regarding the validity of the machine slaughter method, there is 100% acceptance of the hand slaughter method. The Sunnah method of slaughter is to apply the sharp instrument to the throat of the animal with one’s own hands. The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ himself slaughtered 63 camels with his own hands during the Farewell Hajj. This is the high standard set by the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ as one can imagine the time required to manually slaughter so many camels and the physical exertion undertaken for this task. The Prophetic model for the most humane method of taking the life of an animal involves a human’s personal care.

“He who leaves doubtful matters has indeed preserved his religion, [whereas] he who falls into doubtful matters will [eventually] fall into Haraam.”

In order to cater to the beliefs of all Muslims, the hand slaughter method should be given preference over mechanical slaughter. A handful (pun intended) of Muslim slaughterers can do the same job as the mechanical blade without any major difficulty and there are many poultry plants which do successfully employ the hand slaughter method. For example: Foster Farms, one of the largest poultry producers in the USA, has a Halal hand slaughter program under the brand “Tahir Chicken” and is Halal certified by HFSAA.

Muslim consumers should demand a higher standard of Halal when purchasing Halal products. HFSAA is proud to be able to implement a higher standard of Halal and provide consumers assurance that the animal was slaughtered according to the methods accepted by the vast majority of Muslims.

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