Rabbi Mordechai Gutnick of Kosher Australia estimated up to 500 lambs a week were killed by kosher methods in Victoria. Calls to ban such practices were motivated in part by ignorance and anti-Semitism, he said. ''A ban would mean we would not be able to eat kosher meat. In our tradition the way the animal has to be killed is by quick cutting of the throat of the animal.'' Stunning could kill an animal before it bled out, in violation of Jewish tradition, he claimed. ''We make a concession for beef because cattle have a tendency to be much stronger and resilient. Sheep literally become unconscious the moment the knife is cut across their throat. We believe such killing without stunning does result in immediate, painless death."
Outrage grows on ritual killing
Peter Munro • The Age
THE head of the meat industry has joined animal welfare groups in opposing the religious slaughter of sheep while they are conscious, amid calls to ban the ''unnecessary and unconscionable'' practice in Australia.
At least 15 Australian abattoirs - including four in Victoria - have government approval to slit sheep's throats without stunning them for local and international halal (Muslim) and kosher (Jewish) markets.
A leading Jewish identity told The Sunday Age that about 500 sheep are killed by the kosher method in Victoria each week.
Studies into unstunned slaughter, including by the federal Department of Agriculture, have found the practice causes pain, distress, terror and panic in animals. Most sheep remained conscious for up to 20 seconds after their throats were cut.
One major abattoir, which had exported unstunned slaughtered sheep to the Middle East, said it stopped the practice due to animal welfare concerns.
Separately, the RSPCA and Animals Australia criticised the absence of mandatory stunning in the Gillard government's proposal to Indonesia last week outlining slaughter standards to reopen the live cattle export trade.
Australian Meat Industry Council chairman Terry Nolan said it was in the local industry's ''best interests to have the most humane treatment of animals''.
''I personally don't believe in unstunned slaughter. I kill animals for a living … I believe that they need to be processed in the most respectful way for the animals,'' he said.
Government-approved ritual slaughter of conscious sheep accounted for an ''extreme minority'' of animal deaths, representing less than 1 per cent of the meat industry locally, he said.
Australian standards require livestock be rendered unconscious and insensible to pain before slaughter. Limited exceptions for cattle - broadly accepted by Muslim and Jewish groups - permit stunning with a captive-bolt pistol immediately after the throat is cut.
But about 15 Australian abattoirs that service the domestic halal and kosher meat market reportedly have state government approval to slaughter sheep without stunning at any stage.
Four Victorian exporting abattoirs have a similar ''approved arrangement'' federally with the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service.
''In permitting this practice, Australia meets its international obligations to provide for freedom of religious observance,'' a service spokesman said.
Rabbi Mordechai Gutnick of Kosher Australia estimated up to 500 lambs a week were killed by kosher methods in Victoria. Calls to ban such practices were motivated in part by ignorance and anti-Semitism, he said.
''A ban would mean we would not be able to eat kosher meat. In our tradition the way the animal has to be killed is by quick cutting of the throat of the animal,'' he said.
Stunning could kill an animal before it bled out, in violation of Jewish tradition, he claimed.
''We make a concession for beef because cattle have a tendency to be much stronger and resilient. Sheep literally become unconscious the moment the knife is cut across their throat. We believe such killing without stunning does result in immediate, painless death,'' he said.
The Midfield Group abattoir, in Warrnambool, has stopped unstunned slaughter for exports to the United Arab Emirates. Livestock was now stunned before halal slaughter, said general manager Dean McKenna.
''Personally, I believe all animals should be immobilised and stunned because that is the most humane way to do it,'' he said.
''We chose for commercial reasons not to do it, because it was a very small market and we didn't want the unnecessary negative attention.''
G.A. Gathercole abattoir, in south-east Melbourne, defended the practice. ''We're under an
approved arrangement, we're doing the right thing. We've got to meet orders as required,'' said Justin Gathercole.
He declined to comment on animal welfare issues. ''We're all a bit sensitive obviously with this deplorable thing in Indonesia.''
Several studies into ritual slaughter have found sheep remain conscious for up to 20 seconds after their throat is slit, and cattle, which have an extra blood supply to the brain through the back of the neck, for up to two minutes.
Animals Australia executive director Glenys Oogjes said governments must ban the practice.
''If you sat and counted up to 20 seconds and imagined the fear and pain and suffering involved when your throat is cut, you wouldn't think it was acceptable,'' she said.
''It is nonsensical that the Jewish community have clearly accepted stunning can be a part of kosher-slaughtered cattle but they won't accept that for sheep.
''This is just a profit-driven issue. The vast majority of sheep killed in Australia are electrically stunned but there have been a few export contracts with clients who have been accommodated.''
Ikebal Patel, president of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, conceded all but a minority of ''conservative Muslims'' accepted electrical stunning of sheep pre-slaughter.
''Inherently in Islam as long as the stunning is reversible, there is no injury to the animal at all and they can basically walk away if the period of stunning lapses, then stunning is allowed,'' he said.
But he opposed a blanket ban on unstunned slaughter. ''I think any individual, whether they're Muslim or Jewish, should be allowed to have meat on their table that is in accordance with their religious beliefs.''
The primary industries council of state and federal agriculture ministers started reviewing ritual slaughter standards in 2007. The Australian Meat Industry Council says it is awaiting its findings.