At Cornell University with Dr. Joe M. Regenstein

Learning about humane kosher and halal slaughter and the Cornell Kosher and Halal Food Initiative

Audrey Joe Cows 2

Halal symbol kosher_symbol

cornell logo

Cornell Dairy Barn Sign

On August 1st we traveled to Ithaca, New York and spoke with Dr. Joe M. Regenstein, Professor in the Department of Food Science at Cornell University . He is also the director of the Cornell Kosher and Halal Food Initiative. This program provides research, teaching, and extension programming in the area of religious foods, particularly kosher and halal. The program is contributing to efforts towards religious slaughter that fully meet the needs of the various religious groups while fulfilling modern animal welfare requirements.

Close Joe with Hands Explaining

As Dr. Regenstein explained the guidelines of religious slaughter, he stressed that as with any method of slaughter, the key is to do it right. However, he clarified that kosher and halal slaughter requires a lot more attention to detail.  With standard slaughter methods (non-religious) the animal is stunned so it is insensible to pain when its neck is cut to be bled out. Typical methods of stunning used in the developed world include a captive bolt gun, electrocution, a CO2 chamber, or a gun shot. The traditional methods of slaughter in Judaism and Islam customarily prohibit a pre-slaughter stun. Rather, the animal dies by the cut to the neck causing a rapid loss of blood pressure and unconsciousness from 10 seconds to 33 seconds. Therefore, the time from cut to unconsciousness is a critical factor in assuring humane treatment.

Cows Walk Toward Us

Interviewing Dr. Regenstein at the Cornell Research Center Dairy Barn also brought up the topic of how little the public knows about animals in food production. For example, he strongly dislikes the advertisements that show cows out in the field of a farm chewing grass, because that is not how most dairy cows live. They live their entire lives in barns like this one and do not make any attempt to run outside if given the opportunity. As Dr. Regenstein eloquently said, “Animal welfare is about animals, not what looks good for us. Some things don’t make good visuals. They are not meant to make good visuals. They are about making an animal comfortable. And what makes an animal comfortable may not be what we want to see – like dairy cows indoors.

Cows in barn in arow

In closing our interview, Dr. Regenstein declared the following: “I believe strongly that when done right, religious slaughter can be equal to or possibly even better [that slaughter with stunning]. But I also admit that it is more difficult to do and there is more bad slaughter out there. You are dealing with cultures that have not developed the American and European sensitivity to animal welfare, so we have lots of work to do.”


Michigan State University Animal Legal & Historical Center–methods-slaughter-act

United States Code, 2011 Edition


Section 1902 – Humane Methods of Slaughter – includes ritual slaughter

Section 1906 – Exemption of Ritual Slaughter for Religious Freedom


Observing a Halal Slaughter in Oman

At a farm in Ghala, I watched a halal slaughter of a goat by a farmer and his son.

On the first day of January, 2013, I was honored to be invited to the beautiful farm of Mr. Hilal O. Al Siyabi, in Ghala, Oman. It is situated among gorgeous date trees.

Image (Audrey Kali witnesses halal on-farm slaughter)

It is also amazingly irrigated by the hot mineral springs of adjacent mountains. The water travels through irrigation channels throughout the farm.

Image (Audrey Kali witnesses halal on-farm slaughter)

Of course, I relished the opportunity to put my feet in the warm, flowing water!

Image (Audrey Kali witnesses halal on-farm slaughter)

It was truly an education to witness how this resource of water is managed in this arid country. Hilal eloquently explained how the water is dispersed and shared among the villagers.

Image (Audrey Kali witnesses halal on-farm slaughter)

Hilal was also kind enough to let me observe the halal slaughter of a goat on his farm. Mr. Nasser Issa Al Auofy and his son, Moosa Nasser Al Auofy, were patient as they explained each step of the halal process to me. As they spoke only Arabic, and I, only English, a family friend who was fluent in both languages was happy to translate for me. I was very impressed with how gently they handled this goat and proceeded with reverence. Here Nasser is showing me where he is going to cut the neck of the goat.

Image (Audrey Kali witnesses halal on-farm slaughter)

As is commanded in Islam, he sharpened the knife away from the eyes of the goat, and gave the goat water to drink. He put the goat on the ground in the direction of Mecca, and spoke the name of Allah. After the blood had drained out, he prayed while washing the blood from the neck. The prayer said that “we bear witness that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is his messenger.”

Image (Audrey Kali witnesses halal on-farm slaughter)

After the head was removed, Nasser hung the goat up and proceeded to peel off the skin.  Moosa worked on removing the horns from the head.

Image (Audrey Kali witnesses halal on-farm slaughter)

As most parts of the animal are eaten and it is important for all of the blood to be removed, Nasser showed me how he assured that all of the blood is removed from the lungs. He blew into them while making small cuts into them.

Image (Audrey Kali witnesses halal on-farm slaughter)

After the evisceration was complete, it was time to wash the goat with water.  In Isalm, the right hand is considered to be more blessed, so Nasser was sure to wash the carcass with water, only using his right hand. After this was complete, Nasser cut the goat into sections for cooking, and placed them in the green bowl.


Learning about Halal Slaughter in Oman

I spoke with Assistant Grand Mufti, Sheikh Dr. Kahlan Nabhan Al-Kharusi, about the humane treatment of animals in Islamic teachings.

On December 31st, I had a wonder interview with Sheikh Dr. Kahlan Nabhan Al-Kharusi, the Assistant Grand Mufti and Jurisprudential Advisor in the Office for the Issuance of Fatwas, the Ministry of Awqaf & Religious Affairs in Oman. He completed both his masters & doctorate in Islamic studies at the University of Oxford. In 2010, by Royal Decree, he was appointed as the Assistant Grand Mufti of Oman. Muftis are Muslim religious scholars who offer influential legal opinions – fatwas – interpreting Sharia – Islamic law.

I was grateful that he took time out of his busy schedule to answer my questions about halal slaughter and the treatment of animals in Islamic teachings. I had many questions about this type of religious slaughter because the animals are not permitted to be stunned unconscious prior to the throat being cut.  In the United States, under the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, livestock is required to be stunned and rendered insensible to pain (unconscious) prior to the throat being cut and the animal bled out. The stunning can be done with either a captive bolt, electrocution, CO2 gas, or gunshot. The parameters of these requirements are extensive as per species and are monitored by the USDA. Religious slaughter in the United States, which includes halal (Muslim) and kosher (Jewish) practices, is exempted from the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act stunning requirement and both halal and kosher slaughter is deemed to be humane. Many respectable veterinary studies by non-Muslims have shown that when the carotid arteries and trachea are cut swiftly with an extremely sharp knife (as required in both halal and kosher methods), quick blood loss will lead to the animal’s unconsciousness before it is able to feel sensations of pain in the neck from the cut.  Other valid scientific studies argue the contrary, and say that an animal will feel the pain of the cut regardless. This is why the topic of religious slaughter remains so contentious and controversial in the United States and the European Union today.

Sheikh Dr. Kahlan Nabhan Al-Kharusi was well informed in regard to all of these scientific studies; however, as he is a trained religious scholar and not an animal scientist, the task of our conversation was to explore the guidelines of halal slaughter as they have been revealed to Prophet Muhammad by Almighty God. First of all, Muslims must sharpen their knife so it will not cause pain to the animal, and to do so away from the animal’s line of sight. One must also not slaughter an animal in front of another animal. This may harm the feelings of that other animal. He continued to explain the other parts of the process: “And when they take the animal for slaughtering, they have to be very kind. They have to drive them gently. And one of the main conditions that we have to observe is mentioning the name of Allah while slaughtering the animal. And this definitely has its spiritual influence because animals are creatures created by Almighty God as the whole universe is, as we as human beings are also created by Almighty God. And we have been given permission to consume meat, and because we have been given this permission, the guidelines of Almighty God, which have been revealed to Prophet Muhammad, who commanded us to mention the name of Almighty God while we are slaughtering the animal. And then we have been shown the way to cut the throat, the windpipe, the vessels around the neck, and then to leave the blood to drain from the animal. This, according to Islamic teaching, is the most humane, most merciful way of slaughtering an animal.”

“Almighty God has written kindness on everything,” he stressed. “If you are to treat an animal, you are to be kind. If you are to slaughter an animal, you must be kind.”  The term, halal, actually means “permissible.” It covers a wide range of permissibilities in a Muslim’s, life. In regard to food, it is a label for food that is prepared in a correct Islamic way.  As was further clarified for me, the Arabic term used for the process of slaughtering an animal has nothing to do with killing. It is call tazkiyah, which means “purification.” The animal’s meat is purified in the process.