Recreational hunting at an all time high in Norway – ritual slaughter continues to be banned

Aftenposten brought us an interesting story yesterday on how the number of recreational hunters are reaching record highs this year. The total number of registered hunters is approaching 200.000 with a record 7% women. Many Norwegian hunters like to take their sport to other countries; an estimated 5000 travel to Sweden to hunt game birds, moose, deer, bear and wild boar. There are no official numbers for how many Norwegians travel to more exotic destinations, but travel organizers say an increasing number of Norwegians travel to Canada to hunt bear or to African countries to hunt lions, antelopes and buffalos.

Hunting is perfectly legal in Norway, and there is a statutory requirement for hunters to have studied a defined curriculum and passed an exam in all relevant aspects of hunting. I have no reason to believe that hunters are not careful to comply with the animal welfare legislation, and this article is also not an argument for or against hunting.

While hunting is legal, ritual slaughter, or more specifically, shechita is forbidden. As a general rule, animals slaughtered for human consumption must be stunned prior to slaughter; article 12 of the Animal Welfare Act specifies:

Killing of animals
Killing of animals, and handling in connection with the killing, shall take place having regard to the animals’ welfare. Anyone using equipment for stunning or killing shall ensure that it is suitable for the purpose and maintained.
Animals which are owned or in any way kept by people must be stunned before being killed. The stunning method shall ensure loss of consciousness which lasts from the killing starts until death occurs. The requirement for stunning before killing does not apply if the animal is killed using a method which provides immediate unconsciousness. After the killing of the animal it shall be ensured that the animal is dead.

Killing under emergency circumstances shall take place in compliance with the first and second article if possible.

Animals shall not be killed as an independent form of entertainment or competition.

The King may issue specific regulations regarding requirements for environment, equipment and handling in connection with killing of animals. The King may make exceptions to the provisions in the second article for animals other than terrestrial animals and marine mammals.

The animal welfare act specifically allows hunting, gaming and fishing provided due consideration of welfare is taken. Killing method is not specified in this act, but paragraph 19 in our Hunting Act, states that

Hunting and catching shall be exercised in such a way that the game is not exposed to unnecessary suffering and in such a way that it poses no risk to humans and animals, nor damage to property.

Furthermore, the guidelines for candidates wishing to prepare for and sit the hunting exam underline that game animals are subject to the animal welfare act paragraph 2:

The Act applies to conditions which affect welfare of or respect for mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, decapods, squid, octopi and honey bees. The Act applies equally to the development stages of the animals referred to in cases where the sensory apparatus is equivalent to the developmental level in living animals.

The Act applies, subject to the limitations allowed for by agreement with foreign nations or organisations, to Norwegian land territory, territorial waters, the Norwegian economic zone, aboard Norwegian ships and aircraft, on installations located on the Norwegian continental shelf, and to Svalbard, Jan Mayen and the dependencies. The King may in regulations lay down specific requirements for Svalbard, Jan Mayen and the Norwegian dependencies, taking into regard local conditions.

The same guidelines underline that in the event of shooting and injuring an animal, all means must be tried to catch the animal to prevent unnecessary suffering. It further says that any shot at an eagle or big game, shall be considered a hit and the hunter must make extensive efforts to track down the animal to ensure it does not suffer unnecessarily. The search must be carefully and competently planned.

In other words, hunting is specifically allowed in Norway, despite the high probability that animals may be shot but not killed, and thus suffer from their injuries. Even if the hunter makes a clean hit and the animal falls on first shot, it may take several minutes before the animal actually dies of its wounds. If the animal is hit, but does not fall, it can take hours, even days before it is tracked down and put to death.

The Norwegian society accepts these inherent risks on the broadly accepted assumption that hunters do their outmost to ensure that animal welfare standards are upheld. Outright cruelty is roundly rejected and hunters who have a poor track record will be persuaded to either drop hunting or join a team where competence is very high.

In stark contrast, ritual slaughter is forbidden on animal welfare grounds.

In 2009, the then minister of Agriculture and Food, Lars Peder Brekk, rejected a petition form representatives from both the Jewish and Muslim community to allow ritual slaughter. He said:

As minister of animal welfare, my single starting point is the concern for the animals. I wish to focus on what is the best for the animals and I refer to both the Norwegian and European Scientific committees’ arguments when I say that slaughter without prior stunning leads to great suffering for the animals. The basis for the required precautions is increased knowledge in how animals can feel stress and pain, in addition to accessible methods to stun animals prior to slaughter .

Rødner may have a point that all slaughter methods have weaknesses, but I do hope he agrees with me that we must always ensure that all husbandry practices must be carried out in the best way possible. The norwegian requisite of stunning prior to slaughter is a natural consequence of this. Potential for improvement in one area must not be used as a defense to legitimate reduced welfare in another field. We must continuously strive for improvement  and to avoid errors, because our aim is to provide the highest standards of welfare for each individual animal, both when it is alive, as well as in relation to slaughter.

Aside from the fact that there is no such thing as a minister of animal welfare, opportunities to improve animal welfare are routinely dismissed in order to facilitate animal production needs.

In 2008, a commission advised the same minister that the EU decision to abolish tie-stalls to replace with free range stalls for dairy cows should be postponed until 2034. A range of preventable animal diseases and painful conditions are related to tie stalls, claw health is the most important, but lack of free exercise or freedom to express natural behavior also increases chronic stress and can lead to diminished immunocompetence. In addition to the unnecessary suffering, such preventable livestock diseases are very costly to the society.

The EU specifically permits ritual slaugher. The OIE, the international organization for animal health, discussed aspects of culture and religion in its conference on animal welfare. While specialists agreed that there are many aspects of traditional slaughter that are challenging, the ad hoc group on religious slaughter suggested that special welfare rules should apply throughout the process.

The specialist on livestock handling, Temple Grandin, has carried out research that highlights risks and opportunities related to ritual slaughter and has offered many technological solutions that minimize the inherent risks. An increasing number of abattoirs around the world,  that also carry out ritual slaughter, are implementing these technologies.

So, official Norway will happily continue to support hunting and catching, basing itself in part on the great importance hunting, fishing and gaming has in our tradition and culture, but it will forbid ritual slaughter methods that has less potential for pain and suffering than hunting methods.

Jews and Muslims, but also a number of other religions and traditions are obliged to slaughter their meat in a manner that does not cause pain for the animals. There are a set of religious instructions that detail what level of knowledge the person who performs the slaughter must have and in which position it is less likely that an animal will suffer. Judaism for instance, forbids hunting on the grounds that is causes suffering.

Finally, carefully scrutinizing official records from various countries, many of the stunning methods used in commercial slaughter are reversible. In order to prevent that animals recover conscience, it is a requirement that animals must be bled within 30 seconds. Statistics from commercial abattoirs with a great number of animals running through the system on a daily basis, reveal that this is not always achieved and that as a result many animals are hoisted while they are conscious, but because staff believe they are stunned do not identify these animals until sporadic controls to check compliance with the 30 seconds rule. Specialist inspectors will also then check for voluntary movement and or mooing from supposedly stunned animals. But before such inspections fall upon an abattoir near you, many a cow will have bled to death.