Who cuts and sells meat

Muslim butchers - stunning, praying, killing: this is how halal slaughter works in Switzerland

Stun, pray, kill: this is how halal slaughter works in Switzerland

In Hinwil, animals are slaughtered according to the Muslim rite. The halal meat produced complies with the Swiss animal welfare rules - very different from that which is imported from abroad.

Ali Gündogdu reaches for the butcher's knife, looks in the direction of Mecca, his left hand on the neck of the stunned lamb hanging in the air in front of him. "Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar," whispers Gündogdu in the soft humming and humming of the machines around him. He looks up at the lamb, strokes its neck with the knife, looks for the right spot.

«Bismillahirrahmanirrahim», in the name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful. Gündogdu cuts the lamb's throat. Nerve twitching for a few seconds. Then the animal is dead, is carried away from the slaughter line, gutted, dismantled and taken to the cold room.

A normal slaughter, as it happens every day in slaughterhouses in Switzerland, with the difference that the butcher is a devout Muslim, says a prayer before the neck cut, looks in the direction of Mecca and uses a knife that is only used for lambs. This slaughter method is "halal", that is, in accordance with Islam. It is essential for Muslims that these halal rules are observed. They do not eat normal meat out of conviction. Halal meat does. The difference: a prayer, a line of sight, a knife, nothing more. Unlike in other countries, the animals in Switzerland also have to be stunned for halal slaughter (see context).

Imam visiting the slaughterhouse

And yet: The fact that halal slaughter takes place in Switzerland is something to talk about. Martin Hollenstein, manager of the central slaughterhouse in Hinwil, also felt this. A few years ago, at the request of a Turkish meat company who wanted to supply its customers with Swiss meat, Hollenstein began slaughtering halal. Rumors were soon spreading. "In Hinwil they are now slaughtering," it was rumored. Hollenstein would never think of slaughtering an animal, that is, killing it without prior stunning. «Animal welfare is very important to us. We have vets on site around the clock and we adhere 100 percent to the legal requirements, ”says Hollenstein. He himself had already seen videos of slaughter, that was enough for him, that was cruel.

However, Hollenstein had no objection to the idea of ​​producing halal meat in his slaughterhouse. «The customer came by with an imam. The imam inspected the facility, we explained our standards, and he gave his consent, ”says Hollenstein.

There is no official Halal certificate for slaughtered animals in Switzerland. However, Hollenstein has concluded a contract with the customer in which the important points are recorded. The vacation plans of his three Muslim butchers are coordinated so that one of them is always there. Exact records are kept of the slaughter. “Actually, all of our slaughtering are carried out according to the Halal criteria, because there is always at least one Muslim involved who says the appropriate prayers. Except, of course, when slaughtering pigs, ”says Hollenstein.

Mohammed and the anesthesia

The fact that Halal meat “made in Hinwil” is well received by customers is shown by the commercial success of the Turkish entrepreneur who knocked on the door at Hollenstein with his Halal request a few years ago. He recently opened a new branch in Siebnen in Schwyz, where he sells Halal meat from Hinwil.

Behind the huge meat counter in Siebnen stands Neçmi Aydogan, son of the entrepreneur and trained butcher. “The quality of Swiss halal meat is on a completely different level than imported halal meat,” emphasizes Aydogan, pushing around on a piece of fillet. «Much more tender, better. This is due to the stunning of the animals. This comes unexpectedly for the animal, which is why it is neither stressed nor tense during slaughter. "

And even if it is not a problem for most of his customers that the animals were stunned with electricity before they were slaughtered, Aydogan still feels resistance here and there to the animal welfare-compliant Swiss halal meat. “Some Muslims believe that the anesthetic kills the animal. And if the animal is already dead when the neck is cut, it would be carrion meat in their eyes and therefore not edible, ”explains Aydogan.

Just that morning he had a customer from Algeria who absolutely refused to buy meat from stunned animals. "I have such discussions every day," says Aydogan. He then tries to explain to each customer that there are strict animal welfare rules in place in Switzerland. "And anyway: the Koran already says that you shouldn't torture animals." Aydogan thinks about it for a moment and then says: "If Mohammed was alive today, he would probably approve of the previous anesthesia with electricity."

But Aydogan tries to convince his customers not only with religious arguments. Much better pull the economic ones. “I always explain to them that stunned animals can be slaughtered much more easily and quickly than those who have not been stunned, because they can no longer fight back as much as they can. The effort is less, the efficiency is higher, the costs are correspondingly lower. " Aydogan knows that. In his homeland, Turkey, he has also slaughtered animals without anesthesia. That is a pain, really a pain.

The idea with the skylight

Back at the central slaughterhouse in Hinwil: Martin Hollenstein is standing in the middle of the slaughterhouse, in the background the bled lambs are jamming past the slaughter line. There is blood, there is fur, that's how it is with slaughter. Whoever wants to eat meat has to accept that animals will be killed. There is no other way. “It is important to treat the animals for slaughter properly,” says Hollenstein, pointing to the rooms from where the lambs enter the slaughterhouse through a narrow corridor.

Hollenstein recently had the well-known American animal scientist Temple Grandin flown in. She visited the slaughterhouse and suggested a list of measures to make the operation more animal-friendly. "For example, we removed the skylights in the waiting rooms because glaring light causes stress in the animals," says Hollenstein. It is important to him that the animals do not notice what is happening to them here.

At the end of the corridor between the waiting room and the slaughterhouse, the animals are stunned with electric pliers. With the calves that are slaughtered on a different slaughter line, the stunning works via bolt shot. Butcher Gündogdu, the devout Muslim, thinks that's a good thing. “It has to be anesthetized, otherwise I would have reservations about slaughtering the animals,” he says. Then it falls back into its usual rhythm. Neck grip, “Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar”, view of Mecca, “Bismillahirrahmanirrahim”, cut. The lambs no longer notice the calls to God.

Political resistance to halal imports

Slaughtering, i.e. slaughtering without prior stunning, has been prohibited in Switzerland since 1893. So that Jews can still get their kosher meat and Muslims still get their halal meat, the federal government auctions annual import quotas for slaughtered meat. The production of
Halal and kosher meat are very similar. Both types of battle require religious slaughter, prayers and special slaughter knives. In recent years 350 tons of halal beef and 175 tons of halal sheep meat as well as 295 tons of kosher beef and 20 tons of kosher sheep meat have been imported. There is now political resistance to the import regulations for halal meat. In a parliamentary initiative, the Valais CVP National Councilor Yannick Buttet calls for the import quotas, which can only be bought by Muslims, to be made more expensive and for the obligation to declare to be regulated anew. Buttet wants to eliminate the false incentives that arise from the current handling: Today, importing one kilo of halal meat is around four times cheaper than importing one kilo of meat from non-religious slaughter. This is justified by the fact that Muslims by the slaughter ban
are restricted in their religious practice in Switzerland and are dependent on meat imports from abroad. In addition, according to the Slaughter Cattle Ordinance, Halal meat only has to be declared up to the first point of sale. The suspicion: Muslim importers benefit from the low quota fees and sell the meat undeclared and at the normal meat price. Buttet emphasizes that his aim is to eliminate these abuses and not to restrict basic religious rights. "My parliamentary initiative wants to solve a real problem and not cause polemics." Ruedi Hadorn, Director of the Swiss Meat Association (SFF), also finds the lax declaration requirement questionable: “Meat is an emotional consumer good. For certain consumers it might be a problem if they are denied the possibility of eating halal meat from animals that have been slaughtered without being anesthetized. "
An experiment by the SFF in the canton of Geneva showed that this does happen. In 2011, a test buyer bought halal meat from non-anesthetized animals in France for CHF 2,000. It was obvious that he didn't need this amount himself, but wanted to resell it (probably undeclared), says Hadorn.
If Buttet gets through with his concerns in parliament, the import of halal meat would be more expensive. The demand for halal meat produced in Switzerland would increase. Ali Gündogdu and his Muslim professional colleagues would then have to increase their battle rhythm again. (SAS)