Billions of Animals Killed Worldwide for Religious and Traditional Festivities

Photo courtesy of Joan Reddy

Photo courtesy of Joan Reddy

Throughout the year, there are many festivities going on around the world that involve the slaughter of animals. Various cultures and religious groups slaughter animals for ritual ceremonies, or for traditional dinners celebrated with family and friends.

Thanksgiving Day is a national holiday celebrated primarily in North America as a day of giving thanks for the blessing of the harvest and of the preceding year. Thanksgiving has its historical roots in Judeo-Christian religious and cultural traditions, but has long been celebrated in a secular manner as well.

Turkeys are the traditional food choice for Thanksgiving dinners. In 2017, an estimated 2.9 million turkeys were killed in Canada, and 46 million in the United States. The birds are predominately raised on industrial farms. They are debeaked without painkillers so they cannot bite each other while being held in cramped battery cages, nor can they turn around at any time during their short lives. When they are plump enough, they are removed from the cages, their throats slit in front of other terrified birds — some who are their own offspring — then hung by their feet on a conveyor belt. Sometimes their feathers are removed while they are still alive. Because there are so many birds being slaughtered on an assembly line at one time the blade does not always cut deep enough, and some turkeys slowly bleed to death.

The Christian celebration of Christmas also involves the mass slaughter of billions of turkeys around the world. Easter is another Christian holiday, where millions of pigs and four to six month old baby lambs are slaughtered for the occasion. Mostly all the animals used for these celebrations are raised and killed in barbaric conditions on industrialized farms. Even the privately owned farms may feed their animals better, or let them graze in the pasture, but in the end their throats are slit and their lives cut short for the religious, or holiday festivities.

Around the world there are many other religious and cultural festivities that involve the slaughter of animals on a massive scale. In Nepal, an estimated 500,000 animals are brutally slaughtered at the Gadhimai Festival to honour Gadhimai, the goddess of power. Muslims celebrate the end of Ramadan by practicing the ritual slaughter known as Dhabihah. This consists of bleeding farm animals to death without first stunning them with a bolt-gun, which would render them unconscious. This method consists of performing a swift, deep incision with a sharp knife on their throat, then cutting the jugular veins and carotid arteries of both sides, but leaving the spinal cord intact. The objective of this technique is to more effectively drain the body of the animal's blood, resulting in more hygienic meat, but the animal suffers immensely because they are fully conscious.

Jews practice Shechita, often referred to as “kosher slaughter,” where the throat of the animal is also cut without first being stunned. Hindus and Sikhs practice Jhatka, where the animal is killed by a single strike of a sword or axe to sever the head.

The European Union directive, European Convention for the Protection of Animals for Slaughter, generally requires stunning before slaughter, but allows member states to allow exemptions for religious slaughter: "Each Contracting Party may authorize derogations from the provisions concerning prior stunning in the following cases: slaughtering in accordance with religious rituals….”

In Canada and the United States there is actually legislation that protects Shechita (Jewish) and Dhabihah (Muslim) ritual slaughter. The United States Supreme Court held that “animal sacrifice and ritual slaughter were practices protected by the First Amendment's guarantee of religious liberty and that government could not enact targeted legislation suppressing religious practices under a guise of protecting animal welfare or promoting public health.”

Recently, thanks to an influential Jain religious community in India that opposes any form of animal abuse, or slaughter, and practice ahisma — nonviolence towards all creatures — the high court in Himachal Pradesh, a remote northern region in India, has banned a long tradition of sacrificing animals for religious reasons, deeming the practice cruel and barbaric.

In the twenty-first century, the killing of animals that is supposedly performed for religious, or traditional purposes, is now predominately done for profit under the guise of religion. Many of the animal carcasses are sold at markets, or grocery stores. These are archaic and barbaric practices that need to evolve. There are many other humane and compassionate ways to celebrate the holidays.


Joan Reddy

Joan is a professional writer, photographer, animal advocate, and environmentalist. She holds a Masters degree in English Literature from the University of Toronto, and a Masters of Environmental Studies from York University, in Toronto, where her thesis focused on Indigenous culture and the environment.

Joan was a photographer and journalist for Metroland Media Group, and has also written numerous animal-related blogs, articles and product reviews for various commercial clients and nonprofit animal organizations. 

When Joan is not musing over words, she can be found on her 'urban farm' cuddling with her three cats and three rabbits.