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Overview of regulatory requirements for ritual slaughter of food animals in Canada

The Government of Canada allows ritual slaughter of animals for food in Canada.

All slaughter of food animals is subject to requirements for the humane treatment of animals in order to be licensed under the Safe Food for Canadians Act (SFCA). Facilities involved in interprovincial or international trade require a federal Safe Food for Canadians licence. Facilities that operate entirely within a province are subject to provincial requirements.

The Safe Food for Canadians Regulations (SFCR), which came into force in 2019, contains animal welfare requirements that apply to all federally-regulated slaughter activities, including both kosher and halal ritual slaughter.

The SFCR requires that any handling of food animals must not cause or subject the animal to avoidable suffering (pain or distress). Preventive measures are required to minimize risk of avoidable suffering or injury to food animals during the slaughter process and licence holders must have a preventive control plan detailing how they will meet animal welfare requirements.

Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) inspectors are present at all federally-regulated slaughter facilities to support and ensure compliance to the SFCR, which include animal welfare requirements. In non-ritual slaughter, the regulations require that food animals are rendered unconscious prior to being suspended and bled on the slaughter line, and this must be achieved through pre-slaughter stunning.

For ritual slaughter activities such as kosher and halal slaughter, the regulatory regime in place in Canada explicitly offers industry with additional flexibility. This is done through a regulatory exception to support ritual slaughter practices, which allows animals to be ritually slaughtered by administering, before the animal is unconscious, a continuous, fluid cut with a knife resulting in the rapid, simultaneous, and complete severance of the jugular veins and carotid arteries in a manner that causes the animal to bleed and gradually lose consciousness. However, the SFCR does not allow animals to be suspended on the slaughter line before they are unconscious to ensure their humane treatment. This requirement applies to both ritual slaughter, and non-ritual slaughter activities.

The CFIA has always required the humane treatment of food animals during the slaughter process. The humane treatment of animals, including the need to ensure the unconsciousness of the animal before suspending it, is not a new requirement. Prior to the 2019 SFCR, similar provisions existed under the Meat Inspection Regulations, 1990 (repealed when the SFCR came into force) and in the associated Meat Hygiene Manual of Procedures.

Since 2010, the CFIA has provided guidance to industry to help them comply with the animal welfare requirements of the regulations, including during both kosher and halal ritual slaughter. The CFIA developed and published its most recent ritual slaughter Guidelines around the time that the SFCR came into force in 2019. The Guidelines are based on scientific evidence and international best practices to prevent avoidable suffering or injury when handling a food animal during ritual slaughter.

The Guidelines state that "routine stunning, either prior or immediately post-cut, should be encouraged whenever possible for ritual slaughter". However, it is not the CFIA's policy or practice, nor is it a requirement of the SFCR, to demand that routine post-cut stunning be implemented in the context of ritual slaughter.

The regulatory regime in place in Canada recognizes that the practice of routine post-cut stunning may not align with certain religious beliefs and offers industry the flexibility needed to meet the required animal welfare outcomes; the Guidelines guide industry and CFIA officials in exercising this flexibility while achieving the jointly desired outcome of minimizing avoidable suffering. This flexibility provides the opportunity for ongoing production and supply of kosher beef in Canada, as well as other kosher and halal products from federally-regulated facilities. CFIA also currently licences facilities that perform slaughter activities that are involved in other kosher products and/or halal products (for example, poultry, lamb, etc.). 

Food businesses have the option to use alternate procedures to those outlined in the CFIA Guidelines, if they are supported by scientific evidence and meet the required outcomes of the SFCR. The slaughter process must render the animal unconscious prior to it being suspended on the slaughter line.

There are currently several licence holders that produce kosher meat products, including beef, in Canada and meet the SFCR requirements. The CFIA remains open to new scientific findings that can support animal welfare, and is continuing to engage with communities as well as listening to and engaging with stakeholders on this issue.

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