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Muslim religious rules specify a certain type of slaughter for animals, involving a cut throat and bleeding of the animal, and set out guidelines for the preparation of that meat. These rules make the meat halal, or permissible. Halal lamb is meat from a sheep that has undergone this process. Halal slaughter is sometimes controversial if stunning the animal first is not employed, as in the more common secular method.
For meat to be certified as halal, it has to be killed and handled in a certain way in the slaughterhouse and storage facility. All of these parameters are checked by a certification body in the country of production before the meat can be certified as halal. In the United States, for example, this function is performed by authorities like the American Halal Foundation (AHF). According to the AHF, lamb for halal slaughter must be slaughtered by a Muslim.
The sheep must also be alive at the time of slaughter. According to the guidelines set down by the AHF, before the cut, the slaughterer must invoke Allah by saying, "Bismillah," which means in the name of Allah. A sharp knife, which has not been used for nonhalal purposes, is then used to cut the windpipe, esophagus, and blood vessels in the neck of the sheep. This single cut is similar to the Jewish slaughter rules for kosher meat. To be halal lamb, the sheep has to be entirely bled.
Proponents of the halal slaughter method argue that the neck cut and subsequent heavy bleeding make the animal lose consciousness rapidly, and therefore, no pain occurs. A common method of slaughter in non-Islamic countries uses a bolt gun to stun animals before they are bled to death. Opponents of traditional halal slaughter are of the opinion that the bolt stunning method is instantaneous and ensures the animal does not feel pain when the slaughterer cuts the blood vessels and that larger animals like cattle may stay alive for minutes after the throat is cut.
Not all halal lamb is killed without a stunning step. For example, New Zealand halal lamb receive an electrical stunning before the bleeding step. The slaughterer must still ensure the animal is alive, but the stunning renders it unconscious. This combination of stunning and bleeding is sanctioned by some religious authorities, who say it is not against halal practice as long as the animal is alive at the time of slaughter. After the slaughter, halal lamb must not come into contact with foods that are not halal.