Study shows old adage ‘sleep on it’ is true – but only if it’s a really difficult problem
A new study from Lancaster University has found that sleeping on a problem really can help people to find a solution.
The study, published online this week in the journal Memory & Cognition, tested whether sleep or time spent awake worked best in helping people find the solutions to a range of problem solving tasks.
The authors of the study - Ut Na Sio, Padraic Monaghan and Tom Ormerod all from the Centre for Research in Human Development and Learning at Lancaster’s Department of Psychology - concluded that sleep facilitates problem solving but this has its primary effect for harder problems.
Professor Padraic Monaghan said: “We’ve known for years that sleep has a profound effect on our ability to be creative and find new solutions to problems. Our study shows that this sleep effect is greatest when the problems facing us are difficult. Sleep appears to help us solve problems by accessing information that is remote to the initial problem, that may not be initially brought to mind. Sleep has been proposed to ‘spread activation’ to the solution that is initially distant from our first attempts at the problem. The advice stemming from this and related research is to leave a problem aside if you’re stuck, and get some sleep if it’s a really difficult problem.”

Study shows old adage ‘sleep on it’ is true – but only if it’s a really difficult problem

A new study from Lancaster University has found that sleeping on a problem really can help people to find a solution.

The study, published online this week in the journal Memory & Cognition, tested whether sleep or time spent awake worked best in helping people find the solutions to a range of problem solving tasks.

The authors of the study - Ut Na Sio, Padraic Monaghan and Tom Ormerod all from the Centre for Research in Human Development and Learning at Lancaster’s Department of Psychology - concluded that sleep facilitates problem solving but this has its primary effect for harder problems.

Professor Padraic Monaghan said: “We’ve known for years that sleep has a profound effect on our ability to be creative and find new solutions to problems. Our study shows that this sleep effect is greatest when the problems facing us are difficult. Sleep appears to help us solve problems by accessing information that is remote to the initial problem, that may not be initially brought to mind. Sleep has been proposed to ‘spread activation’ to the solution that is initially distant from our first attempts at the problem. The advice stemming from this and related research is to leave a problem aside if you’re stuck, and get some sleep if it’s a really difficult problem.”

How G4S helps Israel break the Geneva convention

Lisa Nandy calls for the government to take action over G4S’ participation in illegal imprisonment.

BY LISA NANDYPUBLISHED 30 SEPTEMBER 2012 9:48



Since 1967, more than 730,000 Palestinian men, women and children are estimated to have been imprisoned by Israeli military courts. The majority of such prisoners are held in detention facilities inside Israel, in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits the transfer of these prisoners into Israel.

The practical consequence of this violation is that many prisoners, including children, receive either limited or no family visits, due to freedom of movement restrictions. In the case of children, this lack of adequate family contact also violates their rights under article 37 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

According to Israeli Prison Service figures released in June of this year, 85 per cent of Palestinian prisoners, including children, were detained inside Israel. Of 4,706 prisoners, 285 were held in administrative detention, without charge or trial.

The UK government has confirmed that Israel’s policy of detaining Palestinians is contrary to Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, that they have raised this with the Israeli government and will continue to do so. In a recent letter to me, Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt MP stated that the FCO is lobbying Israeli authorities for a number of improvements, including a reduction in the number of arrests that occur at night, an end to shackling and the introduction of audio-visual recording of interrogations.

Such diplomatic pressure is important - but what of the British companies that keep Israel’s prisons running? According to corporate accountability campaigners, the security giant G4S, which is listed on the London Stock Exchange, signed a contract with the Israeli Prison Authority in 2007 to provide services to a number of prisons and detention facilities. Some of these are known to house prisoners transferred from the West Bank.

What’s more, the company has installed a central command room in Ofer Prison in the occupied West Bank, which houses a centre where prisoners are tried under military law. Ofer Prison is located in what the Israeli military refers to as the “Seam Zone”, which means access for visiting families is highly restricted.

G4S have said that it will exit from all the contracts it holds in the West Bank at the earliest opportunity the contract terms allow. They also say that they have not violated any international laws, which on this specific issue may be correct, given that the Geneva Conventions apply only to Governments that have ratified their terms. Despite these limitations, the UK government can still act - yet it refuses to.

Alastair Burt told me that, despite being aware of G4S’s involvement in Israeli prisons, the Foreign Office has not discussed the issue with the company and believes that the “provision of services in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories is a matter for G4S.”

Last June the UK Government co-sponsored a UN resolution that places duties on states to protect against corporate abuse of human rights. The commitment is meaningless if the government refuses to take action in a clear-cut case such as this.

Companies that have been involved in grievous human rights abuse continue to be listed on the London Stock Exchange, seriously damaging the reputation of British business abroad and making it more difficult to compete for those businesses which are trying to uphold high ethical business and trade standards. Such abuse by any corporation is not merely a matter for the company, but for everyone who supports and believes in the basic concept of human rights.

Christian Institute: There aren’t enough gays in UK to justify giving them equal rights

by  
29 September 2012, 1:58pm

Just 2.6 per cent of people questioned by the Office of National Statistics have said that they are either lesbian, gay or bisexual, leading the Christian Institute to question whether such a small populous should be given the right to marry.

Although charities such as Stonewall have long estimated the LGB population to be between six and ten per cent of the population, the findings of the Office of National Statistics survey were that 1.5 per cent of men say they are gay, 0.7 per cent of women say they are lesbian, and 0.4 per cent of people say they are bisexual.

The Christian Institute believe that the figures showed that the gay population is ‘tiny’, and therefore not worthy of being given equal rights to marry. Mike Judge of the organisation told the Daily Mail: “It is staggering that such a monumental change is being carried out on behalf of a tiny proportion of society.”

But Benjamin Cohen of Out4Marriage said: “Quite aside from the fact that many have questioned the accuracy and usefulness of the ONS’s surveys, even if the lesbian, gay and bisexual population was as low as is claimed, why should that therefore mean that LGBT people are entitled to less rights than heterosexual people?

He continued: “Jewish people make up less than half a per cent of the UK population. Yet as a Jew, I have the legal right to get married, for that marriage to be conducted by a Rabbi and recognised by the state, although obviously only currently to someone of the opposite sex. By the Christian Institute’s interpretation of population data, the Jewish population is presumably even more ‘tiny’, so presumably the Christian Institute believe that Jews should, like gay people, be denied the right to marry.”

Ben Summerskill of Stonewall criticised the Office of National Statistic’s research methods telling the Daily Mail: “People are not answering truthfully.

“There are genuinely good reasons for having accurate figures. For example, you do not need to have so many primary schools in Brighton as in Shrewsbury, because there are a lot of gay people in Brighton and, although some have children, they are likely to have fewer children. This is about public money.

“We reckon 6 per cent, the figure the Treasury has used for some time, is a sensible estimate.”

Despite protests, the official census does not include a question on sexuality.


Brain study reveals the roots of chocolate temptations
Researchers have new evidence in rats to explain how it is that chocolate candies can be so completely irresistible. The urge to overeat such deliciously sweet and fatty treats traces to an unexpected part of the brain and its production of a natural, opium-like chemical, according to a report published online on September 20th in Current Biology, a Cell Press publication.
“This means that the brain has more extensive systems to make individuals want to overconsume rewards than previously thought,” said Alexandra DiFeliceantonio of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. “It may be one reason why overconsumption is a problem today.”
DiFeliceantonio’s team made the discovery by giving rats an artificial boost with a drug delivered straight to a brain region called the neostriatum. Those animals gorged themselves on more than twice the number of M&M chocolates than they would otherwise have eaten. The researchers also found that enkephalin, the natural drug-like chemical produced in that same brain region, surged when rats began to eat the candy-coated morsels, too.
It’s not that enkephalins or similar drugs make the rats like the chocolates more, the researchers say, but rather that the brain chemicals increase their desire and impulse to eat them.
The findings reveal a surprising extension of the neostriatum’s role, as DiFeliceantonio notes that the brain region had primarily been linked to movement. And there is reason to expect that the findings in rats can tell us a lot about our own binge-eating tendencies.
“The same brain area we tested here is active when obese people see foods and when drug addicts see drug scenes,” she says. “It seems likely that our enkephalin findings in rats mean that this neurotransmitter may drive some forms of overconsumption and addiction in people.”
The researchers now hope to unravel a related phenomenon that some of us might wish we could do more to control: what happens in our brains when we pass by our favorite fast food restaurant and feel that sudden desire to stop.

Brain study reveals the roots of chocolate temptations

Researchers have new evidence in rats to explain how it is that chocolate candies can be so completely irresistible. The urge to overeat such deliciously sweet and fatty treats traces to an unexpected part of the brain and its production of a natural, opium-like chemical, according to a report published online on September 20th in Current Biology, a Cell Press publication.

“This means that the brain has more extensive systems to make individuals want to overconsume rewards than previously thought,” said Alexandra DiFeliceantonio of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. “It may be one reason why overconsumption is a problem today.”

DiFeliceantonio’s team made the discovery by giving rats an artificial boost with a drug delivered straight to a brain region called the neostriatum. Those animals gorged themselves on more than twice the number of M&M chocolates than they would otherwise have eaten. The researchers also found that enkephalin, the natural drug-like chemical produced in that same brain region, surged when rats began to eat the candy-coated morsels, too.

It’s not that enkephalins or similar drugs make the rats like the chocolates more, the researchers say, but rather that the brain chemicals increase their desire and impulse to eat them.

The findings reveal a surprising extension of the neostriatum’s role, as DiFeliceantonio notes that the brain region had primarily been linked to movement. And there is reason to expect that the findings in rats can tell us a lot about our own binge-eating tendencies.

“The same brain area we tested here is active when obese people see foods and when drug addicts see drug scenes,” she says. “It seems likely that our enkephalin findings in rats mean that this neurotransmitter may drive some forms of overconsumption and addiction in people.”

The researchers now hope to unravel a related phenomenon that some of us might wish we could do more to control: what happens in our brains when we pass by our favorite fast food restaurant and feel that sudden desire to stop.

Gay, Working Class, Atheist and Autistic… I May as well be a Unicorn.

This (I think) is going to be the title of the article I’m presently working on. It gives a general overview of what the content of the article is and adds a light touch. 

Thoughts?  

Sticky Bonds

Lost Loves, Romances, and Families in the 21st Century.

Person or Place?

Longings For A Lost Love … Longings For A Hometown

Many times I talk with men and women (especially men) who developed a lost love problem accidentally and don’t know how to escape it. They innocently friended a high school or college sweetheart on Facebook and before they put up their guard, their happy marriages were shaken. Yes, happy marriages. They come to me for consultation and ask how they can get over the obsession for the lost love, end the reunion, and return to their marriages. And as we talk, I often uncover a hidden factor that complicates everything: the hometown.

 As adults, they left their hometowns to go to school or to begin a career. But their parents stayed in the family home and maybe the lost loves stayed in the old neighborhood, too. So along comes Facebook with the lost love, bringing memories of adolescence and young adulthood. The place and the high school (or college) sweetheart were experienced together: where they first kissed, went to the movies, walked hand in hand, the houses where they lived, the school they attended together. And so, now sweetheart and hometown are intertwined in memory, and one brings sweet recall of the other.

These married clients know they want to stay married and know themarriage cannot include their lost loves. I can help with managing the obsessions and helping to interpret the initial romance stories they tell me (as needed). The clients assure me there will be no more phone calls or email… but what happens when they visit their parents in the hometown? All those triggers!

 Yes, there are triggers, catalysts that bring all those sweet memories of the romance back to mind and heart. Visiting a hometown can make withdrawing from a lost love reunion difficult, no question about it; we discuss how to deal with that.

But here’s a different question to think about: How much of the lost love longing is for the person and how much is for the places of happy memories?

 The person reminds us of our youthfulness, and youthful milestones and places we loved. In fact, when a lost love reunion begins for two single, divorced or widowed people, they often travel down memory lane and return together to their old haunts in the old hometown or college town. Person and place are all wrapped up together, memories encoded as one.

 Hometowns are important. Childhood houses are important. Even an old tree in the yard, that has grown through the years you’ve been away, takes on a wistful significance when you see it again. Do not dismiss the influence of these childhood places on who you are today.

 The person is not the place. How much of the desire for the former sweetheart is desire for the whole package — youthful excitement andhormones, families, familiar places, the zeitgeist of those years? Can you try to tease all the components apart, think about what can remain with you without the person? And think about what is no longer possible even with the person — because there’s really no going back to our once-in-a-lifetime youth. 

I will always love my hometown on the Jersey shore (not that Jersey Shore).

Shameless Woman Pursuing an integrated life of sensuality, health, healing and rejuvenation by Pamela Madsen

Sex: The More You Have - The More You Want?

The word “insatiable” goes so well with the word “desire”?

"If you don’t use it…you lose it".

Have you ever heard that phrase? How about “The more you get - the more you want?” Have you noticed that the word “insatiable” goes so well with the word “desire”? Almost like peanut butter and jelly!

There have been times in my own sexual awakening that I started to feel that exploring my sexualityis like that old saying about eating Chinese food. You can have a delicious meal and twenty minutes later you are hungry again!

Maybe I am exaggerating just a little, but I do think that if you do not stir the pot of your sexual being - you can become dormant just like a hibernating bear. Have you ever seen a hibernating bear on one of those nature shows after he wakes up? Just like the bear - once you wake up and begin to feed yourself - you can find that your hunger is extraordinary. And that hunger can be quite unsettling. How do we manage our hunger?

I love to talk about us “waking up your sleeping beauty!” And what I mean by that - is reawakening our sexual selves. But what happens when Beauty wakes up and the Prince is snoring? Or there is no Prince? How does Beauty feed herself? And don’t take my metaphor too literally this can apply to men too!

I have been steeped in desire lately - I have a Shameless Life Coaching practice - and one of my clients is a lovely woman who I am going to call “Gena”. Gena is in her forties and has two kids, runs her own business and after reading my book Shameless: How I Ditched The Diet, Got Naked, Found True Pleasure and Somehow Got Home in Time To Cook Dinner began to explore her own sexuality by working with me and a Certified Sexological Bodyworker.

Guess what happened? Her inner “Sleeping Beauty” woke up! WoooHoooo! Fantastic! Well, actually feeling our newly found sexual awakening can sometimes be uncomfortable.

Once we start exploring what we desire, figure out how desire looks for us and how to reach for them - things can really heat up for us in our lives! Gena recently said to me…

"Speaking of desire I have a subject that I hope to get feedback about. I have a terrible time focusing on the requirements of my daily life. Since I started do deeply explore this part of myself - I have become so focused on sex! I have a business to run, friends, kids, parents, etc.

I crave all that goes with this quest. Following discussion groups, reading, watching videos, having more experiences, experimenting with Zestraand other ways of exploring my own sexuality for myself. And all of this learning, all seem to tug at me when I really should be working or doing the more routine, and often less fulfilling parts of my life. I don’t feel comfortable sharing much of this with anyone in my immediate circle, which is obviously a problem I have to work on. I desire comfort in this new found joy. I’m unsettled. Like I’m waiting for something. It’s hard to sit with the pleasure and happiness I experience in increasing amounts as I learn and incorporate more of the eroticism and deep excitement I often feel. Maybe that’s it. Too much excitement for everyday pursuits.

How do other people deal with this? What do you do with an inability to satisfy yourself, in a complete, overall way? It seems like no matter what I experience I still have insatiable desire for more”.

I don’t think that Gena is alone. After we starve ourselves - and then taste food for the first time in a long time - it can be pretty overwhelming. The good news is that if we continue to feed ourselves our lives can become more balanced and we can kind up in a much better place.

What I have found is that it comes in waves. This insatiable need for more is always strongest in the beginning of ending sensual deep sleep.

Again, I liken it to survivors of famine who for a while after they are rescued hoard food or cannot stop eating. So many of us are starving in our bodies for sensual pleasure and a fully healthy integrated life.

It’s just that sometimes we don’t know our hunger until we jump start our bodies and come out of hibernation. And then the food tastes so sweet and our bodies just cannot get enough because we went too long without feeding it.

My suggestion is to everyone who is just beginning to wake up again sexually is to notice your hunger. I am noticing mine, and as you are able to  - feed yourself. Perhaps you need a little more right now - then let your body have it. Reassure your body that you will not take this away from yourself ever again - that it IS available.

If you can afford it, explore taking a workshopand indulge yourself a bit. Look for new ways to feed and explore your own sexuality. Pleasure and sexuality can be found in so many things! Use your new found sexual energy to channel your creativity! Painting, taking up photography, cooking, dancing and yoga are all great ways to continue to explore and use your nearly emerging sexual energy.

Feeding yourself can be buying long black stockings and wearing them just for yourself! I have begun to buy beautiful bath products. I am addicted at the moment to LUSH. I give myself special long sexy baths .I acknowledge and feed my desire in different ways.

Please don’t be frightened of your desires. Feed yourself in ways that reassures your body and your mind will be much more free to do what you need to do. Notice your desire. Do not judge it or decide that it is too much.

Consider seeing and feeling your desire as an indicator of your vitality! I often feel my desire in that way. I choose to feel that I am a beautiful sexual being in full bloom! When I feel my deep desire….I imagine myself as that flower after the rain and I allow myself to enjoy the feeling.

I believe that as our bodies learn that we will never go to sleep on ourselves again that we will become less agitated with all of these new feelings and we will become more fulfilled in how we live our daily lives. Sex is not an end point - it is an integral part of who we are.

For now, I have advised my client to eat freely and eat often.  I am so glad that Gena woke up! And she is not alone. So many of us are finally acknowledging our desires, and wanting more for ourselves in this life.  Feeling all of those feelings it isn’t always comfortable especially in the beginning  - but isn’t it so much better than being asleep?


Understanding Mental Disorders

Key 20th century thinkers on the Meaning of Madness.
Published on May 27, 2012 by Neel Burton, M.D. in Hide and Seek

'Madness need not be all breakdown. It may also be break-through. It is potential liberation and renewal as well as enslavement and existential death.' —RD Laing


The anti-psychiatry movement took hold in the 1960s and early 1970s, and arose from the difficulties with defining and diagnosing mental disorder. Spearheaded by the psychiatrist Thomas Szasz (born 1920, the author of The Myth of Mental Illness) and by others, it claimed that the label of severe mental disorder, especially schizophrenia, was little more than an attempt to medicalize and thereby control socially undesirable behaviour.
According to Szasz, ‘schizophrenia’ does not exist other than as a social construct, a convenient label for the sort of thinking and behaviour that society finds unacceptable. Szasz’s position is very similar to that of the philosopher, historian, and sociologist Michel Foucault (1926–1984), one of the forerunners of the anti-psychiatry movement. According to Foucault, ‘madness’ is a social constructdating back to the enlightenment, and its ‘treatment’ is nothing more than a disguised form ofpunishment for deviating from social norms. It is interesting to note that Szasz rejects for himself the label of anti-psychiatry on the grounds that he does not oppose psychiatric treatment per se, but merely believes that psychiatric treatment should be carried out only between consenting adults.

Attractive though it may originally have seemed, the anti-psychiatry claim has been progressively undermined by the mounting scientific evidence for a biological basis of severe mental illness. Today there can be little doubt that mental illness exists, but its definition and diagnosis are still problematic, and an understanding of its place in human affairs—of its meaning—is still sorely lacking.

In a different vein from that of Szasz and Foucault, the psychiatrists RD Laing (1927–1989), Silvano Arieti (1914–1981), and Theodore Lidz (1910–2001) have argued that mental disorder is a comprehensible reaction to the impossible demands that families and societies place upon certain sensitive individuals.

Laing described eleven case studies of people with a diagnosis of schizophrenia and argued that the content of their statements and actions was logical and meaningful in the context of their individual life situation. Laing never denied the existence of mental disorder, but simply regarded it in a radically different light from his contemporaries. For Laing, the content of a person’s psychotic experience is shrouded in an enigmatic language of symbolism that can be interpreted and worked through, rather than simply assumed to be a meaningless marker of distress or disease.
By helping a person to work through his psychotic experience, a psychiatrist may help him not only to feel less alienated, but also to recognise and address the source of his distress and, in so doing, to gain important insights into himself and a more refined and nuanced perspective over life. Thus, the psychiatrist may facilitate the conversion of a psychotic episode into a transformative journey comparable to that undertaken by the traditional medicine man or shaman. 

Understanding Mental Disorders

Key 20th century thinkers on the Meaning of Madness.
Halal hysteria
The British “debate” about meat, animal cruelty and ritual slaughter has become a proxy for deep fears about Muslims in our midst.
BY MEHDI HASAN PUBLISHED 09 MAY 2012

I am sitting in one of London’s finest Indian restaurants, Benares, in the heart of Mayfair. I’ve just placed an order for the “Tandoori Ratan” mixed-grill appetiser – a trio of fennel lamb chop, chicken cutlet and king prawn.
I’ll be honest with you: I’m pretty excited. Most of the upmarket restaurants in London do not cater for the city’s burgeoning Muslim population. Benares is one of the few exceptions: all of the lamb and chicken dishes on its menu are halal.
The restaurant opened in 2003 and its owner, Atul Kochhar, is a Michelin-starred chef. “Right from day one, we’ve kept our lamb and chicken halal,” Kochhar says. “It was a very conscious decision because I grew up in India, a secular country, where I was taught to have respect for all religions.” Kochhar, who is a Hindu, says Muslims make up “easily between 10 and 20 per cent” of his regular diners. It isn’t just a taste for religious pluralism that has dictated the contents of his menu; serving halal meat makes commercial, as well as cultural, sense.
To other, perhaps less tolerant types, however, the rise and rise of halal meat in the west and here in the UK, in particular, is a source of tension, controversy, fear and loathing. British Muslims are living through a period of halal hysteria, a moral panic over our meat. First there came 9/11, 7/7 and the “Islamic” terror threat; then there was the row over the niqab (face veil) and hijab (headscarf); now, astonishingly, it’s the frenzy over halal meat.
Last month, MPs in the Commons rejected a ten-minute-rule bill that would have made it mandatory for retailers to label all of the halal and kosher meat on sale and make it clear on the packaging that the animals were “killed without stunning”. The bill’s proponent, the Tory backbencher Philip Davies, claimed that the meat was being “forced upon” shoppers “without their knowledge”. It was defeated by the narrowest of margins – 73 votes to 70.
As is so often the case, the right-wing press is behind much of the fear-mongering and misinformation. “Britain goes halal … but no one tells the public,” screamed the front-page headline in the Mail on Sunday on 19 September 2010. The paper claimed that supermarkets, restaurants, schools, hospitals, pubs and big sporting venues such as Wembley Stadium were “controversially serving up meat slaughtered in accordance with strict Islamic law to unwitting members of the public”.
The following week, readers were treated to two more stories suggesting a sinister plot to inflict halal meat on innocent, animal-loving, non-Muslim Britons. “How 70 per cent of New Zealand lamb imports to Britain are halal … but this is NOT put on the label”, said the Daily Mail on 25 September 2010. “Top supermarkets secretly sell halal: Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Waitrose and M&S don’t tell us meat is ritually slaughtered,” proclaimed the Mail on Sunday the next day.
With the threat from terrorism receding, Britain’s Islam-baiters have jumped on the anti-halal bandwagon, and not just the neo-fascists of the British National Party and the English Defence League, which has a page on its website devoted to its (anti-) “halal campaign”, but mainstream commentators, too. The Spectator’s Rod Liddle – who once wrote a column entitled “Islamophobia? Count me in” – has demanded that halal meat be banned and called for a boycott of Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury and the rest until they agree to stop stocking halal products. “I will buy no meat from supermarkets,” he wrote, rather melodramatically, back in 2010.
In this year’s French presidential election, candidates seemed to spend more time discussing halal meat than rising unemployment or the ballooning budget deficit. Marine Le Pen, leader of the Front National, alleged that “all the abattoirs in the Paris region sell halal meat without exception”, while the outgoing president, Nicolas Sarkozy, claimed that the halal issue was a “central concern” for French voters. (For the record, halal constitutes 2 per cent of all the meat sold in Paris.)
Last year in the Netherlands, the lower house of parliament approved a bill, introduced by the Party for the Animals (PvdD) and backed by the Islamophobe Geert Wilders’s Freedom Party, to have all ritually slaughtered meat, including halal and kosher, banned. The Dutch government refused to sign off on the bill but agreed to appoint a commission to consider tighter procedures for slaughter.
Stun guns
So, what is it about halal that provokes such anger and hysteria? The word literally means “lawful” and refers to any object – not just food – or action or behaviour that is deemed permissible under Islamic law.
For meat to be considered halal, three conditions must be met:
1) The animal must be healthy and uninjured and, crucially, it must be killed with a cut.2) All the blood must be drained from the animal’s body.3) The slaughterer must recite the appropriate Islamic prayer at the time of slaughter.
Islam, like Judaism, prescribes a single-cut method of slaughter: the animal is killed with a quick cut to the throat using a sharp knife. This allows the blood to drain out and, it is believed, makes the meat cleaner.
Naturally, the image of blood flowing out from the slit throat of a dead cow or sheep doesn’t help. But Muslims, like Jews, insist that so-called ritual slaughter is humane and pain-free because the animal quickly loses consciousness. “There is no time to start feeling any pain,” in the words of Dr Majid Katme, a former spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain.
In contrast, modern western non-ritual methods of slaughter demand that the animal be rendered unconscious before it is killed – usually by means of stunning, with a bolt gun, or electrocution. The stunning of livestock before slaughter has been compulsory in the EU since 1979 but most member states, including the UK, grant exemptions to Muslims and Jews.
So, for the moment, non-stunned halal meat is available in Britain, but contra the Mail on Sunday, there’s not enough of it to satisfy the growing demand. As a Muslim, I often have great difficulty in deciding where to eat out, given the lack of halal restaurants (hence my excitement at Benares). One recent survey suggested nine out of every ten UK Muslims adhere to the strict rules on halal eating – that is, they reluctantly opt for the salmon, and not the steak, when eating out.
Nonetheless, even though they represent just 3 per cent of the population, Britain’s two million Muslims tend to eat much more meat, on average, than their non-Muslim counterparts. Reports suggest that British Muslims consume a fifth of all red meat sold in the UK.
I have British Muslim friends who book their holiday flights on Emirates, whatever their end destination, specifically in order to be able to stop off in transit in Dubai and buy a Big Mac from the airport’s halal McDonald’s. Some Muslims, it seems, will travel to the corners of the earth in pursuit of halal food.
Is it any wonder that the UK halal meat market is estimated to be worth £3bn? Or that fast-food chains in the UK such as McDonald’s and Domino’s Pizza are working on trials offering halal meat?
Nando’s, the Portuguese mid-market restaurant chain, has perhaps gone furthest and fastest. One in five of its branches in the UK now serves halal-certified chicken, and I never cease to be amazed by the sea of hijabs among the diners at the Nando’s in south Harrow that has been my “local” for the past decade.
Then there’s KFC, which has responded to the raft of halal fried-chicken franchises (see Sophie Elmhirst’s piece on page 28) by running a halal trial in a hundred of its restaurants nationwide. On its UK website, KFC promises its customers that “our food is just as tasty and finger lickin’ good as it has always been”. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it also includes a list of defensive answers to “frequently asked questions” such as “Why have you chosen my store?” and “Does this mean your animal welfare standards have changed?”.
Protecting animals is the cover behind which critics of halal meat often hide. This month, Professor Bill Reilly, a past president of the British Veterinary Association, condemned the rise in the number of animals killed in ritual slaughter as “not acceptable”. “[I]f we cannot eliminate non-stunning, we need to keep it to the minimum,” he wrote in the Veterinary Record. “This means restricting the use of halal and kosher meat to those communities that require it for their religious beliefs and, where possible, convincing them of the acceptability of the stunned alternatives.”
Opponents of ritual slaughter cite a raft of scientific studies that condemn the practice as painful and abusive. In a much-discussed report published in 2003, the Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC), an independent body that advised the UK government until its dissolution last year, argued that ritual methods of slaughter resulted in “significant pain and distress” for the animal and recommended that Muslims and Jews be banned from slaughtering livestock without stunning the animals first.
The FAWC’s findings were backed by a major EU-funded study “on issues of religious slaughter”, which concluded in 2010: “… it can be stated with the utmost probability that animals feel pain during the throat cut without prior stunning”.
Case closed? Not quite. Ruksana Shain, of the Muslim consumer group Behalal.org, says the scientific evidence against halal slaughter “isn’t conclusive”. But she would say that, wouldn’t she? OK. Well, consider the verdict of Joe Regenstein, professor of food science at Cornell University in the United States, who leads the university’s Kosher and Halal Food Initiative.
“Many of those attacking religious slaughter have no clue as to what is happening,” he tells me. “It is more of an Islamophobic issue, not an animal well-being issue.” Compared to modern, secular methods of slaughter, he says, “the traditional or Prophetic method might actually be equal or possibly superior” because the initial pain of the throat cut results “in the animal releasing large quantities of endorphins, putting it in a state of euphoria and numbness”. The cut thus serves as its own stun. The scientific evidence against halal slaughter, Regenstein says, “is extremely weak and has often been done poorly with an agenda driving a desired outcome”.
Missing defence
To pretend that Muslims do not care about animal welfare is unfair. There are several Quranic verses and sayings of the Prophet warning Muslims not to harm livestock; mistreatment of animals is considered a sin by the vast majority of Islamic scholars. In fact, advocates of halal slaughter can call on their own slew of scientific studies for support.
In 1978, research led by Wilhelm Schulze of the University of Veterinary Medicine Hanover showed that “the slaughter in the form of a ritual cut is, if carried out properly, painless in sheep and calves according to EEG [electroencephalography] recordings and the missing defensive actions [of the animals]”. The German Federal Constitutional Court based its 2002 verdict permitting ritual slaughter on this study.
Then there are the writings and research of Temple Grandin, professor of animal sciences at Colorado State University and one of America’s leading experts on the humane treatment and slaughter of livestock. She sees no difference between stunned and non-stunned slaughter if both are conducted properly and professionally. When a ritual slaughter is “done really right”, Grandin has said, “the animal seemed to act like it didn’t even feel it – if I walked up to that animal and put my hand in its face I would have got a much bigger reaction than I observed from the cut, and that was something which really surprised me”.
Remember, the “secular ways of slaughter”, as Regenstein points out, also have their downsides: “If the public were to discover that animals were subject to a pre-slaughter intervention – like having their skull cracked open, [being] electrocuted, or put in a gas chamber – they might not really like that either.” Shouldn’t consumers have a right to know which of these methods were used? Shouldn’t they be told about the danger of “mis-stunning”, which leaves the animal conscious and in pain, and occurs “relatively frequently”, according to a 2004 report by the European Food Safety Authority? Why not label all meat with detailed explanations of how exactly the animal in question was killed, and let consumers decide? “Why only pick on halal?” Ruksana Shain asks.
In the Commons debate on food labelling on 24 April, the Labour MP Gerald Kaufman, who is Jewish, criticised Philip Davies for singling out Muslims and Jews, saying he had “picked on two small minorities who share the way in which the meat they eat is killed”. However, Kaufman added that he would not have expressed his “total opposition to this bill” if it had cast its net wider to include other animals such as chickens that had been kept in “dreadful conditions”.
Preventing animal cruelty goes far beyond the “debate” about stunning or not stunning. And ironically, not all Muslims are opposed to stunning. There are two main organisations that regulate the halal food industry in the UK – the Halal Monitoring Committee, which has a “blanket ruling disallowing stunning in any form”, and the Halal Food Authority, which allows controlled stunning where the “animal or the birds do not die prior to slaughtering”, and which has certified KFC’s stunned chicken as halal.
Thus, most Muslim, and non-Muslim, participants in the heated debate over halal meat are ignoring a critical point. Data produced by the Meat Hygiene Service in 2004 suggested that roughly 90 per cent of halal slaughter in the UK involved stunning. In September 2011, the Food Standards Agency reported that “the majority of animals destined for the halal trade in both the red and white meat sectors are stunned before slaughter”. So what’s all the fuss about?
Consider the scare stories from the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday, which automatically assume that all halal meat derives from the traditional,  non-stunned method of slaughter. What drove both papers’ coverage of the story? Are we seriously expected to believe that either the Mail or the Mail on Sunday gives a damn about animal rights? I struggle to recall the last occasion on which either tabloid splashed on the abuse or neglect of animals. More often than not, Mail columnists reserve rather harsh words (“deranged fanatics”, to quote Richard Littlejohn) for animal rights activists.
Crucially, if the hysteria over halal meat in Britain isn’t the product of Islamophobia, how do halal-obsessed politicians and journalists explain their silence on the subject of kosher meat? The 2003 Farm Animal Welfare Council report condemned both halal and kosher methods of slaughter. Yet, for instance, the Mail on Sunday, despite referring to “ritually slaughtered meat” in the headline of its “Britain goes halal …” report, went on to discuss only halal meat for the first 24 paragraphs of the piece before mentioning kosher meat – in passing – in the 25th paragraph.
The truth is that halal has become a proxy for much deeper fears and concerns about the presence of a growing and vocal Muslim population in our midst. “It’s being used as a political issue, especially by xenophobic and Islamophobic folks, to whip up a backlash against ‘the other’,” Regenstein says.
To pretend otherwise is naive, if not disingenuous. If this was a debate about animal welfare, it would be about all forms of slaughter; if it was a debate about ritual slaughter, it would address kosher, and not just halal, meat.
“Why only pick on halal?” It’s an important question in need of an urgent answer.

Halal hysteria

The British “debate” about meat, animal cruelty and ritual slaughter has become a proxy for deep fears about Muslims in our midst.

BY MEHDI HASAN PUBLISHED 09 MAY 2012


I am sitting in one of London’s finest Indian restaurants, Benares, in the heart of Mayfair. I’ve just placed an order for the “Tandoori Ratan” mixed-grill appetiser – a trio of fennel lamb chop, chicken cutlet and king prawn.

I’ll be honest with you: I’m pretty excited. Most of the upmarket restaurants in London do not cater for the city’s burgeoning Muslim population. Benares is one of the few exceptions: all of the lamb and chicken dishes on its menu are halal.

The restaurant opened in 2003 and its owner, Atul Kochhar, is a Michelin-starred chef. “Right from day one, we’ve kept our lamb and chicken halal,” Kochhar says. “It was a very conscious decision because I grew up in India, a secular country, where I was taught to have respect for all religions.” Kochhar, who is a Hindu, says Muslims make up “easily between 10 and 20 per cent” of his regular diners. It isn’t just a taste for religious pluralism that has dictated the contents of his menu; serving halal meat makes commercial, as well as cultural, sense.

To other, perhaps less tolerant types, however, the rise and rise of halal meat in the west and here in the UK, in particular, is a source of tension, controversy, fear and loathing. British Muslims are living through a period of halal hysteria, a moral panic over our meat. First there came 9/11, 7/7 and the “Islamic” terror threat; then there was the row over the niqab (face veil) and hijab (headscarf); now, astonishingly, it’s the frenzy over halal meat.

Last month, MPs in the Commons rejected a ten-minute-rule bill that would have made it mandatory for retailers to label all of the halal and kosher meat on sale and make it clear on the packaging that the animals were “killed without stunning”. The bill’s proponent, the Tory backbencher Philip Davies, claimed that the meat was being “forced upon” shoppers “without their knowledge”. It was defeated by the narrowest of margins – 73 votes to 70.

As is so often the case, the right-wing press is behind much of the fear-mongering and misinformation. “Britain goes halal … but no one tells the public,” screamed the front-page headline in the Mail on Sunday on 19 September 2010. The paper claimed that supermarkets, restaurants, schools, hospitals, pubs and big sporting venues such as Wembley Stadium were “controversially serving up meat slaughtered in accordance with strict Islamic law to unwitting members of the public”.

The following week, readers were treated to two more stories suggesting a sinister plot to inflict halal meat on innocent, animal-loving, non-Muslim Britons. “How 70 per cent of New Zealand lamb imports to Britain are halal … but this is NOT put on the label”, said the Daily Mail on 25 September 2010. “Top supermarkets secretly sell halal: Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Waitrose and M&S don’t tell us meat is ritually slaughtered,” proclaimed the Mail on Sunday the next day.

With the threat from terrorism receding, Britain’s Islam-baiters have jumped on the anti-halal bandwagon, and not just the neo-fascists of the British National Party and the English Defence League, which has a page on its website devoted to its (anti-) “halal campaign”, but mainstream commentators, too. The Spectator’s Rod Liddle – who once wrote a column entitled “Islamophobia? Count me in” – has demanded that halal meat be banned and called for a boycott of Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury and the rest until they agree to stop stocking halal products. “I will buy no meat from supermarkets,” he wrote, rather melodramatically, back in 2010.

In this year’s French presidential election, candidates seemed to spend more time discussing halal meat than rising unemployment or the ballooning budget deficit. Marine Le Pen, leader of the Front National, alleged that “all the abattoirs in the Paris region sell halal meat without exception”, while the outgoing president, Nicolas Sarkozy, claimed that the halal issue was a “central concern” for French voters. (For the record, halal constitutes 2 per cent of all the meat sold in Paris.)

Last year in the Netherlands, the lower house of parliament approved a bill, introduced by the Party for the Animals (PvdD) and backed by the Islamophobe Geert Wilders’s Freedom Party, to have all ritually slaughtered meat, including halal and kosher, banned. The Dutch government refused to sign off on the bill but agreed to appoint a commission to consider tighter procedures for slaughter.

Stun guns

So, what is it about halal that provokes such anger and hysteria? The word literally means “lawful” and refers to any object – not just food – or action or behaviour that is deemed permissible under Islamic law.

For meat to be considered halal, three conditions must be met:

1) The animal must be healthy and uninjured and, crucially, it must be killed with a cut.
2) All the blood must be drained from the animal’s body.
3) The slaughterer must recite the appropriate Islamic prayer at the time of slaughter.

Islam, like Judaism, prescribes a single-cut method of slaughter: the animal is killed with a quick cut to the throat using a sharp knife. This allows the blood to drain out and, it is believed, makes the meat cleaner.

Naturally, the image of blood flowing out from the slit throat of a dead cow or sheep doesn’t help. But Muslims, like Jews, insist that so-called ritual slaughter is humane and pain-free because the animal quickly loses consciousness. “There is no time to start feeling any pain,” in the words of Dr Majid Katme, a former spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain.

In contrast, modern western non-ritual methods of slaughter demand that the animal be rendered unconscious before it is killed – usually by means of stunning, with a bolt gun, or electrocution. The stunning of livestock before slaughter has been compulsory in the EU since 1979 but most member states, including the UK, grant exemptions to Muslims and Jews.

So, for the moment, non-stunned halal meat is available in Britain, but contra the Mail on Sunday, there’s not enough of it to satisfy the growing demand. As a Muslim, I often have great difficulty in deciding where to eat out, given the lack of halal restaurants (hence my excitement at Benares). One recent survey suggested nine out of every ten UK Muslims adhere to the strict rules on halal eating – that is, they reluctantly opt for the salmon, and not the steak, when eating out.

Nonetheless, even though they represent just 3 per cent of the population, Britain’s two million Muslims tend to eat much more meat, on average, than their non-Muslim counterparts. Reports suggest that British Muslims consume a fifth of all red meat sold in the UK.

I have British Muslim friends who book their holiday flights on Emirates, whatever their end destination, specifically in order to be able to stop off in transit in Dubai and buy a Big Mac from the airport’s halal McDonald’s. Some Muslims, it seems, will travel to the corners of the earth in pursuit of halal food.

Is it any wonder that the UK halal meat market is estimated to be worth £3bn? Or that fast-food chains in the UK such as McDonald’s and Domino’s Pizza are working on trials offering halal meat?

Nando’s, the Portuguese mid-market restaurant chain, has perhaps gone furthest and fastest. One in five of its branches in the UK now serves halal-certified chicken, and I never cease to be amazed by the sea of hijabs among the diners at the Nando’s in south Harrow that has been my “local” for the past decade.

Then there’s KFC, which has responded to the raft of halal fried-chicken franchises (see Sophie Elmhirst’s piece on page 28) by running a halal trial in a hundred of its restaurants nationwide. On its UK website, KFC promises its customers that “our food is just as tasty and finger lickin’ good as it has always been”. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it also includes a list of defensive answers to “frequently asked questions” such as “Why have you chosen my store?” and “Does this mean your animal welfare standards have changed?”.

Protecting animals is the cover behind which critics of halal meat often hide. This month, Professor Bill Reilly, a past president of the British Veterinary Association, condemned the rise in the number of animals killed in ritual slaughter as “not acceptable”. “[I]f we cannot eliminate non-stunning, we need to keep it to the minimum,” he wrote in the Veterinary Record. “This means restricting the use of halal and kosher meat to those communities that require it for their religious beliefs and, where possible, convincing them of the acceptability of the stunned alternatives.”

Opponents of ritual slaughter cite a raft of scientific studies that condemn the practice as painful and abusive. In a much-discussed report published in 2003, the Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC), an independent body that advised the UK government until its dissolution last year, argued that ritual methods of slaughter resulted in “significant pain and distress” for the animal and recommended that Muslims and Jews be banned from slaughtering livestock without stunning the animals first.

The FAWC’s findings were backed by a major EU-funded study “on issues of religious slaughter”, which concluded in 2010: “… it can be stated with the utmost probability that animals feel pain during the throat cut without prior stunning”.

Case closed? Not quite. Ruksana Shain, of the Muslim consumer group Behalal.org, says the scientific evidence against halal slaughter “isn’t conclusive”. But she would say that, wouldn’t she? OK. Well, consider the verdict of Joe Regenstein, professor of food science at Cornell University in the United States, who leads the university’s Kosher and Halal Food Initiative.

“Many of those attacking religious slaughter have no clue as to what is happening,” he tells me. “It is more of an Islamophobic issue, not an animal well-being issue.” Compared to modern, secular methods of slaughter, he says, “the traditional or Prophetic method might actually be equal or possibly superior” because the initial pain of the throat cut results “in the animal releasing large quantities of endorphins, putting it in a state of euphoria and numbness”. The cut thus serves as its own stun. The scientific evidence against halal slaughter, Regenstein says, “is extremely weak and has often been done poorly with an agenda driving a desired outcome”.

Missing defence

To pretend that Muslims do not care about animal welfare is unfair. There are several Quranic verses and sayings of the Prophet warning Muslims not to harm livestock; mistreatment of animals is considered a sin by the vast majority of Islamic scholars. In fact, advocates of halal slaughter can call on their own slew of scientific studies for support.

In 1978, research led by Wilhelm Schulze of the University of Veterinary Medicine Hanover showed that “the slaughter in the form of a ritual cut is, if carried out properly, painless in sheep and calves according to EEG [electroencephalography] recordings and the missing defensive actions [of the animals]”. The German Federal Constitutional Court based its 2002 verdict permitting ritual slaughter on this study.

Then there are the writings and research of Temple Grandin, professor of animal sciences at Colorado State University and one of America’s leading experts on the humane treatment and slaughter of livestock. She sees no difference between stunned and non-stunned slaughter if both are conducted properly and professionally. When a ritual slaughter is “done really right”, Grandin has said, “the animal seemed to act like it didn’t even feel it – if I walked up to that animal and put my hand in its face I would have got a much bigger reaction than I observed from the cut, and that was something which really surprised me”.

Remember, the “secular ways of slaughter”, as Regenstein points out, also have their downsides: “If the public were to discover that animals were subject to a pre-slaughter intervention – like having their skull cracked open, [being] electrocuted, or put in a gas chamber – they might not really like that either.” Shouldn’t consumers have a right to know which of these methods were used? Shouldn’t they be told about the danger of “mis-stunning”, which leaves the animal conscious and in pain, and occurs “relatively frequently”, according to a 2004 report by the European Food Safety Authority? Why not label all meat with detailed explanations of how exactly the animal in question was killed, and let consumers decide? “Why only pick on halal?” Ruksana Shain asks.

In the Commons debate on food labelling on 24 April, the Labour MP Gerald Kaufman, who is Jewish, criticised Philip Davies for singling out Muslims and Jews, saying he had “picked on two small minorities who share the way in which the meat they eat is killed”. However, Kaufman added that he would not have expressed his “total opposition to this bill” if it had cast its net wider to include other animals such as chickens that had been kept in “dreadful conditions”.

Preventing animal cruelty goes far beyond the “debate” about stunning or not stunning. And ironically, not all Muslims are opposed to stunning. There are two main organisations that regulate the halal food industry in the UK – the Halal Monitoring Committee, which has a “blanket ruling disallowing stunning in any form”, and the Halal Food Authority, which allows controlled stunning where the “animal or the birds do not die prior to slaughtering”, and which has certified KFC’s stunned chicken as halal.

Thus, most Muslim, and non-Muslim, participants in the heated debate over halal meat are ignoring a critical point. Data produced by the Meat Hygiene Service in 2004 suggested that roughly 90 per cent of halal slaughter in the UK involved stunning. In September 2011, the Food Standards Agency reported that “the majority of animals destined for the halal trade in both the red and white meat sectors are stunned before slaughter”. So what’s all the fuss about?

Consider the scare stories from the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday, which automatically assume that all halal meat derives from the traditional,  non-stunned method of slaughter. What drove both papers’ coverage of the story? Are we seriously expected to believe that either the Mail or the Mail on Sunday gives a damn about animal rights? I struggle to recall the last occasion on which either tabloid splashed on the abuse or neglect of animals. More often than not, Mail columnists reserve rather harsh words (“deranged fanatics”, to quote Richard Littlejohn) for animal rights activists.

Crucially, if the hysteria over halal meat in Britain isn’t the product of Islamophobia, how do halal-obsessed politicians and journalists explain their silence on the subject of kosher meat? The 2003 Farm Animal Welfare Council report condemned both halal and kosher methods of slaughter. Yet, for instance, the Mail on Sunday, despite referring to “ritually slaughtered meat” in the headline of its “Britain goes halal …” report, went on to discuss only halal meat for the first 24 paragraphs of the piece before mentioning kosher meat – in passing – in the 25th paragraph.

The truth is that halal has become a proxy for much deeper fears and concerns about the presence of a growing and vocal Muslim population in our midst. “It’s being used as a political issue, especially by xenophobic and Islamophobic folks, to whip up a backlash against ‘the other’,” Regenstein says.

To pretend otherwise is naive, if not disingenuous. If this was a debate about animal welfare, it would be about all forms of slaughter; if it was a debate about ritual slaughter, it would address kosher, and not just halal, meat.

“Why only pick on halal?” It’s an important question in need of an urgent answer.