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Putting a modern face on slaughter

Turkish authorities try to clean up ritual killing

By CNN's Alphonso Van Marsh

A cow is dragged through the streets of Istanbul.
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ISTANBUL, Turkey (CNN) -- Turkish veterinarian Dr. Tashin Yesildere is stuck in holiday traffic. But it is not the cars that have him worked up -- it's the roadside tents of sheep and cows on sale for the Feast of the Sacrifice, known as "Bayram" in his country.

And as Turkey heads on the path to European Union membership negotiations, its leadership is now trying to negotiate with its own people to clean up the centuries-old Muslim tradition carried out this week.

Some Islamic scholars say the Koran sanctions sacrifice as a form of worship.

And Muslim Turks, like Muslims worldwide this holiday, slit the throat of an animal until it bleeds to death, process the meat and distribute some of it to the poor.

Critics say the public spectacle is cruel.

Says Yesildere, of the Istanbul Chamber of Veterinary Medicine: "The slaughter creates unnecessary pain for the animals."

Istanbul's Health Ministry says there are health risks too.

As Istanbul's population grows, there are fewer open places to slaughter hygienically the estimated 160,000 animals that will die by Monday -- mostly by amateur butchers at homes, public gardens or livestock tents.

Says Huner Ozturk of Istanbul's Health Department: "People leave animal intestines out on the street and a few days later, their own children may come out and catch parasites from the leftovers."

Yesildere says if the government really cared, it would adopt Western-style methods and regulations and restrict the sacrifices to properly equipped slaughter houses.

"It's not the people who are at fault here. It is the local officials, the health ministry -- they should be prosecuted for allowing this to happen," he says.

Turkish authorities say they are cleaning up Bayram -- threatening $1,400 dollar fines for culling livestock or dumping carcasses in public.

To make the holiday more safe and sanitary, Turkish authorities put up signs indicating municipal slaughter centers.

I visited one such site. In this particular Istanbul neighborhood, the slaughter center is right under a bridge.

Follow the blood, just up the hill from Istanbul headquarters of Turkey's ruling political party, you'll find what we were told was the "official" butcher block.

At the tail end of a culling, the butcher got an unwelcome grilling from Yesildere.

"We are working here to get you to kill animals more humanely," he told them.

"No! It's not for us," said the man. "You are working for the Americans and Europeans because you want us to present a good image, but I disagree.

"I don't believe you are even a vet!" he said before walking away.

Meanwhile, people continued to buy the animals.

Istanbul's Health Ministry admits it can't change attitudes -- or provide enough slaughter centers -- overnight.

Yesildere says this holiday weekend, this secular country will have a tough time putting a modern face on a centuries-old Muslim tradition.

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