VEGA News Item

Kosher Complicity in Cruel Slaughter - 22/02/2008
In recent years kosher meat producers have been exploiting climates and pastures in South America as sources of cheap meat...
Kosher Complicity in Cruel Slaughter

1. In recent years kosher meat producers have been exploiting climates and pastures in South America as sources of cheap meat, traded on the hoof or hook. The labor is cheap and the open pastures on which the cattle are raised mean that much of the meat can be marketed with “natural” and “free range” attributes. The possibilities also exist and are exploited in the general market to bring beef from Brazil, as well as from Ireland, and – in the halal market – to send beef and animals to the Middle East. Many of such animals are shipped from Australia and New Zealand; however, public outrage over live exports looks set to restrict the movements of live animals from New Zealand, where arrangements have been made to reconcile the stipulations of normal procedures with those required for halal and kosher slaughter. This accommodation seems remarkable, but it seems to achieve common “least bad” practices and obviates the need for arduous journeys by sea. However, the needs for the kosher trade in Israel have not been as well met.

2. Most of Israel’s beef – and a lot of America’s kosher meat – now comes from South America, where every major kosher meat producer has set up a South American operation. In this process a bovine animal is shackled by a hind leg and hoisted off the ground to give access to the thrashing animal for the ritual horizontal cut, which should be made with a special knife. In non-Jewish and non-halal methods of stun-stick-bleed out the animal is hoist only after it has collapsed in a pen and should not regain consciousness before the bleed out is succeeded by supervening death. The animal may be swinging and struggling during this time and a process called pithing may be introduced to lessen the death throes in non-Jewish and non-halal practice. Small animals, such as sheep and goats may be turned on their back in a cradle (or cratch) so that the respective procedures and omissions can be operated. For hygiene reasons the animals should be swung on a rail to clear the floor.

3. The process described in a recent PETA video has been damned by Temple Grandin, an American expert, as being “ in a category by itself for badness”; she has advised many kosher meat companies. Large animals “hanging from a single leg, struggling and bellowing” is awful to see and hear, as is the sequel “once the animal is put on the ground, it is shown writhing and being restrained by multiple workers who step on it and prod it before the cut. “It is cruel to the animals and it is dangerous to the employees”, Grandin adds. Swinging a heavy animal by a single leg reminds of practices a century or more ago, when animals were hobbled and thrown on the floor to execute the mortal cuts. Moreover, yanking the animal up puts an appalling strain on the hip and its socket and consequent pain for the animals not even rendered unconscious. “It’s not the kind of system that we want to have, that we should be proud of”, Rabbi Menachem Genack, the CEO of Orthodox Union’s Kosher Division, says. The Rabbinical Assembly of Conservative Judaism passed a ruling in 2000 calling the shackle and hoist method “a violation of Jewish law”; and in anticipation of the new revelations, the organization reiterated its opposition at a meeting earlier this week.

4. Commenting on activities at a plant shown in a video in Montevideo, Uruguay, Rabbi Seth Mandel, the Orthodox Union’s top expert on South American meat, says that the scenes depicted are not only “unusual – this would not be allowed to go on in plants [slaughtering] for the USA.” Despite the concerns of the Orthodox Union, the organization still certifies kosher plants in South America that use shackle and hoist; indeed most kosher meat entering the USA from South America is produced using this method, according to Genack, who added that “change has been slow to come because the Israelis are the major force in South America and thus dictate the standards of meat production in the region…” We must hope that British buyers heed the warnings, which also place responsibility on DEFRA, the Food Standards Agency, and the labelling authorities. It also requires vigilance in tracing the origins of manufactured products Rabbinical authorities say “that the chief rabbi’s mandate that cows be upside down is because the blood drains faster and the animal cannot fall on the knife.”

5. An earlier video released by PETA dealt with America’s biggest kosher slaughterhouse, AgriProcesors, which is located in Iowa. The firm is the only kosher meat processor in America that is certified to export meat to Israel. The company uses “what is known as a rotating pen to meet the Israeli standard that the animal be upside down when it is slaughtered.” This is a contraption for capsizing live cattle and is of the Weinberg type. It should be consigned to the scrapheap and PETA should have nothing to do with it. British vets are seeking to condemn it. As far as we know, Germany is the only country in Europe still using it, probably because the Germans are now extra-sensitive to any criticism of Jewish practice.

6. The Weinberg capsizing pen was introduced many years ago and was acclaimed by the RSPCA, but it gained bad repute. Some terrified animals struggled free or nearly free and the awful struggles meant that animals dashed their head on the floor, with much injury and bloodiness, before the shocket could use his knife. These appalling preliminaries could last 90 seconds of terror or more and they made an evil mockery of any pretence to achieve a kill on a “perfect” animal. In American kosher slaughterhouses today the Orthodox Union mandates standing slaughter, “which it promotes partially for humane reasons.” The standing position suits the felling of the animal in the stunning box by a blow on the head or by electric shock and animals destined for the Jewish rituals can be placed with their heads in yoke and with a vigorous upward thrust of the knife severance of the major vessels in the neck can be accomplished.

7. The kosher “rush” into South America began in 1950, according to the Israeli Chief Rabbinate. Today, nearly 60,000 tons of meat comes into Israel each year from South America. Cheap labor is the main attraction, which is also a primary reason that companies opt for the shackle and hoist method. The technique relies on little technology, but a comparatively large number of laborers to restrain the cattle. Most American companies use their South American “product” for processed meats like salami and bologna – a choice driven in part because the cows are raised on grass, which does not make the meat as fatty as corn-fed American beef. Recently, though, grass-fed beef has taken on it own allure with the explosion of the demand for free-range meat. Both kosher authorities and animal rights activists say that before the slaughtering begins, conditions in South America make for more pleasant living conditions that in South America, where most cattle are confined to feedlots for their entire lives.  

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