Label or Libel, asks Chanoch Kesselman

Jun 24, 2010

The recent European vote for all shechita meat not used by Jews to be labelled as produced “from unstunned slaughter” has been heralded by consumer groups, veterinary associations and animal welfare councils as a welcome move. As one prominent veterinarian put it, “We have rules for animal welfare that we believe are necessary to prevent animals from suffering. The concession has already been made to faith groups, who continue to be allowed to slaughter in their traditional way. It was wrong that consumers were being duped into unknowingly supporting no-stun slaughter. The European Parliament has done well to correct this wrong.” People have asked, “What is this meat that is slaughtered by the Jewish method, shechita, but is not eaten by Jews; if they don’t eat it why do they kill it?”

To look for the answer it is necessary to understand some of the background to the requirements of Kashrut. Every animal that is intended for kosher consumption must be healthy and uninjured before slaughter and must have a rigorous anatomical examination afterwards. The Shochet, whose official title in Hebrew is Shochet U’Bodek meaning “shochet and examiner” is also a highly qualified expert in this anatomical examination. If there are any defects in the internal organs, especially the lungs, the animal may not be passed as Kosher (correct according to Jewish law).

This is not to say that the animal is not fit for human consumption, but rather it does not conform to the religious criteria that is required as detailed in Halacha (Jewish law) and it is adjudged to be treifa, that is, not kosher . Because of the strict guidelines which must be applied to kosher animals – including the parts containing certain forbidden fat and sinews which are difficult to effectively remove – a major proportion of animals slaughtered by shechita cannot be directly utilised on the kosher market. This meat which is wholesome and perfectly edible (and passed by the Meat Hygiene Service in the UK) is sold on the general non-kosher market. The answer to the question above can now be better understood.

The EU vote has now paved the way for this non-kosher meat to be labelled as meat slaughtered without pre-stunning. The intention is to induce the non-Jewish consumer to keep well away from such meat by selectively identifying its provenance. The result being that the wholesalers who till now have bought this meat will now find that they have no customers for it. Consequently the Kosher meat industry will have to increase the prices of the kosher meat that is sold to Jewish customers with the effect that it may be unaffordable to most Jewish households and so bring about the demise of shechita. Make no mistake, this is exactly what the anti shechita lobby want to achieve. It is a subtle plan because it appears, on the face of it, that there is no malice aforethought and to the reasonable man there is no harm in the consumer knowing the slaughter provenance of the meat he is eating. Indeed, they argue, the consumer has a right to know how his meat was slaughtered.

But let us scratch this genteel veneer a little and the real biased and malicious motives for labelling will become evident. Their basic premise is predicated on the false assumption that shechita is not a humane method. They, the anti-shechita lobby (the ASL), bring proofs for this assumption from scientific research and experiments which, they claim, demonstrate that stunning an animal before slaughter eliminates any feeling of pain. Since Jews are not allowed to stun before shechita, it follows that the Jewish method causes unnecessary pain and suffering to the animal and is therefore a cruel method of slaughter with the logical implication that Jews are a cruel people. Here we see blatant anti-Semitism at work. There are those who say to us “If there is anything that you Jews don’t like the first thing you say is ‘It’s anti-Semitic!’”; but of course we do say it because it is.

It is anti-Semitic to completely ignore the abundant scientific evidence by eminent scientists, both Jewish and non Jewish who have demonstrated that shechita is a most humane method of slaughter, and not only painless for the animal but is also from a hygiene point, healthy for human consumption. It is anti-Semitic for the ASL to quote as definitive, the science against shechita, when those scientists themselves have said their findings are inconclusive and need further research. It is anti-Semitic to require the law to label shechita meat but to exclude a requirement to label other methods of slaughter also. It is anti-Semitic to conceal from the general consumer that millions of animals and birds are repeatedly mis-stunned and restunned by ineffective “humane” stunning methods, while at the same time drawing the public’s attention to the very small number of animals slaughtered by shechita; it is as if the denigrating of the Jewish method will bring about a cleansing of their own slaughtering shortcomings. It is anti-Semitic to lecture us on “consumer rights” and the “benefits” of labelling when Jews were the first to introduce a label attesting to the fitness of meat. It is anti-Semitic to repudiate the integrity of Jews by claiming that their religious slaughter methods are incompatible with the principles of animal welfare, when the truth is that the Torah was the very first to mandate kindness to animals. It is anti-Semitic to attempt to bring about the end of freedom of religious practice for Jews to use shechita so that they may eat kosher meat according to their religious requirements.

The world’s media is gridlocked with misinformation about shechita, some of it born from sheer ignorance but much of it from malice. In New Zealand this malice has already manifested itself in the Government’s total ban on all shechita. We must not be complacent by remaining silent in the path of this new European attack on shechita and religious freedom.