REVELATIONS by the ABC’s Four Corners last month of the mistreatment of animals in Indonesian slaughterhouses has led to an outbreak of unwarranted and misinformed criticism of kosher slaughter in Australia.
The first thing that needs to be understood is that there is absolutely no connection between kosher slaughter and the horrific footage from Indonesia shown by the program on May 30.
Those shocking practices would violate the most fundamental principles of kosher slaughter and all animals shown in that program would be unfit for kosher consumption because of their mistreatment. The Australian Jewish community supports the government’s decision to act to urgently effect change in Indonesia to the practices revealed by Four Corners.
By contrast, a cardinal principle of kosher slaughter is specifically to protect the animal’s welfare and prevent suffering. This is why the rules of kosher slaughter of livestock require that the animal be sound and healthy in every way, and not subject to injury, cruelty or impairment of any kind until the moment its neck is cut.
Over hundreds of years, methods have developed to keep animal suffering to an absolute minimum during kosher slaughter. The slaughterman must be well-trained and highly skilled specifically to avoid mistakes that may cause suffering. The knife used must be long and span the neck of the animal. It must be honed to razor sharpness before each separate use to ensure a quick, clean, single cut and rapid loss of consciousness by the animal before the onset of pain. The knife is carefully checked by a supervisor before each kill to ensure there are no signs of imperfection. As with non-kosher slaughter, the animal dies from lack of oxygen. It does not bleed to death.
It is wrong to suggest that if the animal is not stunned before its neck is cut it suffers unnecessary pain. In kosher slaughter in Australia, cattle are stunned immediately after the throat is cut and before the onset of pain. Sheep are much smaller and, correctly slaughtered by the kosher method, become unconscious between two and eight seconds after the neck is cut, well before the onset of pain.
The allegation that loss of consciousness can take up to 20 seconds to occur in sheep, repeated in The Sunday Age last week, is based on studies of generic ”slaughter without stunning”, not kosher slaughter.
These studies, such as one carried out by New Zealand’s Massey University, not only did not attempt to duplicate the safeguards provided under kosher slaughter, including the knife’s size, sharpness and smoothness, and the training and skill of the slaughterman, but have also been criticised by independent experts for extrapolating conclusions about calves to sheep and even poultry, despite fundamental physiological distinctions.
Professor Temple Grandin of Colorado State University is arguably the world’s foremost authority on the humane treatment of livestock and was one of the experts interviewed on the Four Corners program. She has conducted studies on kosher slaughter, and critiqued the Massey study in the April 2010 edition of Meat and Poultry magazine.
She stated: ”I have observed that cattle held in an upright restraint device had almost no reaction to correctly done kosher slaughter that was performed with a special long knife. The cut with the special knife appeared to not cause pain.” Elsewhere she notes that ”it appears the animal is not aware that its throat has been cut” in kosher slaughter.
Dr Flemming Bager, head of the Danish Veterinary Laboratory, conducted similar experiments in 1992, which likewise indicated that the animals felt no pain and, indeed, did not even pull away as their throat was cut, even when they had no body restraints. Dr Stuart Rosen of Imperial College London noted in his paper titled ”Physiological Insights into Shechita”, published in The Veterinary Record (June 12, 2004): ”Shechita [kosher slaughter] is a painless and humane method of animal slaughter.”
By contrast, it is not clear that stunning is always effective in preventing suffering. Captive bolt stunning (the most common form of stunning used in Australia) involves delivering a heavy blow to the animal’s head before its throat is cut.
Ordinarily, the animal should be rendered unconscious instantly but sometimes the stunning is botched and the animal undergoes unnecessary suffering. Jewish law does not permit pre-stunning because of the requirement that the animal must not be injured or mistreated in any way before it is slaughtered.
Kosher slaughter has been lawful in Australia since the mid-19th century and, like all animal slaughter, has been subject to strict government regulation. Contrary to the claims in The Sunday Age, there is no credible evidence that it is not a humane method of slaughter and considerable evidence that it is. Suggesting that kosher slaughter should be banned not only violates freedom of religion, which is an essential value on which this country was founded, but flies in the face of both scientific evidence and common sense.
*Dr Danny Lamm is president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.