Guest Post: A Wake-Up Call About Kosher Meat

by Michael Croland, Heeb’n'Vegan

Last week, video footage from an undercover investigation of Local Pride, a kosher slaughterhouse in Nebraska, was released by PETA. The footage shows that cows had their ears mutilated to remove ID tags and their throats ripped into with a hook—all while they were still conscious. Veterinarian Dr. Holly Cheever commented, “This method of slaughter as depicted on this tape is brutal and should be amended to provide a humane end for these animals.”

The cruelty at Local Pride is part of a larger pattern in the kosher meat industry—a pattern of disregarding animal welfare and following only the letter of the law and not the spirit of it. Local Pride is owned by Sholom Rubashkin, whose AgriProcessors plant in Iowa (the world’s largest glatt kosher slaugherhouse) was investigated by PETA in 2004. That investigation produced infamous video footage in which cows had their tracheas ripped out while they were still conscious, among other abuses. Following that investigation, AgriProcessors said stun guns would be used on cows who remained conscious for an extended period of time. Stun guns would put suffering animals out of their misery, but they were not used at Local Pride.

We find ourselves with another wake-up call that the kosher meat industry—or at least its principal players—is causing unnecessary animal suffering (tza’ar ba’alei hayim). As Rabbi Haviva Ner-David wrote in an article published in the Jerusalem Report last week, “Truth be told, if we consider complying with the requirements of tza’ar ba’alei hayim a requirement for meat to be considered ‘kosher,’ today’s food industry renders all meat production non-kosher.”

Cruelty to animals in the kosher meat industry is not limited to one isolated incident. The Local Pride abuses happened in a slaughterhouse owned by someone who had already been in the public spotlight and was supposedly working to correct matters. Recent debates about kashrut in the Jewish community have largely focused on labor issues and the tzedek hechsher initiative. Like the AgriProcessors scandal before it, the Local Pride investigation highlights that animals raised and slaughtered for kosher meat are often treated in a manner that’s inconsistent with Jewish values of compassion for animals. Like the cows’ bellowing in the Local Pride video footage, this latest controversy screams out for a holistic review of the kosher meat industry and Jews’ consumption of meat.

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5 Responses to “Guest Post: A Wake-Up Call About Kosher Meat”

  1. Richard Schwartz Says:

    Kol hakavod (kudos) to Michael for this very thoughtful analysis.

    I believe that the horrific scenes of the mistreatment of animals at the Postville glatt kosher slaughterhouse and the efforts of some Jewish groups to defend the facility’s procedures raise questions that go to the heart and soul of Judaism: If slaughterhouse procedures are not consistently monitored for strict adherence to the ideals of shechita, are we carrying out our mandate to be “rachmanim b’nei rachmanim” (compassionate children of compassionate ancestors)? Are we failing in our obligation to properly imitate G-d, Whose “tender mercies are over all His creatures” (Psalms 145:9)? If, as is recited at synagogue services every Sabbath and Yom tov morning, “the soul of every living creature shall bless G-d’s Name,” can we expect these cruelly treated animals to join in the praise? If, “the righteous person considers the life of his or her animal” (Proverbs 12:10), how will we be judged, based on our treatment of animals?

    Even if shechita is carried out perfectly and pain during slaughter is minimized, can we ignore the many violations of Jewish teachings on compassion to animals that occur daily in the mistreatment of billions of animals on “factory farms” in the United States and worldwide?

    Finally, perhaps the most important question: since Judaism mandates that we should diligently guard our health, treat animals with compassion, protect the environment, conserve natural resources, and help hungry people, and since animal-based diets and agriculture have major negative effects in each of these areas, shouldn’t Jews (and others) seriously consider a switch toward meatless diets?

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