Update (June 20, 2014): See Keeping Kosher Update feature.
Update (June 30, 2011): Farm Forward has verified that the Israeli chief rabbinate has not followed up on its promise to stop certifying as kosher meat from animals killed using the painful shackle and hoist method in South American slaughterhouses. We alerted Israeli activists to this lack of progress last month, resulting in this article in the premier Israeli newspaper, Haaretz. Farm Forward remains committed to working with the vast majority of American and Israeli Jews who, in the best spirit of the Abrahamic religions’ tradition of compassion for animals, want to see this cruelty ended. “The horrible deaths received by animals in these South American slaughterhouses is the most egregious animal welfare problem in kosher slaughter today,” notes Farm Forward founder Aaron Gross. “Farm Forward has a special commitment to working with religious communities of all kinds that want to address the problems of factory farming in ways specific to each community. Factory farming is not an ethical problem relevant only to secular society. It is a problem for any person of faith who believes animals are more than mere things.”
Update (June 23, 2010): Roughly a month after the release of PETA’s undercover investigation, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger announced that starting in 2011 he will no longer certify as kosher animals killed in slaughterhouses that use the widely condemned “shackle and hoist” slaughter method. Today roughly 80% of Israel’s kosher meat imports come from South American slaughterhouses that use shackle and hoist. The same slaughterhouses presently supply the majority of America’s kosher beef as well. Farm Forward commends the Chief Rabbi on his decision and is cautiously optimistic that the tremendous pressure his actions have created will lead to the end of shackle and hoist in kosher slaughter globally. We will continue our diplomatic efforts to end shackle and hoist until we can report that the practice has stopped.1
Earlier today the Los Angeles Times broke a disturbing and all-too-familiar story of egregious animal abuse caught on videotape by an undercover investigator.2 Farm Forward provided a range of consultation services that made the investigation a success. This investigation is especially significant because the abuse occurred at a kosher abattoir certified by the nation’s premier kosher certification agency, the Orthodox Union. The robust tradition of compassion for animals that is a shared feature of all the Abrahamic traditions has long been something that has inspired Farm Forward’s Executive Staff. For these very personal reasons, this systematic abuse of farmed animals and endangerment of workers is especially painful. But more than that, when religious institutions unrepentantly support the cruelty of the factory farm industry, they do more than simply contribute to suffering—they use the authority of religion to defend the indefensible. This should concern Americans of all faiths.
The investigation, spearheaded by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), showed that the nation’s largest supplier of kosher beef, Alle Processors, relies on South American abattoirs that use the cruel “shackle and hoist” method of slaughter. Virtually all experts in animal behavior—and the rabbinic authorities themselves—agree that the process of shackle and hoist slaughter causes animals more suffering and workers more danger when compared to all other techniques presently in use. The nation’s most respected expert on animal welfare during slaughter, Dr. Temple Grandin, said in response to the investigation, “It’s a really terrible practice and it needs to stop. It’s that simple.”3 The Conservative movement, accounting for nearly 40% of American Jewry, has had a policy for nearly a decade that prohibits shackle and hoist as a violation of the Jewish principle of compassion for animals.4 Farm Forward has learned that the Orthodox Union, which currently certifies meat produced by these methods, is quietly working to end the practice.
If the Orthodox Union would prefer to see an end to the use of shackle and hoist as a method of slaughter, why do they continue to certify meat that comes from facilities in which this practice is performed? Their answer is very clear: The importance of supplying a regular stream of kosher beef takes precedence over animal suffering and the danger to workers that is inherent in shackle and hoist. This is not Farm Forward’s deduction; this is what Orthodox Jewish leadership has publicly stated.5 And it’s not a fundamentally different position than that taken by many people concerned by factory farming who still eat factory farmed meat when no other is available. It’s a way of thinking that must change if the factory farm is to disappear.
A rare point of unanimous agreement in the often controversial realm of animal welfare is the consensus that, at very least, the animals we eat should be given a quick death with minimal pain and suffering. Despite this, a steady stream of undercover videos6 and even much of the publicly available record on conditions in America’s slaughterhouses has revealed consistent neglect in slaughter as practiced. As Farm Forward board member Jonathan Safran Foer put it in his most recent book, Eating Animals, “No jokes here, and no turning away. Let’s say what we mean: animals are bled, skinned, and dismembered while conscious. It happens all the time, and the industry and the government know it. Several plants cited for bleeding or skinning or dismembering live animals have defended their actions as common in the industry and asked, perhaps rightly, why they were being singled out.” These abuses in kosher slaughter should concern us, but they must be seen as what they are, one facet of a much larger problem.
Ending factory farming will take far more than legislative and political victories, important as those are. Factory Farming is a part of our culture and this is why Farm Forward emphasizes the important role of culture makers—educators, artists, academics, clergy and others—in transforming the way America eats and farms. It’s for this reason that Farm Forward has given special attention to the issue of religious slaughter. It’s not because we simply want to end religiously sanctioned abuse of farmed animals but because we understand that America’s rich religious traditions are sleeping giants in the fight against factory farming.
Farm Forward provided vital consultation services to PETA that allowed them to conduct and release the results of this investigation with sensitivity and respect. “With the special complexities that surround religious slaughter,” says PETA president Ingrid Newkirk, “Farm Forward’s consulting has proved invaluable to PETA’s ability to win better conditions for animals at kosher facilities. This group is an indispensable and invaluable resource. . . .” And in the words of Temple Grandin, “Farm Forward’s Aaron Gross has played a critical role in improving kosher slaughter; from Agriprocessors to the current South American investigation his knowledge about both the Jewish and animal communities is invaluable.”
Farm Forward’s Aaron Gross has played a critical role in improving kosher slaughter; from Agriprocessors to the current South American investigation his knowledge about both the Jewish and animal communities is invaluable.” —Temple Grandin
Helping PETA with their investigation, though, is just one step. Increasingly, we are working with Jewish, Christian, Buddhist and other religious leaders who want to raise their voices against the factory farm. The Farm Forward team has been particularly active in working with Jewish leadership since helping with the first exposé7 of animal abuse in kosher facilities in 2004. Then as now, the work Farm Forward and others have done to bring these abuses to public attention is important but insufficient. The real work begins when the scandals fade from public attention: the work of transforming these glimpses of factory farming into commitments to end the whole broken system.
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