It’s stunningly good news for livestock but rabbis are riled by the undermining of religious freedoms

Alf didn’t give much thought to how much the pig suffered, as he tucked into bacon and eggs for breakfast this morning.

But others get excited about such things, and NZ maintains a small army of bureaucrats whose job is to keep an eye on animal welfare stuff. Among the meaty topics on their meeting agendas are finding ways of leaving a smile on a beast’s face as its throat is slit.

One consequence of their discussions is a new government edict: all animals that are slaughtered must first be stunned under a new animal welfare code that took effect on Friday.

A second consequence is that crayfish henceforth will go to a better death (although Alf is not sure how we know this). The new rules extend to the slaughter of crustaceans, so the practice of dropping live crayfish in boiling water will no longer be permitted.

A third consequence is that some Jews are (or will be) pissed off about the banning of kosher slaughter, or shechita.

Shechita is banned in Iceland, Norway and Sweden, too.


Halal meat for the Muslim community is not affected because under that procedure an animal is stunned before being slaughtered.

Radio New Zealand reported the implications for Jewish people.

Agriculture Minister David Carter says consumers requiring meat processed under Jewish shechita dietary laws will now have to import it.

He says about 200 sheep a year were killed under those procedures.

The Radio NZ report explained this is the first time the industry has been made subject to official minimum standards.

The code applies to everyone responsible for the commercial slaughter of animals, such as primary processors, home-kill butchers and pet-food makers.

Pre-slaughter stunning has been normal practice in New Zealand meat plants for many years, but there have been exceptions.

One of those has been stock processed to comply with religious practices, in particular to meet Jewish kosher dietary requirements.

Rural butchers providing home-kill services have also been able to slaughter stock without stunning.

NZPA’s Kent Atkinson reported that Carter rejected a recommendation from advisers that Jewish ritual slaughter of livestock be exempted from the new rules.

He gave us the gory details, saying:

Shechita slaughter requires cutting of the trachea, oesophagus, carotid arteries and jugular veins using a sharp blade so there is no tearing or pausing and allowing the blood to drain out. The animal cannot be stunned or unconscious.

He also reported the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (Nawac) as saying there was evidence that calves which simply had their throats cut experienced pain, and it had the “strongly held” view that the cattle, sheep, goats and possibly poultry would experience similar pain.

But its preferred position “would deny the Jewish community in New Zealand access to locally-grown and commercially-killed kosher meat,” the committee said in a report on its code.

It warned that shechita slaughter raised major welfare concerns: sheep, goats and poultry were likely to feel pain for between five and 22 seconds before blood loss caused unconsciousness. Cattle could suffer a minute or more but requiring them to be stunned immediately after having their throat cut would put them on the same level of suffering as the smaller animals.

The committee – significantly – said the Auckland Hebrew Congregation had accepted stunning because it seemed “a little hypocritical” for Jews to buy kosher meat in NZ that had been killed in Australia with pre-stunning, but at the same time to seek a different ruling in New Zealand.

But Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence, in Sydney, is fulminating about the over-riding of religious freedoms.

Bugger me, said Alf as shechita hit the fan.

He never imagined a gentlemanly bloke like David Carter ever triggering a furore over religious intolerance.

Before he could muse on what the new rules meant for the quality of his bacon, an outfit called J-Wire was on the case. It’s a Jewish online news service covering Australia and New Zealand

One of its writers, Henry Benjamin, was telling its readers:

The days of a Jewish mother making the traditional chicken soup for the family Friday night Shabbat dinner have come to an end for New Zealanders.

The country has issued a new Animal Welfare Commercial Slaughter Code which stipulates that commercially killed animals must be stunned before slaughter…making halachic slaughter impossible. The new regulations take immediate effect.

Whereas Kosher beef will be able to be imported into New Zealand, the country clearly stipulates that the importation of chickens is banned.

It’s not quite the end of the world.

Kosher chicken soup cubes are processed and so can be imported.

But these are not the same as the real thing, obviously, and so:

For New Zealand’s Jewish mothers and grandmothers who have added love to the Shabbas chicken soup with its giblets there will be only a simple and far less involved procedure.

Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence, of Sydney’s the Great Synagogue (and the former spiritual head of the Auckland Hebrew Congregation) is not pleased.

According to one account:

He called the new rules a “deliberate decision” to override the religious freedom of the Jewish community. He added: “This is a case of misplaced values, bad science and bad legislation.”

He told J-Wire:

“There is a strong body of veterinary and animal welfare research which continues to confirm shechita as a humane method of slaughter of the highest standard.

Further, the NZ government and its animal welfare advisors have failed to answer substantial challenges by scientists of international repute to the research and the premises on which its recent determination has been made. Significantly, tests have not been done on animals under shechita conditions.

J-wire quotes the NAWAC report on which the minister made his decision.

The report recognised “that the rights of the New Zealand Jewish community to practise its religious beliefs accorded by the Bill of Rights Act must be balanced against animal welfare considerations…”

It stated that there were alternatives short of an outright ban on shechita available to the government. Nonetheless, the minister has chosen the most extreme option.

There is no balance. A deliberate decision has made to override the Jewish community’s acknowledged rights. This is a case of misplaced values, bad science and bad legislation.”

John Hellstrom, the chairman of the National Animal Welfare Advisory committee, is quoted as saying:

“Whereas there is no problem with importing beef there are a couple of diseases which concern New Zealand with respect to chickens. The only chicken meat which is imported has been processed but unprocessed chicken cannot be brought into the country.”

A MAF spokesperson told J-Wire the ministry understood commercial Shechita of poultry had not taken place in New Zealand for some years “due to a lack of interest.”

But this remark is being challenged.

“Not true” say Sydney-based Rabbi Moshe Gutnick who is the acting President of the Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia.

In his role as Rabbinic Administrator of the Kashrut Authority of Australia and New Zealand, Rabbi Gutnick has made many trips to the New Zealand city of Invercargill where the kosher ritual killing has taken place for years.

He told J-Wire: “We send shochtim from Sydney on a regular basis and I can assure you that chickens were slaughtered as well as meat-producing animals. This decision by the New Zealand Government, one which has a Jewish Prime Minister, is outrageous.

“We will be doing everything possible to get this decision reversed…one of the last countries I would have expected to bring in this blatantly discriminatory action would have been New Zealand.”

David Zwartz, who chairs the Wellington Jewish Council, inevitably has made his voice heard yet again.

He told J-Wire: “I am sure there will objections made that this action is an infringement of the right of Jews to observe their religion.”

Dunno if Carter has dropped a clanger here, but Alf is mindful that the PM’s CV includes being raised in a state house in Christchurch by his Austrian-Jewish immigrant mother.

5 Responses to It’s stunningly good news for livestock but rabbis are riled by the undermining of religious freedoms

  1. Oswald Bastable says:

    Any such scrutiny on halal practices…

  2. Sean says:

    Halal allows for the stunning of animals first – which is in accordance with New Zealand’s position on the welfare of animals.

    Frankly I find the issue of the PMs religion being raised rather offensive. As if that should have any bearing on the decision.

    • Jakub says:

      Actually, many Muslim authorities consider stunned meat haram (unacceptable) and the meat slaughtered in New Zealand would not be acceptable to many.

      Also, the PM is a practicing Christian and has publicly said he attends church with his family. His mother is Jewish which does make him (in his words) “technically Jewish” in that he would be considered Jewish in Jewish law. So it’s probably more accurate to describe him as a Christian of Jewish descent.

  3. Russell says:

    Jakub is right. Halal – meat for Moslems is exactly the same as Kosher meat. If you have been to a packing factory you can see that the animal is not stunned – as this would not be acceptable to Moslem customers.
    Nothing will be done about Halal meat because there is too much money involved, whereas Jewish meat is not economically significant.
    As a point of interest – the most humane way of killing an animal is not by stunning – but by exposure to Nitrogen which leaves the animal unconscious almost instantly ; this is the way that the killing of poultry is done in the most advanced abattoirs in Europe.

  4. […] Alf had posted on the subject back in May at the time the shechita hit the fan. One consequence of their discussions is a new government edict: all animals that are slaughtered must first be stunned under a new animal welfare code that took effect on Friday. […]

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