British lawmaker calls for labeling of non-stunned animal’s meat

Meat sold in Britain should be labeled if the animal has not been stunned before slaughter, a British lawmaker said.

Neil Parish, who heads the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Beef and Lamb, made the call on Monday for the increased stunning of animals undergoing ritual slaughter during a parliamentary meeting of the group, the London-based Jewish Chronicle reported.

Parish, of the Conservative Party, told the meeting that the government should continue to research shechitah, or Jewish ritual slaughter, and halal, Muslim ritual slaughter.

He also said he would hold discussions with Jewish religious officials over stunning before slaughter. Parish added that he wanted labels to indicate whether or not an animal had been stunned before slaughter, not whether it was slaughtered kosher or halal.

Muslim and Jewish ritual slaughter require that animals be conscious before their necks are cut.

“There is a danger that an outright ban on religious slaughter would not improve animal welfare,” Parish said.

Jewish lawmakers and those representing large Jewish constituencies defended shechitah during the meeting.

Louise Ellman of the Labor Party called a ban on kosher meat production a “gross infringement” of the Jewish community’s civil rights, according to the Jewish Chronicle.

In recent years, kosher and halal slaughter has come under attack in many European countries by animal welfare activists and secularists, but also by right-wing nationalists who view the custom as foreign.

Since 2010, slaughter that does not involve stunning has been banned in Poland and Denmark. The lower house of the parliament of the Netherlands also banned the practice, but the ban was reversed in 2012 by the senate.

In May, the then-president-elect of the British Veterinary Association called for a ban on slaughtering cattle without first stunning it, which in effect would outlaw traditional kosher slaughter.

An online petition calling for an end to slaughter without stunning for all animals in Britain has received more than 77,700 signatures.

The British government in its response to the petition said that it “encourages the highest standards of welfare at slaughter and would prefer to see all animals stunned before they are slaughtered for food. However, we also respect the rights of the Jewish and Muslim communities to eat meat prepared in accordance with their religious beliefs.”

Prime Minister David Cameron confirmed recently that there would be no ban on religious slaughter in the United Kingdom, the response noted.


Brigitte Bardot calls for ban on shechitah, terms it ‘ritual sacrifice’

Brigitte Bardot published an open letter in several leading French newspapers calling for a ban on shechitah, or Jewish ritual slaughter.

The one-time French actress terms the practice “ritual sacrifice” in the letter that appeared Monday in newspapers such as Le Parisien, Le Figaro and Le Monde. The letter also calls for a ban on halal Muslim ritual slaughter as well as on horse meat.

Jewish and Muslim religious laws require that animals be conscious when their necks are cut — a practice deemed cruel by some animal welfare activists.

The letter drew condemnation from the European Jewish Congress.

“Ms. Bardot’s depiction of shechitah as ‘ritual sacrifice’ is not only deeply offensive and a slur against the Jewish People, but also shows a stunning lack of knowledge in an area where she purports to be an expert,” EJC President Moshe  Kantor said in a statement. “Bardot has once again shown her clear insensitivity for minority groups with the substance and style of her letter.”

In January 2011, Bardot launched a campaign against ritual slaughter through her animal rights foundation.

Slovenia, Estonia announce new shechitah restrictions

Slovenia’s National Assembly is set to vote on a proposed ban on all ritual slaughter, which the European Union member country’s government recently submitted for approval.

Estonia, meanwhile, has reportedly imposed new restrictions on its already stringent slaughter policy.

Dr. Igor Vojtic, a member of the executive board of Slovenia's Jewish community, told JTA that the proposed ban came in animal welfare amendments which the government adopted last month.

Vojtic said it was not certain that the amendments would pass the national assembly vote, which is expected to take place within six weeks to eight weeks.

The amendments state that animals may not undergo slaughter unless they are previously stunned. Both Islamic and Jewish law require animals to be conscious when their necks are cut.

The Slovenian Ministry of Agriculture has not replied to a letter from the Brussels-based European Jewish Parliament, which called the amendments a danger to freedom of worship in Slovenia, Vojtic said.

According to the Slovenian news site 24ur, the Association of Islamic communities of Slovenia also has protested against the proposed amendment.

Slovenia, which entered the European Union in 2004, has a Jewish population of 400, according to the European Jewish Congress. According to the CIA World Factbook, 2.5 percent of Slovenia’s population of two million people is Muslim.

In Estonia, the Ministry of Agriculture has reportedly limited all ritual slaughter to licensed slaughterhouses, in a package of amendments to the Estonian Animal Welfare Act, according to the country’s public broadcasting company, ERR.

Even before the amendments, Estonia's policy on ritual slaughter was among the European Union’s strictest. Authorities must be notified 10 work days ahead of each planned slaughter and a government inspector oversees each procedure. The animals are stunned after their throats are cut — a procedure known as post-cut stunning, which not all rabbis permit.

In August, the Conference of European Rabbis said that kosher slaughter could come under further attack this year in Europe.

CER President Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt explained that E.U. member countries are required to replace domestic laws on religious slaughter by January 2013 with European Regulation 1099, a set of new regulations meant to ensure animals do not experience “unnecessary suffering” at or near the time of the slaughter.

While the regulations allow exception for religious slaughter, they also allow “a certain level of subsidiarity,” or discretion, to each member state.

In 2011, the Dutch parliament voted in favor of a total ban on the slaughter of animals without stunning, but the Dutch Senate scrapped the ban in May 2012.

European rabbis: Shechitah could come under legislative attack in EU

A prominent European rabbinical group has warned that kosher slaughter could come under further attack this year in European Union countries.

“Many European Jewish communities are not aware that shechitah could be put in danger,” Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the Conference of European Rabbis, wrote Tuesday in an email sent to multiple recipients.

The danger, he wrote, stems from governments’ reliance “on deeply flawed, agenda-led research when making policy.”

Goldschmidt pointed out that EU member countries are required to replace domestic laws on religious slaughter by January 2013 with European Regulation 1099, a set of new regulations meant to ensure animals do not experience “unnecessary suffering” at or near the time of the slaughter.

While the regulations allow exception for religious slaughter, they also allow “a certain level of subsidiarity,” or discretion, to each member state.

Goldschmidt noted the planned change in Estonia’s laws on ritual slaughter.

Last week an Estonian government official told JTA that Estonia would change its current laws on religious slaughter because the rituals “do not take new scientific knowledge into account.” There was no plan to ban the practice, she said.

The official added the change would be based on the EU-funded DialRel report of 2010, which states that kosher slaughter, or shechitah, causes higher risk, pain and suffering in animals than methods that involve stunning. Jewish religious law requires animals to be conscious when their necks are cut.

“European governments are increasingly making reference to the DialRel project as part of their implementation of European Regulation 1099,” Goldschmidt said. “Faith communities rejected the methodology and findings of DialRel in 2010 when it failed to properly engage with them.”

The report “was mentioned in the context” of the Dutch Parliament’s 2011 vote to ban shechitah, Goldschmidt noted. The Dutch Senate scrapped the measure in June.

Shechitah is banned in Sweden, Norway, Switzerland and Iceland. Along with Estonia, countries that impose post-cut stunning include Finland, Denmark and Austria.

Dutch Senate ratifies deal allowing shechitah

The Dutch senate voted to approve a deal to allow ritual slaughter in the Netherlands.

Tuesday’s vote came after leaders of the Jewish and Muslim communities in the Netherland signed off on a compromise with the government.

The agreement signed on June 5 allows ritual slaughter if the animals lose consciousness within 40 seconds of their throats being cut. After that, they must be stunned – rendering them non-kosher and non-Halal.

Representing the Jewish community at the signing was NIK, the Organization of Jewish Communities in The Netherlands – an umbrella group. The organization’s representatives signed the agreement with Dutch Agriculture Minister Hans Bleker.

The European Jewish Congress welcomed the ratification of the agreement.

“This is a momentous agreement and we hope this will serve as a paradigm and precedent for all countries in Europe and the European Union,” Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, said Wednesday.

In December, the leader of the Dutch Animal Rights Party, Marianne Thieme, withdrew a bill that would have required stunning of all animals before slaughter. The measure had passed the lower house of the Dutch parliament in June 2011. A majority of senators had expressed their objection to the ban before its withdrawal.

Dutch law requires animals to be stunned before slaughter but makes an exception for Muslim halal and Jewish shechitah. The Animal Rights Party says that more than 2 million animals are ritually slaughtered each year in the country.

The European Union requires animals to be stunned before slaughter but makes exceptions for religiously mandated ritual slaughter. Nevertheless, ritual slaughter is banned in Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland.

Polish president reaffirms right to shechitah

Polish President Bronisław Komorowski said he supports European Jews’ right to kosher slaughter, or shechitah.

“In Poland, we are proud to stand firm in supporting the Jewish community’s right to shechitah, and will play our full part in the EU deliberations,” the president reportedly told a delegation of rabbis from the Conference of European Rabbis at the presidential palace in Warsaw.

This week’s meeting took place amid growing concern about shechitah bans in Europe. Over the summer, the Dutch House of Representatives became the latest European body to ban the practice.

The meeting was part of this week’s convention of the Conference of European Rabbis in Warsaw.

“Today we are asking all the governments of Europe to unite with us in preserving the European tradition of religious freedom and religious pluralism,” Moscow’s chief rabbi, Pinchas Goldschmidt, said at the group’s gala dinner. “Together we must implore the Dutch Senate not to ratify a law which will ban a most humane and divinely appointed method of religious slaughter.”

In Dutch shechitah ban, Jews see a sign they are unwanted

A few streets over from the bookstore where Anne Frank bought her famous diary, the only kosher butcher shop in Holland is bustling. Two employees man the long counter at Slagerij Marcus, pausing from chopping meat to sell customers a bit of this or that for Shabbat dinner.

In the wake of an overwhelming vote by the Dutch House of Representatives to ban the type of ritual slaughter required for kosher and halal meat, this butcher shop famous for its handmade sausage is at the front lines of a battle between two competing ideals in Holland: freedom of religion and animal welfare.

What put shechitah, or kosher slaughter, in the crosshairs was an unlikely convergence between animal rights activists and Holland’s far-right, anti-Muslim movement.

The Party for the Animals is interested in banning all forms of what it considers inhumane slaughter, while the Freedom Party led by firebrand Geert Wilders is interested in making Holland inhospitable to Muslims. For Wilders, who in 2009 called Islam “the ideology of a retarded culture,” the impact on shechitah is collateral damage.

“It’s a shift from the Netherlands as an open society to the Netherlands as a closed, monocultural society,” said Joel Erwteman, a Jewish lawyer who helped Dutch Jewish leaders draft a position paper opposing the slaughter bill. “It’s becoming completely normal to talk about Muslims as being a problem.”

Kosher slaughter seems secure for now—the Parliament is on recess until September, and approval by the Dutch Senate, a key step for the measure to become law, is no guarantee.

If the ban does pass, Jewish leaders plan to challenge it in court, arguing that the guarantee of freedom of religion enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights precludes banning shechitah. The law also could be amended to make an exception for kosher slaughter if it can be proven that no additional harm is caused to animals by killing them the kosher way.

And if that fails, Dutch Jews easily could procure kosher meat by importing it legally from nearby countries.

But for many Jews in the country, the most disconcerting element of the drive to outlaw shechitah isn’t so much the legality of kosher slaughter per se but the symbolism of Holland’s move to outlaw a basic element of Jewish life. It’s a sign, some say, that after 400 years of a Jewish presence in the Netherlands, the traditions of the country’s approximately 40,000 Jews count for little.

“Do I want to be in a society that acts like this?” Erwteman said. “I don’t think many of us are feeling very welcome right now.”

Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs, president of the Dutch union of rabbis and chief rabbi of the country’s Inter-Provincial Chief Rabbinate, said the proposed law reflects the growing feeling in Dutch society that religion is something to be feared, or at least kept at arms’ length.

“They put it on the level of fairy tales,” he said of religion, while elevating animal rights to an article of faith. “They can be so fanatic that they care more about the animals than they do about the feelings of the people.”

Jacobs, who says that some 500 Dutch Jewish families keep kosher, worries that the shechitah ban is the first step on the road to an eventual prohibition against circumcision. He noted that the prospect of a ban is especially disturbing for Holocaust survivors because the Nazis imposed a ban on shechitah as one of their first acts after invading the Netherlands in 1940.

Esther Voet, editor of a Dutch Jewish newsweekly called Nieuw Israelietisch Weekblad, said playing the Holocaust card to criticize the legislation has not endeared the Dutch Jewish community to lawmakers in The Hague, the more conservative city about 45 minutes south of Amsterdam that is the seat of Dutch government.

“We damaged ourselves with that,” she said. “That’s an emotional response. You should lead this discussion from reason.”

Voet said opposition to the bill would have been stronger had the community’s liberal and Orthodox factions unified more quickly in opposition.

Still, the Jewish community did bring out the big guns to stop the legislation.

Britain’s chief rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks, addressed the Dutch Parliament on June 16, and Cornell University food science professor Joe Regenstein wrote a report rebuking the opposition’s claims that kosher slaughter causes undue suffering to animals.

The Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee, Simon Wiesenthal Center, World Jewish Congress, B’nai B’rith International and the Kosher Certification Service jointly sent a letter to Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte saying that the bill would “cause unacceptable harm to the religious freedom of the Dutch Jewish community.”

Among the 30 parliamentarians who voted against the bill were several non-Jewish members of religious political parties. One of them, Esme Wiegman of the Christian Union Party, visited the kosher slaughterhouse to see for herself how the animals are killed.

Wiegman told JTA that Dutch politicians who are not religious have a difficult time grasping the centrality of religious rituals to the lives of the devout. She said the move to outlaw shechitah was a matter of religious freedom for all, not just for Jews.

“It isn’t a problem of a few people,” she said. “It’s a question for all of us.”

There are several kosher stores in the leafy Amsterdam neighborhood of Buitenveldert, near the city’s world trade center and cluster of skyscrapers.

Daniel Bar-on, the 22-year-old who owns the kosher meat restaurant H’ Bar-on, said he is prepared to do whatever is necessary to continue providing his customers with a diverse set of kosher options. The ritual slaughter bill, he said, caught him by surprise.

“We’ve been doing it for so many years, and no one’s ever had a problem with it, and suddenly all Holland wants to get rid of it,” he said. “I never thought it would ever get this far.”

The initiative against shechitah was the brainchild of the fledgling Party for the Animals, which holds just two seats in the 150-seat Dutch House and one in the 75-seat Senate. The far-left party argues that stunning an animal is more humane than the razor-sharp knife used in kosher slaughter. A representative told JTA that the party’s leader, Marianne Thieme, was unavailable for comment due to the legislative recess.

The animal rights party framed the debate as a stark choice between the mutually exclusive goals of religious freedom and animal welfare, Erwteman said.

“Do you think that an animal should suffer more because of the religion of the person who killed it? That’s the way they phrased it,” he said. “I think most of the parties felt compelled to answer that question with no.”

About 500 million animals are slaughtered in the Netherlands each year. Of that number, about 3,000 are slaughtered according to the laws of kashrut and about 1 million are slaughtered according to the laws of halal. Both styles of slaughter would be banned under the proposed law.

Holland is not the first European country to consider banning shechitah. Sweden, Norway, Luxembourg and Switzerland already ban kosher slaughter, though they all allow the import of kosher meat.

The question now is whether Holland will join that club.

European groups slam Dutch shechitah ban

European Jewish groups slammed a decision by the lower house of the Dutch parliament to ban the ritual slaughter of animals.

The Conference of European Rabbis President Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt called the ban an outrage that would prevent Jews from living a Jewish life in The Netherlands.

“We have passed the stage of arguing the nuances of intention of anti-Semitism. The practical effects of this bill mean that Jews are no longer welcome in The Netherlands. This has not happened for 70 years,” Goldschmidt said.

Under the bill passed Tuesday, animals are required to be stunned before slaughter. Both Jewish and Muslim ritual slaughter must be performed while the animal is fully conscious.

“The Netherlands has thrown away centuries of liberalism, human rights, welcome and tolerance for Jews,” Goldschmidt said. “We will not rest until this discriminatory, intolerant and hateful bill is thrown out.”

The upper house still must approve the measure, which is being protested by Holland’s Jewish and Muslim communities as an attack on their religious freedom. Some 40,000 Jews and about 1 million Muslims live in the country.

European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor said in a statement issued Tuesday that his organization could take legal action to prevent the ban, pointing out   that it violates Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to freedom of religion

“We cannot let such a blatantly discriminatory law stand without fighting it, especially as it stands contrary to European standards and freedoms,” Kantor said,

“This is a dark day for the Jewish community,” he added. “This could serve as a terrible precedent for other parts of Europe and tells the Jews that they and their customs are no longer welcome.”

The Anti-Defamation League also condemned the Dutch vote.

“Dutch Jews must not be put to the choice of violating a central tenet of Judaism, foregoing fresh meat, or emigrating.  We call upon the Dutch Senate to prevent this action from leading to a clear violation of religious freedom that has a disproportionate impact on the Jewish community,” said Abraham Foxman, ADL national director.

The bill was put forward by the Animal Rights Party, which claims that stunning before slaughter causes less pain to the animal.

The Jewish and Muslim communities have a year to prove otherwise or the law goes into effect.

The European Union requires animals to be stunned before slaughter, but makes exceptions for religiously mandated ritual slaughter. Nevertheless, ritual slaughter is banned in Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland.

New Zealand Jews plan to fight for shechitah

Barring a last-minute policy reversal, Jewish leaders in New Zealand appear certain to launch legal action against the government over its controversial new law banning kosher slaughter.

Six Jewish leaders were granted a 30-minute meeting a week ago with Prime Minister John Key, the son of a Jewish refugee, to discuss the fallout from the May 27 decision to outlaw kosher slaughter, or shechitah. The meeting in Auckland concluded with the delegation informing Key, who does not practice Judaism, that the small Jewish community would be left with “no option” but to take legal action “if there was no solution forthcoming.”

The prime minister “acknowledged that this may be the only course open to us,” New Zealand Jewish Council chair Geoff Levy said in a statement.

It now appears likely that Key will face a potentially embarrassing legal showdown that has been described as a test case for shechitah.

The controversy erupted in late May when Agriculture Minister David Carter overruled advice from the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee to exempt shechitah from a new animal welfare commercial slaughter code. Whereas shechitah previously had been listed as exempt, just as it is under the Humane Slaughter Act in America, Carter decided last month to annul all exemptions.

Under the new code, which was made effective immediately, all commercially killed animals must be stunned before slaughter to “ensure that the animals are treated humanely.”

The move shocked the New Zealand Jewish community, which numbers fewer than 7,000. Although kosher meat can be imported from Australia, no chicken is allowed in. Fewer than 100 beef cattle and lambs and several thousand chickens were slaughtered by shechitah annually.

Sydney-based Rabbi Moshe Gutnick, who supervises kosher certification of products in New Zealand, described the ban as “outrageous.”

“Hunting is still permitted for deer and ducks, and that is certainly not humane,” he said. “The government, using flawed science, institutes a new code and the only people affected by this are the Jews. People are wondering what their real motivation is.”

His comments came as the European Parliament voted to mandate that all kosher meat on the continent be labeled “meat from slaughter without stunning” – a move blasted by some Jewish officials as discriminatory.
Meanwhile, the dustup in New Zealand over shechitah has sparked a rift with Australian Jewish leaders over its crisis management strategy.

“I’m terrified they’ve mismanaged it,” a senior Australian Jewish organizational leader said of New Zealand Jewry on condition of anonymity. “They just don’t have the expertise.”

In a diplomatically worded statement, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry said, “They are handling things in their own way and we are closely monitoring the situation. The denial of fundamental rights to kosher consumers in New Zealand has the potential for adverse effects further afield, including Australia.”

Shechitah UK chair Henry Grunwald said his organization, as well as British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, had been asked to assist with religious, legal and scientific advice.

Describing the new code as “an insult,” Grunwald wrote in the Jewish Chronicle, “It succumbs to the popular myth that shechitah is painful, ignoring ample evidence to the contrary.

“The risk of other Western democracies following New Zealand’s example is real,” he warned.

Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence, a former rabbi of the Auckland Hebrew Congregation, told JTA, “The decisions made in New Zealand will have ramifications on how shechitah is viewed the world over. This is a significant test case which is important we do not lose.”

Levy said attempts to resolve the crisis were continuing.

“If we can settle the matter politically, so much the better,” he said.

A number of legal avenues remained open, he noted. The ban appears to violate New Zealand’s Bill of Rights, which protects freedom of religion. It also could be in breach of the Animal Welfare Act, which contains provisions for religious rights, as well as the Human Rights Act, which protects against discrimination.

Carter reportedly apologized to the Jewish community last week for his June 14 speech, in which he said, “We may have upset a relatively small religious minority, and I do appreciate their strong feelings for this issue. But frankly I don’t think any animal should suffer in the slaughter process.”

Other countries that have banned shechitah include Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland.