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Kosher Doesn't Make it OK

The holiday season reminds us to be proud of our food traditions, but the horrific problems in the kosher beef industry currently taint the historically moral practice.

During the holiday season one thing is on everybody’s mind, food. For me this time of year is marked by mom’s extraordinary latkes. Traditions surrounding food are a special source of pride. I have always been particularly proud of the kosher diet, as a moral decision to think before eating.

Unfortunately for a long time I blindly believed that a kosher label on meat guaranteed the highest possible standards, without a second thought about the animals’ welfare. Far from proud, I am ashamed that kosher beef products at American grocery stores may come from cattle in South America hung in agonizing pain from one hind leg or cattle that suffered bleeding for minutes after slaughter.

The Torah arguably has the oldest set of laws on the ethical treatment of animals. I was shocked to learn about the horrific suffering of cattle that exists in the kosher slaughterhouses. Ideally kosher slaughter is painless, but in today’s food industry, this can be far from the truth, especially when it comes to beef.

 The main difference between kosher and non-kosher slaughter is the use of stunning before the process begins. It is mandatory for non-kosher slaughter in America, but a violation of Jewish dietary laws. The religious laws require an expert butcher, a long, perfectly sharp blade, and a smooth, quick motion. These rules were clearly intended to help animals, but in our modern context they prohibit the use of stun bolts.

Kosher slaughter can be painless for cows, but the process is expensive. In the non-religious process, cattle are stunned before they are hung and killed. Animals must be conscious for kosher slaughter and they need to be raised above the ground for sanitary reasons. Because cattle are so large, kosher slaughterhouses must use mechanical restraint systems for the process to be humane. This is expensive because these mechanical restraints cost about $15,000 to $50,000 and require extra workers.

The cheapest method of restraint is called “shackle and hoist,” where workers hang cattle, weighing over a thousand pounds, from one hind leg. This causes bruising, tearing, and even the breaking of the cattle’s leg. This method has virtually disappeared in America, but it is common in South America. This is a concerning because a large proportion of kosher beef in America is imported from South America. Only meat slaughtered in accordance with American laws can be imported. For this reason I strongly believe that the United States should prohibit the use of the “shackle and hoist” method of restraint.

Kosher slaughter is very humane when workers use mechanical restraint systems and perform the slaughter carefully and correctly. Observers have noticed that cattle often do not even react when their throats are cut. Unfortunately many kosher slaughterhouses choose to use a faster assembly line speed for the industrialized killing to increase efficiency.

PETA illustrated this fact when they filmed inside AgriProcessors, which was the largest kosher slaughterhouse in America. In the video cattle bled for minutes after slaughter. They struggled helplessly, fully conscious as workers ripped out their esophagi and tracheas. The kosher certification company vouched that they never broke any Jewish dietary laws. AgriProcessors later shut down after an immigration raid, but the problem remains. During inspections slaughterhouses keep the process up to code, but behind closed doors they often allow for cruel practices to increase efficiency and profits.

To prevent cruelty from happening place behind closed doors, we must keep the doors open. I believe that all kosher slaughterhouses should be required to videotape the entire process for a third party to review. These changes will inevitably raise the price of kosher meat. I think it’s time we pay the true price for truly kosher meat.

When you are planning your holiday meals this year, take a second to investigate the source of your food. A kosher label does not necessarily make your meat ok. The sooner people become aware of the problems, the sooner we can reach a solution. Judaism has a long history of reverence and kindness towards animals, and we should be proud of our dietary laws. Hopefully next year I can fully enjoy my mother’s beef brisket as well as her latkes.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Eugenie Diserio December 01, 2012 at 04:15 AM
A very disturbing article indeed...I think the author was making reference to this Peta video (to view only with caution)...http://www.peta.org/features/agriprocessors.aspx This treatment of animals Kosher or not made me a complete vegetarian a while ago...BUT I cook all forms of beef for my two sons who love it...and will try to become even more mindful of where it comes from. Thanks for this information.
Eugenie Diserio December 01, 2012 at 04:46 AM
Here's the corrected link to the referenced story: http://www.peta.org/features/agriprocessors.aspx
Samuel Schloss December 02, 2012 at 02:25 AM
I believe logic and reason can justify killing animals for food. I think there is a huge difference between "humane slaughter" and waterboarding. Slaughter techniques like kosher slaughter can be painless. As ethical people we should avoid causing any being to suffer. Waterboarding is never humane because it by definition causes suffering. The argument against slaughter could be that animals want to continue living, and its wrong for us to stop them and thwart their interests. However, as far as science can currently prove, cattle are not self-conscious beings, and thus, they do not have a real preference to continue living in the future. Any fear they show before slaughter is purely instinctual.
Samuel Schloss December 02, 2012 at 02:25 AM
If we could avoid killing animals I think that would be best, but I think that eating meat still necessary today. Our current farming practices only give us the illusion that we can grow all of our food. The truth is that industrial farming has separated animals and plants, and this is simply unsustainable. For thousands of years farms have used animals and their manure to fertilize lands, rotating crops and animal sections of the land. Today we have taking animals out of the growing cycle and replaced them with chemical fertilizers. This is unsustainable and is slowly ruining the topsoil. This link explains the situation well: http://www.gracelinks.org/265/environment
Samuel Schloss December 02, 2012 at 02:25 AM
I think the best solution is the local farming movement. I don’t think the ethical problem is slaughter. The issue is current factory farming system. I try very hard to only eat local meat. I probably would go vegan, but I find it very difficult. I don’t think there is any rational argument for going vegetarian, because many vegetarians supplement their diet with extra dairy products, and dairy cows have much worse lives and endure more suffering than their relatives in the meat industry. I think we all should stop thinking of meat as something to be consumed at every meal, but I don’t think it is morally objectionable to give an animal a great life and quick death.

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