Message from Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, OU Executive Vice President, and Rabbi Menachem Genack, OU Kashrut Rabbinic Administrator:
An animal rights group known as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) recently released an undercover video showing scenes of cows staggering in apparent agony for several minutes after their throats were cut by the shochet. PETA focused its attention on one particular plant, AgriProcessors, Inc., but these accusations have implications for all kosher shechita, particularly because the video has received attention in the media world, beginning with an article in The New York Times, on Tuesday, November 30th, 2004.
The Orthodox Union is very concerned about these accusations. We are sensitive to the inhumane treatment of animals, and empathize with those who are upset by the images of apparent cruelty recorded on this video. As is well known, Judaism abjures cruelty to animals and enjoins us to be as humane as possible in our legitimate utilization of them. That shechita is a very humane method of slaughtering animals has been substantiated over the past century by numerous scholarly articles and scientific opinions.
After carefully studying the video, Rabbi Menachem Genack, Rabbinic Administrator of the OU Kashrut Division, and Rabbi Yisroel Belsky, one of its distinguished poskim (rabbinic decisors), traveled to Postville, Iowa, to review the procedures at the AgriProcessors plant. They found that these procedures meet all OU standards to the highest degree, and that the shochtim (rabbinic slaughterers) are all highly proficient, skilled and knowledgeable. Nevertheless, the OU and AgriProcessors, Inc. have worked together to make certain changes, namely that the trachea will no longer be removed following shechita, and that any animals that appear to have survived the procedure will be promptly stunned or shot. These changes are described more fully below.
The following facts about Shechita will help provide a perspective on this matter:
1. Slaughtering animals for human consumption is never a pretty sight. An abattoir is obviously a place where one will see living, vibrant animals transformed into meat. This is generally a bloody and unpleasant experience, but this is universal. Indeed, PETA acknowledges that the shechita process is better than most general slaughtering.
2. While unnecessary cruelty to even one animal is intolerable, one has to look at the total picture before judging the matter. To those unfamiliar with the slaughter industry—kosher or non-kosher—scenes showing post-shechita movement of several animals, such as are shown on the video, can be very disturbing. But it must be realized that during the six or seven weeks during which the video was taken, approximately 18,000 animals were slaughtered by the plant in question. With such numbers, it is inevitable that aberrations do sometimes occur, and those shown in the video represent only a tiny percentage of the total number processed in that time span. Viewers of the video will also note that it does show regular instances of shechita where the animal expired rapidly, without the apparent suffering observed in other animals.
It is also important to understand that such occurrences are not unique to the AgriProcessors plant, but happen in every abattoir, whether kosher or non-kosher. According to the USDA, a slaughterhouse in which up to 5% of animals killed by any method—including the “humane bolt” and shechita—survive the first shot or cut, is still considered an approved plant. From now on, however, when this occurs at AgriProcessors, Inc., the animal will be promptly stunned or shot, so as not to prolong its suffering. Such animals will not be sold as kosher.
3. The Orthodox Union is committed to maintaining the highest ritual standards of shechita without compromising the halacha one whit. In keeping with these standards, we will strive to the best of our ability to see to it that animals are treated humanely and to see to it that, at all the plants we supervise, any halachically unnecessary practices which may be seen to be objectionable, are ceased.
During shechita, the carotid arteries, which are the main supplier of blood to the brain, are severed. This results in an immediate and massive drop in blood pressure, which renders the animal insensate in a matter of seconds. At AgriProcessors, Inc., as at other plants, a second cut is made in the carotid arteries to facilitate and accelerate the bleeding. This secondary cut is both approved and encouraged by the USDA. The OU and AgriProcessors, Inc. have concluded that this cut will now be made without excising the trachea.
4. The United States Department of Agriculture, with which we have a very cooperative working relationship, supervises this slaughterhouse and has found nothing amiss in its practices. Its on-site inspector, Dr. Henry Lawson, has confirmed to us his opinion that the conditions there are humane and that the shechita method of slaughter employed there renders the animal insensate. Other USDA officials have also visited the plant subsequent to the release of the video, and will be issuing a report.
5. We continue to vouch for the kashrut of all of the meat prepared by AgriProcessors, Inc., which was never compromised. Like all the more than 6,000 plants—producing all kinds of foodstuffs—that are certified by the OU, it has always been under our regular supervision. When this story broke, several rabbis, in Israel and Europe as well as in the United States, at first commented negatively on the kashrut of this shechita. Almost all of them, including the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, have now said that their initial statements were based on misinformation, and have retracted them.
Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb
Executive Vice President
Rabbi Menachem Genack
Rabbinic Administrator, OU Kashrut Division