These factory farm cattle could be Kosher
Last April, Farm Sanctuary released our report on the animal welfare marketing claims that are increasingly popular among both consumers and the animal agriculture industry. As one of the report’s chief authors, I am proud of the work we did on The Truth Behind the Labels, but there is always room for expansion with future editions. One of the issues this report will likely tackle with the next update is kosher and halal labels, which are applied to foods approved by religious authorities of Judaism and Islam respectively.
It seems the universe picked last week to hit me over the head with the truth behind these labels, and made me wish I had included them in the previous report. First, a member e-mailed to ask what kosher certifications meant in regard to animal welfare. Then, two more items crossed my desk. The first was a press release about Magen Tzedek, a new “ethical certification seal” that will be applied to qualifying producers of kosher foods. The second was an L.A. Times blog article about a new line of kosher chicken to be offered in select Whole Foods Market stores this week. Clearly, this is a subject we need to address before the High Holy Days get started.
According to the Orthodox Union, “the world’s largest and best recognized kosher certification company,” kosher slaughter should be performed as follows:
"The Trachea and Esphagus of the animal are severed with a special razor-sharp, perfectly smooth blade, causing instantaneous death with no pain to the animal. Only a trained kosher slaughterer (schochet), whose peity and expertise have been attested to by rabbinic authorities, is qualified to slaughter an animal for kosher consumption."
While we would all like our deaths to be swift and painless, such a thing is much easier said than done. According to a study of several kosher slaughter plants, the average time it took for an animal to lose consciousness after having his or her throat cut ranged from 15 to 35 seconds. Look at your watch and imagine bleeding to death as those intervals tick by. Does that feel instantaneous to you?
Please note, my aim is not to single out anyone’s faith or religious practices for special condemnation. But anyone buying kosher meat should be aware of the fact that farm animals slaughtered in this way still suffer – just as those in conventional slaughterhouses do.
Moreover, kosher rules say nothing about how an animal is raised - probably because there was no such thing as a factory farm when they were written, back in the Bronze Age. That’s where the new Magen Tzedek certification comes in. There are animal welfare requirements attached to this label. Sadly, those requirements are nothing more than those recommended by FMI-NCCR, a food retailer and restaurant industry coalition that has rubber stamped the guidelines of organizations like the Pork Board and the National Chicken Council. In other words, Magen Tzedek says factory farms are just fine, and that animals raised in this way can be deemed kosher.
The new kosher chicken products to be offered at Whole Foods Market (Kosher Valley) are allegedly produced from animals raised on a vegetarian diet and without antibiotics. The chickens are also “generously” allowed “30% more space” than the industry standard (which is less than 1 square foot per bird) and best of all “fresh water.” The fact that such allowances could be considered an improvement over the industry standard just demonstrates how low the bar has been set. But doing slightly better than horrible should not win anybody a pat on the back.
Halal certifications like those issued by various kosher organizations are much less common in the U.S., but the rules are essentially the same, at least in terms of their animal welfare requirements (or lack thereof).
As I said, you can expect the next edition of our report on animal welfare standards to include this important information. In the meantime, I hope the what is presented here will be a resource for those trying to sort ritual slaughter fact from fiction. Please educate yourself and others about misleading animal welfare labels. Aside from the report mentioned above, and the report summary, we also have a concise leaflet on the Truth Behind “Humane” Meat, Milk and Eggs that is perfect for your outreach efforts. You can also help our Truth Behind the Labels campaign by signing our petition to the USDA about its misleading “Naturally Raised” label.