A spokesperson for the New Zealand Jewish community has defended the practice of shechita, saying the country has a double-standard when it comes to the killing of animals.
Animal welfare groups yesterday slammed a decision by Agriculture Minister David Carter to exempt the kosher killing of chickens from a ruling in May that all of the animals commercially slaughtered in New Zealand must be stunned first.
The decision, made on Friday, followed months of negotiations between Crown Law and New Zealand's Jewish community over the issue, which was due to be heard in court yesterday.
Shechita involves severing the neck of the animal and allowing the blood to drain.
David Zwartz, spokesman for the Auckland Hebrew Congregation and the Wellington Jewish Community Centre, said he was not surprised by Mr Carter's about-face.
"The case that was going to be presented in court was a very strong one," he said.
Mr Zwartz disagreed the method was inhumane, saying rather shechita "causes the least distress to the animals".
He pointed to research undertaken by Dr Temple Grandin, a professor at Colorado State University, who said "when the cut is done correctly, the animal appears not to feel it".
"That is a statement we would put forward as a truth," Mr Zwartz said.
"I'm afraid that most of the reasons [put forward] by animal welfare people are based on emotion and not on the fact that it causes the least pain on animals or the niceties of Jewish kosher killing. I can understand people have concerns for animals but so does shechita."
The decision means around 5,000 chickens will be slaughtered each year using the traditional Jewish method. While the Islamic practice of halal killing in New Zealand allows pre-stunning prior to slaughter, Mr Zwartz said there would not be such a compromise with shechita.
"Pre-stunning is not acceptable in shechita, because it causes the animal to be injured in the religious sense - that is not acceptable. The animal has to be uninjured and unharmed.
"The pre-stunning system carried out overseas and in New Zealand has a failure rate that is not fully known and also not spoken of. That approach as a system designed to reduce an animal's pain is defective.
He believed many people did not understand the nature of Jewish kosher killing, which he said took into account the welfare of the animal.
"I know many people opposed to it are vegetarians - they would not like any animals killed, but that is not the part of the Jewish belief, or the beliefs of most New Zealanders."
Mr Zwartz said it was hypocritical for people to just single out shechita, as many farmers' home kills would be undertaken in a similar method.
"The other thing is hunting - taking pleasure in the pursuit and killing of animals. I don't think any hunters could say the animals don't suffer," he said.
"There are double standards here in what is being required of the Jewish community and what is being required of New Zealand society as a whole."