Animal welfare groups slam shechita reversal

By Paul Harper

File photo / NZ Herald
File photo / NZ Herald

Animal welfare organisations are disappointed by the Government's decision to reverse a ban on the kosher killing of chickens, saying the practice is inhumane.

The kosher killing - shechita - involves severing the neck of the animal, and allowing the blood to drain.

On Friday, Agriculture Minister David Carter exempted the practice from a decision in May that all commercially slaughtered chickens must be stunned before being killed.

The decision followed months of negotiations between Crown Law and New Zealand's Jewish community over the issue, which was due to be heard in court today.

Instead an agreement was reached to allow about 1000 chickens to be killed each year using shechita.

Royal New Zealand SPCA chief executive Robyn Kippenberger said she was disappointed Mr Carter had reversed his position, saying his original stance was the right one.

"We don't want to get into the religious side of it but kosher killing does cause suffering," she said.

Halal, the Islamic slaughter of livestock was not affected by the change as pre-stunning is already used, which Ms Kippenberger believed was a "reasonable" arrangement.

"Pressure from a small community is allowing animals to suffer - we believe that is unacceptable."

Hans Kriek, the director of animal welfare group SAFE, said the organisation would have to look at how the reversal can be challenged.

"We are disappointed because if animals are going to be killed - and of course we'd prefer it if they weren't - they should be killed in the most humane way possible," he said.

"It is a very basic view, but it is a view that is backed up by science, that the killing of animals without stunning causes the most pain."

Mr Kriek said SAFE appreciated the importance of religious freedom, but not at the expense of animal welfare.

"The world won't come to an end if people cannot eat 5,000 chickens," he said.

Mr Kriek said it would be interesting to see what decision the Government made with regard to the ban on shechita killing of sheep and cattle, which Jewish groups also hope to overturn.

He said the larger the animals were, the more they suffered, because it took longer for them to die, a view supported by Ms Kippenberger.

"If you have seen a sheep that is being bled out without stunning the distress is obvious," she said.

"We would vigorously oppose the ban being lifted on sheep."

Ms Kippenberger said stunning the animals first was not just humane on the animals, but also on the abattoir workers, as it stopped the animals moving around in a distressed state.

"It isn't a pleasant process at the best of times but doing it without stunning makes it harder for workers."

Ms Kippenberger said there was also the issue of home kills, where people could kill the animals at home without first stunning them.

"There is nothing to stop people doing this in their backyards," she said.

Spokesperson for the Auckland Hebrew Congregation and the Wellington Jewish Community Centre David Zwartz told Radio New Zealand this morning shechita was a humane way of killing animals.

"We based our case on the religious rights of the Jewish community ... and that's upheld by the Bill of Rights," he said.

Mr Zwartz said kosher chicken could not be sourced from abroad because of Newcastle's Disease.

A facebook group called Keep NZ Kosher - Allow Shechita in New Zealand, has more than 1,600 members and encouraged them to contribute to the legal challenge.

The story has also been picked up by the Jerusalem Post, with an op-ed piece by lawyer Avinoam Sharon said it was hypocritical to allow hunting for sport but not the kosher killing of chickens and suggested New Zealanders simply see the practice as "Jewish ritual hunting".

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