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The Truth about Kosher Slaughter


The Sunday Age has recently published two articles, an editorial, and a blog post alleging that Kosher slaughter causes undue pain to animals, advocating legislation that would effectively end the production of Kosher meat in Australia.

While the articles repeatedly claimed that unstunned slaughter means an inhumane “up to 20 seconds” of pain for sheep, this conflicts with many expert opinions that confirm that Kosher slaughter is ethical, painless, and humane.

Dr Temple Grandin, Colorado State University
Dr Temple Grandin is considered a leading expert on the welfare of livestock in slaughter plants, writing a highly influential book on the topic. In 2010, she defended appropriately conducted shechita (Kosher slaughtering) in the journal Meat & Poultry. She stressed that with proper restraint equipment and under appropriate Kosher conduct, the animals appears to feel no pain:

“I have observed that cattle held in an upright restraint device had almost no reaction to correctly done Kosher slaughter that was performed with a special long knife,” she wrote…The cut with the special knife appeared to not cause pain…From my observations, it appears that when good practices are used, the steer or lamb will stay still and not react to the cut.”

Dr. Grandin also conducted a number of experiments in 1994:

Dr Grandin set out to determine whether cattle feel the shechita incision. In one case, the device used to restrain an animal’s head during shechita was deliberately applied so lightly that during the incision it could pull its head away from the slaughter instrument. None of the ten animals in the experiment reacted or attempted to pull their heads away, leading Dr Grandin to conclude: “it appears the animal is not aware that its throat has been cut.”

Dr Flemming Bager, Danish Veterinary Laboratory
His research indicates that animals slaughtered using Kosher methods did not show any pain:

“The bulls were held in a comfortable head restraint with all body restraints released. They stood still during the cut and did not resist the head restraint.”

Professor Harold Burrow, Royal Veterinary College
Professor Burrow, a long-time professor of veterinary medicine, talks about his experience in witnessing ritual slaughter:

“Having witnessed the Jewish method carried out on many thousands of animals, I am unable to persuade myself that there is any cruelty attached to it. As a lover of animals, an owner of cattle and a veterinary Surgeon I would raise no objection to any animal bred, reared or owned by me being subjected to this method of slaughter.”

Dr Stuart Rosen, Imperial College London
In his paper entitled “Physiological Insights Into Shechita”, published in The Veterinary Record, Dr Rosen concludes:

“Shechita is a painless and humane method of animal slaughter.”

Rather than being the painful process described in recent articles, experts describe it as “humane” and “painless.” So what accounts for the disconnect between the studies above and the ones cited in the Sunday Age articles?

While Professors Grandin, Bager, Burrow, and Rosen all witnessed Kosher slaughter and believe it is ethical, the experiments that mention animals remaining conscious for “up to 20 seconds” after the cut were not performed using the proper Kosher method. The two studies that are commonly cited, one from the EU Commission and the other from New Zealand’s Massey University, were performed on unstunned sheep, but did not include any of the other pain-reducing techniques that are used in Kosher slaughter.

In an article published in the April 2010 issue of Meat & Poultry – The Journal of Meat and Poultry Processors, Dr Grandin accounts for the discrepancy by explaining the differences between proper Kosher slaughter and regular unstunned slaughter, which show why the Massey University study cannot be used to make conclusions about Kosher slaughter:

“The methods section of the paper did not contain sufficient detail to determine if the wound was held open during the cut. In properly done kosher slaughter, the wound is held open during the cut.”

She also points out the vast difference the long Kosher knife can make:

“I have observed that cattle held in an upright restraint device had almost no reaction to correctly done Kosher slaughter that was performed with a special long knife…the cut with the special knife appears to cause no pain.”

In contrast, she recounts:

“I have observed (non-Kosher) slaughter without stunning done with a short knife that caused violent struggling.”

It appears that the Sunday Age made a major error by not distinguishing between proper Kosher slaughter and generic unstunned slaughter, which the studies they cite actually refer to.