As Israel bans ‘shackle and hoist’ slaughter, activists ask: What about the US?

As Israel bans ‘shackle and hoist’ slaughter, activists ask: What about the US?

No more import of inhumanely slaughtered meat to the Holy Land, but as long as the cruel practice continues, concerns remain for Diaspora Jews

Yaakov Schwartz is The Times of Israel's deputy Jewish World editor.

Illustrative photo of cows at a livestock farm (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of cows at a livestock farm (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Israel’s Agriculture Ministry announced earlier this week it is barring the “shackle and hoist” method of ritual slaughter immediately for new slaughterhouses looking to export meat to the Jewish state. Starting June 1, 2018, the ban will also affect abattoirs with existing contracts.

Widely used by slaughterhouses in South America, the controversial method involves electrically prodding, restraining, and then hoisting an animal in the air by one leg after its throat is slit. Workers then sever its spinal cord.

Well-known Jewish animal rights activist Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz says American Jews would do well to follow Israel’s example and ban the import and kosher certification of inhumanely-slaughtered meat.

“Israelis can be very proud of putting this policy in place, and I think American Jews should use the momentum and inspiration from the Israeli government to ensure that the same thing happens here as well,” Yanklowitz told The Times of Israel on Thursday.

Yanklowitz, the founder and president of Orthodox social justice group Uri L’Tzedek, advocated for more humane ritual slaughter for nearly a decade. For the longtime vegan, the tipping point was when kosher meatpacking giant Agriprocessors was raided by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and ultimately exposed for the egregious treatment of both workers and animals.

After the conditions at America’s largest kosher slaughterhouse were brought to light, Yanklowitz co-founded the Shamayim V’Aretz Institute for ethical treatment of animals along with Hollywood actress Mayim Bialik and singer Matisyahu.

Mayim Bialik. (photo credit: Denise Herrick Borchert)
Mayim Bialik. (photo credit: Denise Herrick Borchert)

“I, like many, believed prior to that, that the kosher industry was still operating according to a higher standard,” he said.

But what Yanklowitz found was that despite legislation mandating humane animal slaughter in the US dating back to the 1960s, there is an exception – enacted specifically for Jews – allowing the import of inhumanely-slaughtered meat for those with religious restrictions.

Yanklowitz would like to see the Orthodox Union, seen by many in the US as the “gold standard” of kosher certification, put an end to endorsing “shackle and hoist” meat as kosher.

The majority of kosher meat purchased by US consumers is raised domestically and slaughtered using upright pens, which are considered to be the most humane. But a significant amount is imported from South and Central American facilities that employ what Yanklowitz calls “horrific” procedures.

In a recent Forward blog post, Yanklowitz writes that CEO of kosher certification at the OU Rabbi Menachem Genack “has indicated interest in seeing the kosher meat ecosystem move away from such harrowing and heartbreaking methods of slaughter.”

But, he says, OU priorities are clearly elsewhere.

Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz in Jerusalem, June 2015 (courtesy)
Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz in Jerusalem, June 2015 (courtesy)

“It would represent a disruption of supply and inevitably would mean kosher meat would go up higher in price,” the blog quotes Genack as saying. “We’re trying to supply a modest cost for struggling families. That’s the whole concept behind the OU.”

The controversy behind “shackle and hoist” slaughter is hardly new. Undercover videos documenting disturbing treatment of animals from 2008 and 2010 have spurred conversation about the ethics of such practices.

“We are working toward upgrading the way animals are prepared for slaughter to minimize animal suffering,” a Chief Rabbinate spokesman is quoted as saying by the Jerusalem Post in 2008.

“I want to reiterate that the methods used up until now were completely kosher and that the Jewish method of slaughtering is the most humane in the world,” he claimed.

Renowned agriculture expert and subject of an Emmy-award winning movie Dr. Temple Grandin has described “shackle and hoist” as being “in a category by itself for badness.”

But while the Israeli rabbinate condemned “shackle and hoist” back in 2008, little has been done to prevent it until a fresh video of a facility in Paraguay was aired by Israel’s Channel 10 this past November. (Caution: video may be disturbing to some.)

Since then, the Paraguayan government has vowed to take quick steps, putting an end to the practice by the end of 2017.

Still, Yanklowitz said, there are more ethical sources for meat available to Jews in the US. He suggests buying Kol Foods, Grow and Behold, and Heritage Poultry, which, he says, are “still not perfect, but much better than South American imports.”

Despite the victory in helping stop “shackle and hoist” slaughter, Yanklowitz knows there is more to be done.

“We’re talking about their final minutes,” he said. “But what about everything up until then? A better death is nothing compared to a better life.”

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