Canadian Jewish agencies sue government over rules they say curb kosher meat industry

Lawsuit by prominent kosher certification agencies claims leadership is seriously harming sale, distribution of domestically produced kosher beef

File: An Orthodox rabbi checks his knife in a Kosher slaughterhouse in Csengele, Hungary on Jan. 15, 2021 (AP/Laszlo Balogh).
File: An Orthodox rabbi checks his knife in a Kosher slaughterhouse in Csengele, Hungary on Jan. 15, 2021 (AP/Laszlo Balogh).

JTA — Two of the most prominent kosher certification agencies in Canada are suing the national government, claiming that recent regulations around animal slaughter are putting the country’s kosher industry at risk.

The Kashruth Council of Canada and the Jewish Community Council of Montreal, along with the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, an umbrella group representing Canada’s nearly 500,000 Jews, say in the suit that the enforcement of guidelines first introduced several years ago has led to a dramatic decline in the domestic production of kosher meat in the country.

The suit was filed last week.

“Since these new guidelines have gone into effect, the amount of kosher meat produced in Canada has decreased dramatically,” the three organizations said in a statement earlier this week. “The community has been trying to temporarily supplement this shortfall with imported kosher meat, but this situation is not viable over the long term.”

The lawsuit surrounds the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations instituted by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which monitors food, animals and plants to ensure consumer safety. According to the regulations, animal slaughter should include the initial use of a stun gun. But that is prohibited under the laws of Jewish ritual slaughter, or shechita, which mandate that the animal must be uninjured before it is slaughtered with a knife.

If a stun gun is not used, according to the regulations, ritually slaughtered livestock and birds must pass multiple cognitive tests that indicate a loss of consciousness and brain death before continuing in the meat production process. Kosher proponents say that these extra steps add time and complexity to a process that would otherwise take under a minute.

The lawsuit says that between August 2022 and January 2023, the number of kosher meat processing plants in Canada has fallen from six to four, leading to a decline in the weekly yield of domestically produced kosher beef, from 3,400 to 1,750 head of cattle.

The Canadian lawsuit follows years of challenges to kosher slaughter in Europe. A February decision in the Court of the European Union upheld a ban on kosher slaughter in two of Belgium’s three regions.

The ban also focuses on slaughter without the use of a stun gun, which also effectively precludes the Muslim method of slaughtering animals.

Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, and Slovenia also have bans on ritual slaughter.

Illustrative: An Orthodox rabbi checks the quality of poultry meat in a Kosher slaughterhouse in Csengele, Hungary on January 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Laszlo Balogh)

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency said in a statement to several publications that it “remains open to new scientific findings that can support animal welfare, and to listening to and engaging with stakeholders on the challenges they face as well as on potential solutions.”

But the Jewish groups said they submitted evidence last month showing that shechita is humane and meets the CFIA guidelines because it instantly makes the animal lose consciousness, but that the food safety agency rejected their appeal.

“CFIA is supposed to be a science-based organization and to date they have ignored the science,” Rabbi Saul Emanuel, the director of MK Kosher, the Montreal Jewish community’s agency, told the Toronto Star.

The newspaper reported that although most kosher meat in Canada is imported, the country’s Jewish community wants to ensure the availability of domestic kosher meat in case of supply chain issues and as a marker of Jewish belonging in Canada.

“Other Canadians are guaranteed access to local Canadian meat,” Richard Rabkin, managing director of the Kashruth Council of Canada, told the Star. “Why should Jewish Canadians be treated any differently?”

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