17 May 2014

SAFE condemns kosher sheep kill

12:23 am on 17 May 2014

An animal rights group says it's disappointed to learn sheep are still being slaughtered using Jewish kosher killing methods, which mean the animals are not rendered unconscious by stunning before their throats are slit.

While only about 100 sheep a year are killed this way, Radio New Zealand 's rural desk has learnt even the head of the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC) was not aware the practice had been allowed to continue.

In 2010 the Government introduced a slaughter welfare code that was meant to ensure all commercially slaughtered animals were stunned before they're killed, to ensure their deaths were as humane as possible.

The then Agriculture Minister David Carter initially said there would be no exceptions.

But the Jewish community began legal action against Mr Carter and he quickly backed down.

In a settlement, the Jewish community was granted an exemption to kill about 5000 chickens a year using kosher killing methods (known as shechita), enough to satisfy domestic demand.

And both the minister and the Jewish community agreed in the High Court in 2010 to enter into good faith dialogue to determine whether the kosher killing of sheep should be allowed.

Today, four years later, the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) said this dialogue had not begun and the Jewish religious ritual slaughtering of sheep continued.

The executive director of the animal rights group SAFE, Hans Kriek, says religious beliefs shouldn't justify cruelty to animals.

"It's well known that killing sheep without pre-stunning is not a humane death for the animals as the animals stay conscious for a relatively long period of time, and we're very disappointed.

"And it's interesting to see this wasn't made public at all, because there was a lot of publicity in the past about this," said Mr Kriek.

"And clearly something was done behind the scenes to enable the Jewish community to carry on with this but certainly New Zealand as a whole hasn't had the opportunity to have a decent debate about this.

"We don't believe that cruelty to animals can be justified because of religious reasons."

A spokesperson for the Jewish community, David Zwartz, said kosher killing must be allowed to take place.

He said the New Zealand Bill of Rights protected people's rights to observe their religion and the Jewish community believed strongly that kosher killing was very humane. It had been practised for the past 3000 years, he said.

However, in 2010, NAWAC advisory committee head John Hellstrom said Massey University scientists had shown that slitting the throats of animals was not enough to ensure a humane death.

"They did a lot of work particularly in sheep and calves showing that the slaughter methods that were used at that time (1970s) didn't kill animals immediately.

"In fact they could be conscious for some time after they were supposedly killed and obviously feeling pain and distress through that time.

"That was all done with scientific measurement of brain waves and so on, so that's when stunning was introduced and became mandatory right through the slaughter industry."

MPI said it was monitoring the number of animals slaughtered using the shechita method to ensure it does not exceed the number necessary to meet the needs of the local Jewish community and kosher-observant visitors to New Zealand.

It said a total of 369 sheep had been slaughtered this way since November 2010.

*Exceptions were in place for the Jewish community and home kill butchers and the 2010 commercial slaughter code of welfare was designed to remove those."