March 16, 2011


There have been several instances where someone has pointed out to me a connection between religion and the meat industry. Arguably the most famous example: the bible says God gave humans dominion over animals (i.e. we get to do whatever we want to them). As an atheist, this argument means little to nothing to me personally but I understand that for a lot of the world this has defined their relationship to non-human animals.

But the other day I read about a disturbing slaughter practice that I don’t think can be validated: the process for creating kosher meat.

The 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act’s sanitary requirements mandate that a slaughtered animal must not fall in the blood of a previously slaughtered animal, meaning they must be killed while suspended above the floor in some way. Jewish law says that an animal must be conscious when killed. This means that for meat to be considered kosher and still follow sanitary requirements the animal must be hung while conscious before being killed. Here is a description of this suspension process from Peter Singer’s novel Animal Liberation:

“A heavy iron chain is clamped around the leg of a heavy beef animal weighing between 1,000 and 2,000 pounds, and the steer is jerked off its feet, the skin will open and slip away from the bone. The canon bone will often be snapped or fractured. The animal, upside down, with ruptured joints and often a broken leg, twists frantically in pain and terror, so that it must be gripped by the neck or have a clamp inserted in its nostril to enable the slaughterer to kill the animal with a single stroke, as the religious law prescribes.”

Once the animal is killed often only its forequarters can be sold as kosher meat. Jewish law also dictates that meat must be removed of forbidden tissues, veins, lymph nodes and the sciatic nerve. This is usually too laborious to be worth the extra meat and instead it is sold as standard, un-kosher meat to supermarkets. So, if you think that you can make a conscious choice about your meat know that while it may not be labeled “kosher” it may have the same cruel origins.

There are laws that prohibit this kind of treatment to animals— even those that face slaughter. But because of religious freedom this particular process for kosher meat is exempt from them and has created loopholes in animal cruelty laws across the entire industry. Any protest of these atrocities is labeled anti-Semitic (even though many Orthodox Rabbis themselves have questioned it). It is a classic example of how the focus on political correctness and religious tolerance often allows cruel and antiquated practices to persist when they no longer coincide with the modern world.

The religious intent behind kosher guidelines is to honor the animal and minimize its pain. And this may have been possible hundreds of years ago when animals were being killed on family farms. But in today’s factory farm settings it is not, and it is unreasonable and immoral for it to continue.

This may be how kosher slaughter was intended to look:

But this is how it really does:

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