EU – Shechita and Meat Labeling in Europe

Most all of us feel confident that shechita  in the US is protected and that while kosher meat and poultry are not inexpensive they are not totally out of line of the non-kosher pricing. Do not be surprised to read that in a year or in several, that price might jump exceedingly. How about $10 a pound for chicken, or even $7 or $8. And meat? Forget about it! At $30 a pound few people will be able to afford meat even for Shabbos. I know that these numbers sound unreal to you now, but read on.

Shechita around the world has been under the gun (the stunning gun) for the last few years, with the latest attacks taking place in the European Parliament. And, at the same time in the Netherlands. In the Netherlands the country is threatening to stop shechita period. In the EU, however, the attack is more subtle. The enemies of kosher slaughter (and of halal), such as the secular and humanist groups (as well as the animal rights groups), are claiming the “rights” of all consumers to know if meat has not been stunned — something that these groups are claiming is akin to humane slaughter.

The latest blow came two days ago on May 10, 2011, when the members of the European Parliament (MEPs) who sit on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee decided that food labels should contain much more information about stunning.

They want mandatory nutritional information on meat packaging to include information on artificial trans-fats and, crucially for the meat industry, on the country of provenance and method of slaughter. The committee’s press statement declared that the MEPs had amended draft EU legislation to provide the information that consumers need “to make choices.”

Such nutritional information, at first glance, sounds innocuous, not challenging to you and to me, and quite consistent with good government.

The draft legislation, voted at the second reading by the committee of the European Parliament, aims to modernize, simplify, and clarify food labeling within the EU. It would change existing rules on information that is compulsory on all labels, such as name, list of ingredients, “best before” or “use by” dates, specific conditions of use, and add a requirement to list key nutritional information. All good and helpful indeed.

Now, however, MEPs wish to go further, by indicating the “place or country of provenance” for all meat and poultry, milk and dairy products and other single-ingredient products. They also voted for a requirement to state the country of provenance for meat, poultry and fish when used as an ingredient in processed food.

Furthermore, meat labels will need to indicate where the animal was born, reared and slaughtered. In addition, meat from slaughter without stunning (in accordance with kosher and halal requirements), will need be labeled as such.

The committee approved these amendments on a 57-4 vote, with only one abstention.

This is akin to a “yellow star” for meat to indicate it as “kosher.” The pressure will then be on the populace to avoid such meat as it is considered inhumane in its processing. Non-kosher meat establishments will then refuse to buy the hindquarters and the neveilos and treifos from kosher slaughter.

If those who slaughter kosher meat are unable to find a market for the majority of the kosher meat slaughtered — the hindquarters and the neveilos and treifos — they will refuse to be involved in kosher slaughter. At that point, the only viable way to get kosher meat will be production in countries outside the EU or in dedicated kosher-only factories where over 50% of the meat will go to waste.

Readers will probably wince at these words and will regard them as “almost impossible.” Certainly they will deny that any such thing could take place here in the U.S. Unfortunately, I know that not to be true for the following four reasons.

The impetus for most of this attack on kosher has been by animal rights groups and vegetarians. They are very popular in Europe, but they are also growing very rapidly here in the U.S.

PETA has reared its ugly head here in the U.S., nearly single-handedly bringing down the largest kosher slaughter in the U.S. : Rubashkin’s Agriprocessors. In addition, PETA is challenging the Jewish practice of kapparos wherever it is being practiced.

I served for several years on a committee of 15 to oppose attempts by U.S. restaurants to ban the use of (non-kosher parts of) kosher-slaughtered meat for humane reasons. It is only time when the pressure will be put on non-kosher establishment and processors to label their meat as slaughtered without stunning — i.e. kosher-slaughtered.

After over 100 years, the kosher laws have been deemed unconstitutional. The status quo is no proof of future governmental protection. What is law today may be banned tomorrow. This is also why New York State disbanded their Bureau of Kosher Law Enforcement.

No, I am convinced that anti-shechita legislation will be attempted here and quite soon. Note the recent attempt in San Francisco CA to ban bris milah. The groundswell to challenge shechita, whether directly through a ban challenging the humane quality of shechita, or indirectly by way of labeling kosher meat as meat that was killed without stunning, is already in place. What is needed is just the match to light the fire.

Shechita U.S.A

Although we do not know where all this will end, KASHRUS Magazine has now launched Shechita USA. After years of begging Jewish groups to join me in this effort and after calling upon readers to join me with donations of time, web work, research and/or money, KASHRUS Magazine has put up a blog: shechitausa.wordpress.com. Join us in our efforts. Contact us at 718-336-8544; kashrus@aol.com; shechitausa@gmail.com.

Let us pray that our efforts succeed in maintaining unhindered shechita here and throughout the world.

 Rabbi Yosef Wikler

Editor, KASHRUS Magazine

shechitausa@gmail.com