Last week, the European Parliament approved a set of draft proposals designed to provide consumers within the EU with much more accurate information about the food products they buy. Among these is a regulation - still in draft - which, if endorsed by the European Commission later this year, will mean that shechitah-slaughtered meat that finds its way on to the general market will need to be labelled as "meat from slaughter without stunning".
Orthodox communities across and beyond the EU are understandably dismayed and outraged by this development. Speaking on behalf of Shechita UK - the umbrella body that co-ordinates shechitah defence in this country - Henry Grunwald has characterised the proposal as "ill-conceived" and discriminatory, and has warned that it "will have a significant impact on the kosher meat industry across Europe". He is right.
Shechitah-slaughtered meat is apparently to be labelled as such, but not meat from animals killed by electrocution, gassing, shooting or clubbing. Nor are consumers to be afforded the privilege of knowing that the rump steak or the leg of mutton they take from the supermarket counter has come from an animal incorrectly stunned (I have personally witnessed this), and which was, in fact, paralysed but fully conscious during the bleeding-out process. Put another way, the animal was bled to death but fully "awake" during the time it took to die. Of such botched procedure the consumer will know nothing.
What the consumer will be told, if the EU Parliament has its way, is when that rump steak or leg of mutton has come from an animal slaughtered "without stunning". It is the contention of shechitah advocates that the Jewish method stuns and slaughters in one operation. This is the principal reason why, in the USA, shechitah has been designated by Congress as a humane method of slaughter. So, is the EU going to insist that the meat products imported from the USA (and from Israel, for that matter) and which are on general sale in my local supermarket must be labelled as derived from animals slaughtered "without stunning"? I think not.
To pick one method of slaughter is, as Grunwald has stressed, "suspicious, troubling and discriminatory". The ultimate objective of the EU's anti-shechitah lobby is of course to ban shechitah, but for the moment it will be very pleased with itself if it manages simply to harness the misinformed consumer to its wagon. Shechitah will be priced out of existence if it cannot be stopped outright. That is the sole object of the exercise.
Shechita UK must promote ‘kosher-slaughtered’ meat and poultry
But a challenge is also an opportunity, and I want to suggest two strategies that Shechita UK can take, in concert with its partner organisations throughout the EU, to counter the European Parliament's proposition. The first is to launch, now, a very public nationwide campaign to persuade the non-Jewish public of the virtues of buying what should be called "kosher-slaughtered" meat and poultry. After all, the word "kosher" has long since entered the English language, and is commonly used to describe something that is above reproach. The word-processing software I am using to write this column offers synonyms for "kosher" that include "acceptable," "legitimate" and "above-board". Let this campaign - which in this internet age need not cost a great deal of money - be launched. Let the market decide.
But there is another step that Shechita UK can take. At the moment, more than two-thirds of an animal that is kosher-slaughtered is despatched to the non-kosher trade. A number of factors are at work here, but the most salient is the rejection - for the kosher trade - of unporged hind-quarters. This need not happen. It does not happen in Israel or in the USA, where the consumer can purchase porged hind-quarter meat that is certified as kosher by the most reputable rabbinic authorities. There is no reason why that cannot happen here and the sooner Shechita UK can bring this about the better.
Best of all, of course, would be for the European Commission to veto the ill-conceived labelling proposal, which has less to do with animal welfare than with common-or-garden, anti-Jewish prejudice.