Pauline Dubkin Yearwood and Richard Schwartz
“Slaughtering by its very nature causes the animals great suffering.”
Who said this? A vegan activist or someone from an animal rights group?
That’s what you’d think, but prepare to be shocked: The statement was made by a major Israeli dairy and meat producer, Tnuva.
The company is currently the defendant in two independent class action suits related to the mistreatment of animals at its Beit She’an slaughterhouse, where it produces meat under the name Adom Adom.
The claims are based on an undercover video documenting animal abuse at the slaughterhouse that was shown In December 2012 on Israel Channel 2 television’s Kolbotek. Among the appalling images were calves and lambs beaten and electrically shocked, dragged on the floor by a forklift, walked on, rode on and thrown into the air.
Two separate class action suits filed by two Orthodox women, Ruth Kolian and Perach Amzeleg, were heard in Jerusalem District Court on May 20. The women and their lawyers argued that many consumers of Tnuva meats suffered great anguish when they saw the undercover video and realized that they were deceived by Tnuva ads, which created the false impression of humane treatment of animals based on strict regulations.
They claimed that Tnuva’s deceptions enabled the company to make illegal profits because many consumers would not have bought meats from them if they were aware of the abuses at the slaughterhouse. Both plaintiffs say they will donate any funds gained from their suit to an animal welfare organization.
To the surprise of many, Tnuva did not argue at the court hearing that its treatment of animals is humane. Its representatives admitted that the meat production process involves cruelty that would shock any viewer and does not conform to people’s inherent standards of animal welfare.
“There is no reason to assume the claimed damage of ‘profound shock, anger, repugnance and sadness’ would not have been caused to consumers even if what had been documented and broadcast had been the usual, violent procedure in accordance with the regulations concerning the animals at the time of their slaughter, the legality of which is not in dispute,” they claimed. They argued that people who eat meat are aware of the cruelties involved in meat production and don’t want to be reminded of them.
Kolian had obtained friend of the court notes in the form of rabbinic rulings from Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Mahfoud, head of the Badatz kashrut system, and from the Ashkenazi Eda Haredit slaughter board that meat produced with unnecessary cruelty should not be given kosher certification.
This is very significant because even if shechita, which is designed to minimize animal pain, is carried out perfectly –which does not always happen under current mass production slaughter conditions – the terrible abuses of animals on factory farms should be considered, in terms of possible violations of tsa’ar ba’alei chaim, the prohibition against causing unnecessary “sorrow to animals.” Some examples are: egg laying hens are kept in spaces so small that they can’t easily lift even one wing; to avoid hens harming each other by pecking other hens in frustration under the very unnatural conditions, the tips of hens’ beaks are painfully seared off; male chicks at egg-laying hatcheries are killed right after birth because they can’t lay eggs and have not been bred to grow fat quickly as broilers are: dairy cows are artificially impregnated annually so that they can continually be milked; their calves are taken away almost immediately, the males generally to be raised for veal, under very cruel conditions. Many more examples can be given.
Making the situation even more shameful, the widespread mistreatment of animals on factory farms creates products that contribute significantly to heart disease, several types of cancer, and other chronic, degenerative diseases, and their production worsens climate change and other environmental threats to humanity. A 2009 report, “Livestock and Climate Change,” by two environmentalists associated with the World Bank indicated that the livestock sector is responsible for at least 51 percent of all human-induced greenhouse gases. This is largely because the huge amount of methane emitted by cows, goats, and other ruminants is 72 to 105 times as potent in warming the planet as CO2 in the 20-year periods during which most methane that enters the atmosphere disappears.
In view of the above and more, we believe that the Jewish community should address the many moral issues related to animal-based diets and seriously consider if Jews should shift to nutritious plant-based diets. Such a shift would help revitalize Judaism by showing the relevance of Judaism’s eternal teachings about preserving human health, treating animals with compassion, protecting the environment, conserving natural resources, and helping hungry people, and would also help shift our imperiled planet onto a sustainable path.
Pauline Dubkin Yearwood is the managing editor of The Chicago Jewish News.