Have you ever eaten venison at a glatt kosher NYC restaurant? If you have, chances are it came from Musicon Farms.
PETA went undercover to view the slaughter there. What it found does not rise to the level of abuse found at Rubashkin's Agriprocessor and Local Pride plants. Still, what it found is disturbing.
The hasidic slaughters close a metal door on the heads of animals immediately after shechita, slaughter. And they pull conscious, bleeding animals out of the pen by their heads, tearing at the shechita wound while the animal is still living. And the handling of the animals is rough before and during slaughter.
The main problems here seem to be as follows:
- Because the pen does not adequately restrain the deer, humans need to partially restrain the animals during shechita.
- This creates some danger for the slaughterers, and causes them to rush through the slaughter.
- Because the animal is not well restrained, and because the shochet, slaughterer, is trying to stay out of the blood stream, the actual shechita cut is rushed and, in at least one case, too shallow. This means the animals do not lose consciousness quickly and their suffering is prolonged. Indeed, one such animal is pulled alive from the pen and dragged across the floor.
- Dr. Temple Grandin told PETA that the pen's design does not leave enough room for the shochet to slaughter correctly.
According to PETA, the slaughter seen on this new PETA video was done in the presence of the OU's posek, rabbinic decisor, and rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Torah Vodaas, Rabbi Yisroel Belsky. In other words, Rabbi Belsky saw it with his own eyes.
In a letter sent today to Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO of the OU's Kashrus Division and to Rabbi Belsky, and cc'd to the OU's executive director Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh Weinreb, Bruce Friedrich, PETA's vice president, wrote:
What our investigators recorded was appalling. As you may know, deer are high-strung, nervous animals. The deer killed by Musicon panicked when they entered the building. They were then wrestled into position in the restraining pen. In the “drop floor crush” restraint box, an assistant climbed on the back of the deer and knelt on the struggling animals’ shoulders to try to immobilize them. Another assistant then grabbed the deer by the ears or antlers and pulled their bodies forward to expose their necks.
Deer panic easily. Any handling—especially this type of cruel handling—causes them extreme fear and pain.
In a September 1, 2007, letter to PETA (attached), Dr. Temple Grandin confirmed that deer should not be knelt on or pulled by their ears during handling. Dr. Grandin also noted that at Musicon, there is not enough room to make a proper cut.
Immediately after shechita, the assistant would slam the pen door shut to keep the deer from thrashing; some dying animals had their heads squeezed between the frame and the door. The deer were conscious for up to a minute and a half after shechita and one was dragged away while still conscious, as confirmed by Dr. Grandin.…
Many of the problems in this plant could be solved, I think, with a better engineered pen and training for the shochtim and handlers.
PETA's Bruce Friedrich asked the OU to stop certifying any venison as kosher due to the currently unavoidable tzaar baalei hayyim, animal cruelty, involved in their slaughter.
Hasidic kashrut organizations like Satmar's Central Rabbinical Congress are perhaps the most backward when it comes to food safety, cleanliness and issues of animal slaughter and even the safety of its own employees. I suspect that Musicon is under Satmar supervision with a pro forma OU added to increase marketability.
Slaughter is not pretty. But there is no reason to make it more ugly and painful than necessary. US Humane Slaughter Law was intended to stop abuses like those at Musicaon and Rubashkin. It does not because rabbis testified before Congress, claiming shechita provided a near-instantaneous death that was pain-free. They claimed shechita was one swift cut with a surgically shape blade that severed the blood vessels to and from the brain in one swift, painless cut.
Congress exempted shechita from Humane Slaughter Law based on this testimony.
But, as we have seen time and time again, that testimony was false. Whether it was testimony from Rabbi JB Soleveitchik or testimony from haredi rabbis, what was told to Congress is only a partial truth at best.
Shechita can be done as Rabbi JB Solevietchik and others described. But in industrial shechita, that rarely happens. The rabbis who testified surely knew this.
At the same time, the US government tries to stay out of religious issues. Yet, at the same time, it has a mandate enforce the law. Eventually, it will have to do so.
Jews can either clean up their own houses or wait for the government to do it for us. The choice, my friends, is ours.
You can (and should) view the PETA video here.
QUESTION: Musicon Deer Farm's owner told PETA that, of the last 25 deer who were slaughtered before PETA's investigation, 18 were found to be carrying fawns when cut open and, therefore, could not be sold as kosher. I'm at a loss here. Why would a pregnant deer not be kosher? Am I forgetting something here?
UPDATE: Wild animals are not covered by Humane Slaughter Law. Bruce Friedrich of PETA tells me that most deer consumed in the US – even from deer farms – are simply shot in the field. Musicon may be the only place that actually tries to slaughter deer rather than hunt them.
I think this helps to explain the difficulties the shochtim at Musicon have and the problems with the pen. A little engineering help and perhaps some creative advice from Temple Grandin would probably fix the problems at Musicon.
But, as we now stand, there is no government body to step in and improve things.
UPDATE 2: I just saw a letter Dr. Temple Grandin sent to PETA after she viewed the video. She basically saw what I saw. She makes some concrete suggestions for improvement as follows:
I watched the video about kosher deer slaughter. The people behaved in a professional manner, but there are some definite problems with the restrainer and procedures. The collapse time was really slow due to a poor cut. The poor cutting is due to the plywood structure being too close to the rabbi’s knife. There is not enough space for a good cut. An additional hinged section would solve this problem. The restrainer needs a device to hold the back of the animal’s neck. The third deer was definitely not fully insensible when it was pulled out of the restrainer by its ears. These problems can be fixed:
Better clearance for the rabbi’s knife.
A neck and back holder so a person does not have to kneel on the back of the animals.
Do not hold the head in position by holding the ears.
Never use the ears to move a sensible animal.
Design change may be needed to reduce struggling in the box. I could not see how the restrainer and leading chute was constructed in the rear.
The deer must be fully insensible before it is dragged out of the box.
Making these changes will improve the rapid collapse time.
The question remains why the OU did not act on its own to correct these problems, problems that took place in front of its senior posek, Rabbi Yisroel Belsky (he holds that position along with Yeshiva University's Rabbi Hershel Schachter).