'Pre-slaughter stunning less humane than shechita’
"Anti-kosher meat bill delayed in Dutch legislature due to Israeli research," TAU psychiatrist says.
By JUDY SIEGEL-ITZKOVICH • Jerusalem Post
An Israeli study on electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) for severely depressed or psychotic patients has apparently disproved the claim that the similar process of stunning animals before slaughter is humane and minimizes their suffering.
Prof. Rael Strous, a psychiatrist at Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine and the Be’er Ya’acov Mental Health Center, has just published an article on the subject in the journal Meat Science together with Bar-Ilan University researcher Dr. Ari Zivotofsky.
The researchers reached the conclusion that electric stunning of animals, often advocated as kinder than kosher slaughter, “is in fact cruel and barbaric,” as if one administered ECT without first giving patients sedation and/or general anesthesia.
The team studied ECT given to depressed patients – in which a strong electric shock is given under sedation and/or anesthesia to those who are not helped by conventional anti-depressive medication – as a comparison for the stunning of animals. This was unique research in which medical procedures used on humans were investigated to learn about the suffering of animals.
“Thus, introducing stunning, as we know from the experience in psychiatry on humans, defeats the objective of more humane slaughter,” they wrote. Animals that are inadequately stunned because of improperly positioned electrodes or other problems could suffer pain for a minute or more before losing consciousness, they said.
Strous said all leading Orthodox rabbinical arbiters around the world – except for a single rabbi in New Zealand – insist electrical stunning of animals before ritual slaughter is forbidden. In shechita, Jewish ritual slaughter of kosher animals, an extremely sharp knife is used to quickly sever a major blood vessel in the animal’s neck. This, the rabbis have long said, minimizes distress and pain to the animal as it loses a large amount of blood and consciousness very rapidly.
“Several European countries are introducing compulsory stunning prior to animal slaughter,” Strous told The Jerusalem Post. “This would in essence ban shechita for the first time since the Nazis in Europe.
The “stunning bill” was already passed in the lower house in the Netherlands, Strous said, “and only recently delayed in the upper house due to much lobbying – including, I am led to believe, with the help of academic input, such as our article.”
The article includes a description of ECT, in which electrodes are placed on the patient’s temples, after which a rapid burst of electric current of 70 to 170 volts is meted out. The mechanism by which the electricity “rearranges the brain cells” and provides relief to psychiatric disease is not fully understood but it is often very effective, at least for a while. It can even prevent psychiatric symptoms.
Without putting the patient “under,” ECT is considered a form of “medical torture.”
Patients who have been subjected to it without general anesthesia have reportedly suffered much more anxiety and trauma than they had before.
The authors show that “reversible electrical stunning,” very commonly employed in commercial abattoirs abroad, is very similar to ECT given without general anesthetic. Stunned animals behave as if they had an epileptic seizure, their bodies rigid with muscle contraction.
But it is reversible stunning, and they do not all lose consciousness.
The amount of voltages varies according to the type of animal, techniques used and the individual creature’s size and behavior. The animals going to slaughter can thus regain consciousness and then face the knife that will kill them.
Stunning a chicken, they write, is more problematic than in cows, sheep or other animals.
A common stunning method for poultry is to give them an “electrical water bath through the birds to the metal shackle.”
Every component must be adjusted perfectly to ensure a proper stun. There has to be a solid electrical ground, water height must perfectly match the bird size, and there must be some form of isolation at the beginning to pressure pre-stun electrical shocks.
In practice, the authors write, these conditions are often not met. The stunning process can also cause blood blemishes on the meat, broken bones and painful muscle contractions in the birds, which can still sense what is happening.
It's hard to tell without reading the study itself, but I think these findings with regard to large animal slaughter are BS.
If you read this article closely, you'll see that stunning mammals is problematic for two reasons: 1) The possibility of incorrectly operating the stunning apparatus and, 2) the claimed need to anesthetize animals before stunning.
What the authors (more on them in a moment) appear to do is compare the range of stunning results with ideal shechita, without telling you don't tell you that there are frequent miscuts in shechita and shechita that is truly awful – like at Agriprocessors, for example – that rabbis passed as kosher.
They also make claims regarding sedation that are questionable, again pointing out operator errors or older, less accurate equipment issues and using them to discredit a process that is, in most cases, more humane than a lot of the shechita commercially done in South America, Israel, France, and – until the law caught up with it – Agriprocessors.
This is the same type of game Nathan Lewin's father played to rebut attempts to ban shechita more than 50 years ago.
Lewin cited very old poorly done research, compared the worst of other methods of slaughter to the best shechita but not to the norm of shechita or the worst of shechita, and played similar games.
Another key point is that the stunned animal is almost always killed within a few seconds of the stunning – well before they have a chance to regain consciousness.
But, again, just like with shechita, mistakes can be made. An animal can be incorrectly stunned and never knocked out, or it can regain consciousness before slaughter.
No method of slaughter is perfect.
Properly done shechita combined with proper animal handling and use of the ASPCA upright restraining pen can be as humane and maybe even more humane than other forms of slaughter.
But the key point is that all those conditions must be met for that to be possible, and in the commercial slaughter setting in Israel, Central America, South America, France, some other European countries (and at Agriprocessors, when it was in existence) none of those conditions are met.
The authors certainly know this, but it does not appear that they discuss it in the paper – which should tell you all you need to know about the authors' honesty.
Both of the authors of this paper are Orthodox. One of them, Ari Zivotofsky, is a rabbi with a close connection to the OU. At least 35 of his Torah lectures are housed on the OU's website, and he is a columnist for the OU's Jewish Action Magazine. The OU supervised Agriprocessors and defended its inhumane shechita that you'll see on the video below.
Zivotofsky's wife is a close friend of Aliza Lewin, the daughter and law partner of Nathan Lewin. Nathan Lewisn's father worked to "save" shechita from attacks by animal welfare activists and antisemities alike, and was the point man for Agudath israel of America for this issue.
Both Lewins represent Sholom Rubashkin, Agriprocessors former VP who is now serving 27 years in federal prison for a variety of financial frauds. Zivotofsky's son Menachem was recruited by Alyza Lewin to be the plaintiff in a case against the US Government meant to force the US to officially acknowledge that children born in Jerusalem are born in Israel. Zivotofsky also stages special events where Jews can pay to eat exotic kosher animals, and is a booster of the kosher meat industry.
Zivotofsky's deep connection to the OU, the world's largest kosher supervisor, his family's close links to Nathan and Alyza Lewin, and his promotion of the kosher meat industry should disqualify this study – especially if he did not disclose these conflicts when he submitted the paper for publication and note them to the study itself.
When other scientists do show that this paper is deeply flawed – and that will happen – you'll be able to look back here and see why.
Here's one video of Agriprocessors' shechita. As you watch it, remember that dozens of Orthodox and haredi rabbis and almost every leading kosher supervision agency endorsed this shechita and said what you see on this video is kosher.
These rabbis also flasely claimed that the animals felt no pain because, they said, shechita renders animals unconscious almost instantaneously – another false claim.
Large animal biologists, humane slaughter experts, and veterinarians all condemned the slaughter you will see below. Many said it was the worst animal mistreatment they had ever seen.
Then realize that neither author of the stunning paper spoke out against this shechita: