Kosher describes what is ‘fit and proper’ for people of the Jewish faith to consume. Kosher food laws are based on interpretation of the Bible and the Torah, the Judaic scriptures, and set out a range of beverages and foods (including meat) that are acceptable to drink and eat.
For meat to be Kosher, the animal must be slaughtered in a particular way, so the Rabbi in a Kosher abattoir is a specially trained religious slaughterer. A very sharp knife is used to cut the oesophagus, the trachea, carotid arteries and jugular veins in one smooth action. There must be no pause during the action nor excessive pressure on the blade. Failure to meet these specific requirements renders the animal unkosher.
The national standard for meat production in Australia is that all animals must be effectively stunned (unconscious) prior to slaughter. Kosher slaughter does not comply with this standard.
Exemptions from pre-slaughter stunning requirements
A small number of abattoirs in Australia have been granted permission from the relevant State or Territory food authority to conduct religious slaughter without prior stunning – for either Kosher or Halal purposes (although the vast majority of Halal slaughter includes prior stunning). These ‘approvals’ are effectively exemptions to standard Australian slaughter practice and, for Kosher slaughter, apply to cattle, sheep and poultry.
Our understanding (as of 2017) is that there are 8 abattoirs in Australia with approval to conduct slaughter without prior stunning in three different States:
- New South Wales – 2 abattoirs
- South Australia – 3 abattoirs
- Victoria – 3 abattoirs.
For cattle and sheep, the requirements for religious slaughter without prior stunning are set out in a nationally adopted guideline Ritual Slaughter for Ovine (Sheep) and Bovine (Cattle):
- For cattle, stunning is still required but this occurs immediately after the throat is cut. Two separate slaughtermen must be present: one to perform the cut (which must sever both the carotid arteries and jugular veins) and one to perform the stunning. The animal must be restrained (including head restraint) in a manner that ensures it remains standing in an upright position and is still during the slaughter process.
- For sheep, stunning is not required except where the animal is distressed or does not rapidly lose consciousness, in which case they must be immediately stunned.
The requirements for cattle and sheep are different because cattle take longer than sheep to lose consciousness as they have an extra blood supply to the brain at the back of the neck running along the vertebrae.
A small number of specialised poultry processors conduct Kosher slaughter without stunning to produce Kosher chicken.
Animal welfare concerns
The RSPCA is concerned there are much greater risks of an animal suffering during slaughter without stunning than for conventional slaughter. Slaughtering an animal while fully conscious requires additional handling and restraint and means that the animal will experience pain associated with the throat cut and subsequent bleeding out. For these reasons, the RSPCA is strongly opposed to all forms of slaughter that do not involve prior stunning of the animal. Where the RSPCA is opposed to a practice we believe is cruel – but not illegal – we engage with the relevant industries and government with the ultimate aim to see an end to the practice.
What you can do to help
It is the state/territory food authority that provides abattoirs with special permission to conduct religious slaughter without prior stunning. If you are opposed to slaughter without prior stunning, please contact the state/territory Minister for Agriculture in NSW, SA and VIC as well as the Federal Minister for Agriculture to make your views known.