NZ’s ban on kosher meats is a disgrace

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 3rd June 2010

On 28 May 2010, New Zealand became the fourth country in the world to outlaw shechita, the slaughtering of animals according to Jewish law to produce kosher meat and poultry.

New Zealand’s ban on kosher slaughter isn’t the first – it follows a position first adopted during the 1920s in Iceland, Norway and Switzerland, and most infamously by Nazi Germany during the early 1930s.

The New Zealand ban comes about as a direct consequence, apparently deliberate, not to consider kosher slaughter under the new Animal Welfare Commercial Slaughter Code as a humane method, and to disregard the scientific consensus supporting the humaneness of the method. New Zealand’s position not only runs counter to preexisting New Zealand laws, but is also contrary to the legal position in Australia and the United States.

The new Code, announced by New Zealand Agriculture Minister David Carter and prepared by the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC), mandates that commercially killed animals must be stunned before slaughter to “ensure that the animals are treated humanely and in accordance with good practice and scientific knowledge”. The Code took effect immediately following his announcement on 27 May.

The consequence of the Code is that, effectively, it makes it impossible to produce kosher meat or poultry in New Zealand, as the stunning of an animal prior to slaughter is not permissible under Jewish law. Meat killed in this way cannot be made kosher. Jews in New Zealand have thus had their right to practise their religion totally compromised.

While kosher beef can be imported, Jewish people will have to completely miss out on having chicken in their diet if they want to observe their religion. Due to quarantine restrictions, chickens cannot be brought into New Zealand, meaning that the Code effectively eliminates chicken meat from New Zealand’s observant Jewish family tables.

The New Zealand authorities are demonstrating a hostile lack of understanding of Jewish culture, and of kosher slaughter practices in particular.

The original purpose of the Code was to set minimum standards to be met by persons in charge of the slaughtering of animals. The Code is given legal force by the relevant provisions of the Animal Welfare Act 1999 (NZ). The Act states that its guiding principles are to ensure that owners of animals and persons in charge of animals attend properly to the welfare of those animals, including taking all reasonable steps to ensure that the physical, health, and behavioural needs of the animals are met in accordance with both (i) good practice; and (ii) scientific knowledge.

The report on the Code specifically recommended that in order to balance animal welfare and religious rights of Jewish people the Shechita could be regarded as an exceptional circumstance (page 23 of the report). Nonetheless, the Agriculture Minister went ahead and removed the dispensation without further consultation.

How can a piece of legislation, aimed at protecting animal welfare, detract from the human right to freely practise religion? Was this an unintended consequence – just a significant oversight on the part of the Government? I believe it was deliberate, and very unfortunate, and needs to be reviewed if the government is not to follow dangerous precedents.

Section 13 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 expressly states that “everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion, and belief, including the right to adopt and hold opinions without inference”, while Section 14 expressly states that “everyone has the right to manifest that person’s religion or belief in worship, observance, practice, or teaching, either individually or in community with others, and either in public or in private”. By making animal slaughter practices that are unacceptable to adherents of the Jewish religion mandatory, the Code could well breach their human rights under these provisions.

New Zealand’s Agriculture Minister, David Carter, a cattle breeder with more than 30 years farming experience, has previously been a vocal advocate on animal welfare issues, as expressed in a speech last year.

The timing of this move to put kosher meat out of business in New Zealand comes, ironically, only a couple of months since the opening of New Zealand’s first religious orthodox restaurant in downtown Christchurch, a short ride down State Highway 75 from the NZ Agriculture Minister’s electoral office. While the Kosher Kitchen restaurant, operated by distinctively-bearded members of the orthodox Chabad-Lubavitch movement, has specialised in a non-meat menu, the ban obviously prevents any prospect of the small Jewish community’s new restaurant expanding and venturing into meat-based meals

The New Zealand authorities are demonstrating a hostile lack of understanding of Jewish culture, and of kosher slaughter practices in particular. This is a slippery slope for any government, as it follows a historical pattern of oppressive anti-semitic regulation. The effect will be to place pressures on observant New Zealand Jews to leave their country. Forget any Jewish jokes about chicken soup – Jewish people are simply to be banned from their religious practices, under the guise of protecting animal rights. What about human rights?