NZ Kosher ban: trade interests?

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 30th November 2010

Kosher meatsThe effective banning of kosher slaughter, known as shechita, in New Zealand, has taken a new turn, with the New Zealand Herald reporting that Agriculture Minister David Carter, the architect of the ban, broke the rules governing his portfolio by considering trade implications when making the original decision.

Carter approved animal welfare regulations in the new Commercial Slaughter Code which, by requiring animals to be stunned before killing, effectively made slaughter according to strict kosher rules impossible. An exception to the animal welfare laws for shechita slaughter – the previous state of affairs – was rejected by the Minister in the new Code.

Two Orthodox Jewish community groups, the Auckland Hebrew Congregation Trust and the Wellington Jewish Community Centre, launched a lawsuit appealing the decision on the grounds that it contradicts the New Zealand Bill of Rights act. Estimates suggest the lawsuit has cost the groups over NZ $500,000, for which funds are continuing to be raised.

The Department of Agriculture is being defended out of the public purse, and the case will most likely come to trial in 2011. Until then, an exception has been granted for shechita slaughter to continue in New Zealand.

New Zealand newspaper, the Herald on Sunday, obtained a series of documents suggesting trade interests and a possible conflict of interest may have had a bearing on the decision, which were examined in a High Court judgement on whether or not to make the Minister available for cross-examination when the case comes to trial.

Carter owns shares in one of New Zealand’s largest meat processors, Silver Fern Farms, and the Herald reports that the email correspondence it obtained suggests that he met with Silver Fern chairman Eoin Garden and chief executive Keith Cooper in March.

In the meeting, according to an email from Ministerial private secretary Natalie Nesbitt, the two executives indicated that trade with Muslim countries might suffer if it emerged kosher meat was allowed to be produced in New Zealand, while restrictions were placed on halal slaughter.

The Herald quotes Nesbitt:

“Silverfern (sic) Farms CEO and chairman raised their opposition to an exemption being provided for shechita (kosher) slaughter … with the minister this afternoon, among other matters.”

She said concerns from Garden and Cooper included “trade risks (particularly to halal markets)” if a Jewish religious form of slaughter was allowed to continue in New Zealand.

The New Zealand Muslim community did not raise any objections to the new Code, having used a ‘pre-cut reversible stun’ for the production of its Halal meats. It is not clear why the international Halal market would object to an exception being made for shechita slaughter, when according to the report on the Code, no submissions opposing the
use of the pre-cut reversible stun were received from the Muslim community.

In a High Court judgement by Justice Alan McKenzie, details of an affidavit made by Carter were recounted, saying that “at an earlier stage in his consideration [Carter] had been involved in discussions with other Ministers concerning the possible trade implications of the Code,” but that he “subsequently accepted legal advice that his decision should not take into account matters relating to trade, and that he should leave those matters to the Prime Minister and Minister Groser, the Minister of Overseas Trade. He says that the legal advice was in very clear terms. He should not be concerned with trade issues when deciding whether to allow an exemption for shechita and thereafter he focused on animal welfare values and freedom of religion and how to resolve the tension between them in the context of commercial slaughter.”

The judgement also indicated that the plaintiffs – representatives of the Jewish community – disputed this statement, saying that Carter had suddenly decided to deny the exception to the Code for shechita, in a period where the only material put before him related to trade considerations.

Justice McKenzie said that Carter, in his affidavit, had denied involvement in the preparation of two documents making reference to trade considerations, sent by his office to Trade Minister Tim Groser and Prime Minister John Key, which both postdated the legal advice.

In a statement to the Herald, Carter said: “Claims that business interests determined my decision on the Commercial Slaughter Code of Welfare are totally baseless. Animal welfare was the primary consideration in making this decision and I have said many times that animal welfare is a priority of mine.”

Carter is also listed on the MPs Register of Pecuniary Interests as a shareholder in another meat producer exporting to Muslim countries, Alliance Group Ltd.