Great Article by World
Renowned Shechita Expert Temple Grandin:
Jerusalem Post 12/16/04
Kosher Slaughter Done Right
By Temple Grandin
When operating new equipment that no longer caused the animal suffering, I
felt the sacredness of the ancient ritual
I have worked in the beef industry for 30 years designing equipment to
improve animal welfare. In North America half of the non-kosher cattle are handled
in equipment I designed. I have also designed equipment for holding cattle and
calves for shechitah. I have found that the ancient method of kosher slaughter
can be the most humane, or terribly cruel, depending on the shochet's skill
and the methods used.
The laws of kashrut dictate that the cattle be slaughtered with a sharp
knife, causing almost instantaneous death with no pain. Unfortunately, these laws
do not directly address modern restraining methods that they could hardly have
The result is that some kosher slaughterhouses employ a shackle-and-hoist
system in which a chain is wrapped around the animal's back leg, and shechitah is
performed while the poor beast is suspended by one back leg. The terrified
bellows of cattle can often be heard from outside the slaughterhouse.
In the US, this method is used only for religious slaughter, since all other
cattle are rendered unconscious with a bolt stunner before hoisting.
In the US, many people mistakenly thought that the shackling and hoisting of
live cattle was part of kosher slaughter. But during the mid-Eighties and
early Nineties, I was hired by two companies to tear out these cruel machines and
replace them with equipment that would hold cattle in a comfortable standing
position for shechitah.
Where the shackle-and-hoist method was used, I had no way to study the
animal's experience of shechitah since so much stress was caused by the restraining
methods. For several weeks, I had the opportunity to operate the hydraulic
controls on the new kosher restraint boxes.
When operating the restraining box that no longer caused suffering, I felt
the sacredness of the ancient ritual. I wrote about it in detail in my book,
Thinking in Pictures.
"As each animal entered, I concentrated on moving the apparatus slowly and
gently so as not to scare him. I watched his reactions so that I applied only en
ough pressure to hold him snugly. Excessive pressure would cause discomfort.
If his ears were laid back against his head or he struggled, I knew I had
squeezed him too hard. Animals are very sensitive to hydraulic equipment. They feel
the smallest movement of the control levers.
"Through the machine I reached out and held the animal. When I held his head
in the yoke, I imagined placing my hands on his forehead and under his chin
and gently easing him into position. Body boundaries seemed to disappear, and I
had no awareness of pushing the levers. The rear pusher gate and head yoke
became an extension of my hand."
NOW THAT I was able to hold the animal gently, it was possible to observe its
reaction to shechitah. When shechitah was performed on each steer, I was
amazed that the animal did not move. To find out if shechitah was really painless,
I started holding the head of each animal with less and less pressure to see
if it would move during shechitah. Even big bulls stayed still when the head
holder was so loose they could have easily pulled their heads out.
I also observed that some shochets were better than others in their ability
to cause rapid unconsciousness. All of the cuts were correct from a religious
standpoint, but some shochets were more biologically effective. A swift cut was
more effective than a slower one. In the hands of the best shochets, the
animal does not make a sound or flinch, and drops unconscious in eight to 10
My experiences in seeing how humane shechitah can be could not have prepared
me for the video taken at the kosher meat plant AgriProcessors, which recently
became the center of considerable controversy. The video showed cattle that
were clearly conscious after their throats had been cut and their trachea had
been ripped out and was hanging from their necks.
I have been in over 30 kosher plants, and I had never seen such a dreadful
procedure. Obviously, yanking on the trachea would cause great pain and may have
delayed the onset of unconsciousness.
AgriProcessors is not the only place that needs to improve its procedures.
Many plants that export beef from South America to Israel are dragging live
cattle around with chains attached to the animal's rear leg. In the South
American procedure, still used in 80% of the kosher plants there, live cattle are
hoisted up, laid back down on their back, then held down by four or five people
These plants should replace the dragging of cattle with restraining pens. A
pen that holds the animal standing is the most comfortable for the animal. Pens
that rotate cattle onto their backs like the one at the AgriProcessors are
much better than dragging and hoisting, but are probably more stressful than
In well-designed upright or rotating restraining pens, 95% or more of the
cattle should remain calm and not bellow. In the worst shackle-and-hoist systems,
more than half the cattle will bellow, a sure sign of pain and stress.
Ethical kosher slaughter also makes good business sense. Calm cattle bleed
better, leading to greater efficiency and higher quality meat.
Shackle-and-hoist, in addition to being cruel, is dangerous for people. Struggling animals have
caused so many injuries that insurance companies have forced some plants to
abandon this method. The reduction in insurance premiums alone can, in some
cases, pay for new, more ethical, restraining equipment.
In a recent response to the AgriProcessors video, the Orthodox Union
reiterated that "Judaism abjures cruelty to animals" and announced that "the trachea
will no longer be removed following shechitah, and any animals that appear to
have survived the procedure will be promptly stunned or shot [and their meat
I know that shechitah, done right, is the most humane slaughtering method.
But it is very disturbing that the cruel AgriProcessors procedure was stopped
only after being revealed by a pirate video, and that cases of incompetent
shechitah are still being defended as aberrations. Meanwhile, in other plants,
inhumane shackle-and-hoist methods are still receiving the kosher stamp of
approval. This is a shame, not just for the animals but for a religious system that
represents one of the great ethical advances in human history and which
demonstrates the sacredness of all life.
The writer, the author of Thinking in Pictures and Other Reports from My Life
with Autism, is an associate professor of Animal Science at Colorado State
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