Op-Ed: Safeguarding Shechita: Kosher Meat in the UK

Shimon Cohen, Campaign Director of Shechita UK

[YWN Op-Ed by Shimon Cohen, Campaign Director of Shechita UK.]

“Shechita is safe for you in the UK!”

This is a remark I often hear from my American or Israeli peers.

In Europe, as many readers know, Shechita is always under threat as it stands an exemption to the law requiring animals to be mechanically stunned before they are killed. Shockingly, in 2019, for example, in the Flanders region of Belgium, Shechita was banned. Indeed, across the continent, Shechita is exposed legislative attacks, with countries often hovering precariously close to banning Kosher meat production. One slip of the pen in any Bill could outlaw Shechita and establish a dangerous legal precedent that could ripple across Europe.

The same, however, is true for us here in the UK as well. Like in Europe, the practice of Shechita is only allowed under a derogation of the law and so laws could be enacted which would make it banned or unviable. It remains a great irony that in the UK, our Shochtim are certified and regulated by both Jewish supervisory bodies and the government. So Shechita is entirely accountable, licensed, and vouched for by UK law but still not explicitly legal, existing only as an exception!

Many prominent British organisations, ostensibly lobbying in the name of tzaar baalei chayyim, constantly and consistently oppose non-mechanically stunned slaughter and want to ban Shechita in the UK. The British Veterinary Association (BVA), RSPCA, and Compassion in World Farming, for example, have waged long-standing campaigns against us.

Shechita is often painted by these groups as a crueller, inhumane alternative to mechanical stunning. Much of the general public have been swayed by these castigations, making our cause to protect and vouchsafe Kosher meat provision politically unpopular and difficult.
Such understandings, however, are mistaken.

Let us make no doubt about it, the entire lives of these animals’ matter, not just how they are slaughtered. For an animal to be considered kosher it must be healthy. Animals allocated for kosher meat are treated with care and respect, well above the industry norm. Any animal which is even slightly harmed or damaged ahead of the Shechita process is unfit to be eaten. The cows, lambs, and chickens that will eventually make it onto a Kosher table are raised on lower density farms, given access to the green outdoors, fed with higher quality food, and must be free from diseases.

Yiddishkeit emphatically demands that no creature be subjected to any needless pain or abuse. Jews are commanded to limit the loads their animals can carry and before they partake of any meal, Jewish animal-owners must first feed their livestock. Reams of literature from Chazal until today, spanning millennia, strongly advocate for animal welfare. There is not a single major section of Halacha, I am told, where the principle of preventing pain to animals does not feature. Thus, the overall life of a kosher animal or bird is of a higher standard than many intensively farmed animals, whether they are mechanically stunned before death or not. Yiddishkeit demands so.

Great care is taken to ensure that the animals are well-treated and calm before slaughter, as is mandated by Jewish law. The cut must be swift, smooth, and precise. Any animal or bird which is even slightly harmed prior or during the slaughter is not Kosher. There is an ample body of scientific evidence that suggests that Shechita is indeed a humane method of slaughter, causing instant death, and it is categorised as such by many countries across the world, including the USA. It even conforms to the EU definition of stunning: “Any intentionally induced process which causes loss of consciousness and sensibility without pain, including any process resulting in instantaneous death,” by causing an immediate loss of cerebral perfusion (blood-flow to the brain). So, Shechita is a practice entirely in adherence to animal welfare standards.

Mechanical stunning, it’s oft-cited rival, on the other hand, is not as sanitised or smooth a process as the term implies. People assume that these mechanically stunned cows and pigs are gently and caringly induced into a comfortable, blissful sleep, a woozy and kind procedure. These procedures include asphyxiation by gas, electrocution using metal tongs strapped around the animal’s head, immersing the animal upside down into an electrified or boiling water-bath, and shooting a captive bolt through their skull. All inflict a certain degree of pain upon application, and can, and often do, go horribly wrong.

Historically, these stunning methods were first used by large-scale factory abattoirs simply to solve the problem of animals thrashing about during slaughter and slowing down production lines. These businesses wanted to speed up their slaughtering conveyer belt, and so tried to render their long line of animals unconscious before slaughter.

Mechanically stunning the chain of animals before they were killed had nothing to do with animal welfare, and the evidence supporting mechanical stunning for animal welfare reasons remains inconclusive. Furthermore, these methods frequently go wrong.

Banning Shechita has never been about Animal Welfare. Instead, it has been about population control, or, in other words, good old xenophobia and antisemitism. The bans against Shechita were first introduced on the back of migration across Europe. In the late 1800s, violent pogroms caused many Jewish communities to flee eastern Europe and migrate to safer central European countries. Those central European governments, however, often harboured antisemitic attitudes. Outlawing religious slaughter was used as a way of deterring Jews from immigrating to their countries. Such was the tactic Switzerland used in 1892, outlawing Shechita with a ban that continues to this day. They found a way, tragically and shockingly, to limit the immigration of Jews into Switzerland. Similarly, Norway’s 1929 ban was also fuelled by antisemitism, with its fascist party at the time under the sway and inspiration of Nazism. More recent bans or proposed bans to religious slaughter, such as in Denmark in 2014, have also been driven by hatred and xenophobia, often now towards Muslim migrants.

In the UK, we must always be vigilant. My team at Shechita UK are constantly monitoring all manner of agricultural bills and Parliamentary debates to make sure that Shechita is not in the firing line. The Animal Sentience Bill was a law to form a special committee whose role would be to scrutinise all laws passed in regard to animal welfare. We were instrumental in creating a clause within the Bill to ensure that the committee would be forced to respect “religious rites,” including Shechita. To be sure, we have had a strong and close relationship with the UK government’s Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, and are ever grateful to Members of Parliament and leaders who have stood in support of Kosher meat production. However, unfortunately, we do still need to monitor the political landscape.

In short, Shechita, sadly, remains under threat both in Europe and here in the UK. This is not a debate about kindness or cruelty, nor about animal rights versus religious freedoms. Shechita meets all the standards for animal welfare, and we should never forget that. It is a fight against misinformation. At Shechita UK we are trying to combat it. Someday, I hope, my American and Israeli peers will be right.

(YWN World Headquarters – NYC)


  1. our cause to protect and vouchsafe Kosher meat provision


    “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”