Saturday, December 04, 2004

Orthodox Union Responds To PETA

I am writing this letter to keep you informed about allegations made by
an animal rights group known as People for the Ethical Treatment of
Animals (PETA) and what the Orthodox Union is doing in response to those

Earlier this week, PETA released an undercover video showing scenes of
cows staggering and bellowing in agony for several minutes after their
throats were cut by the shochet. PETA focused its attention on one
particular plant, AgriProcessors, Inc., but these accusations have
implications for all kosher shechita, particularly because the video has
received attention in the media world, beginning with an article in The
New York Times, on Tuesday, November 30th.

The Orthodox Union is very concerned about these accusations. We are
sensitive to the inhumane treatment of animals, and empathize with those
who are upset by the images of cruelty recorded on this video. As you
well know, the Jewish faith abjures cruelty to animals and enjoins us to
be as humane as possible in our legitimate utilization of animals. That
shechita is a very humane method of slaughtering animals has been
substantiated over the past century by numerous scholarly articles and
scientific opinion.

We are therefore carefully studying the video and reviewing the
procedures at the AgriProcessors plant. Meanwhile, an additional
supervisor has been put on duty at the facility in question, to monitor
that all proper kashrut and humane practices are being followed.

We wish to draw your attention to the following facts which help provide
a perspective on this matter for you and your congregants:

1. While unnecessary cruelty to even one animal is intolerable, one has
to look at the total picture before judging the matter. During the time
span that the video was taken, thousands of animals were slaughtered by
the plant in question. We have no way of knowing what percentage of
that number resulted in the kinds of scenes that were seen on the video.
Viewers of the video will note that it does show regular instances of
shechita where the animal expired rapidly, without the suffering
observed in other animals.

2. The United States Department of Agriculture supervises this
slaughterhouse and has found nothing amiss in its practices. We have a
very cooperative working relationship with the USDA, and know that USDA
officials visited the plant subsequent to the release of this video, and
were satisfied with the slaughtering that they scrutinized.

3. Slaughtering animals for human consumption is never a pretty sight.
An abattoir is obviously a place where one will see living, vibrant
animals transformed into meat. This is generally a bloody and
unpleasant experience, but this is universal. Indeed, PETA acknowledges
that the shechita process is better than most general slaughtering.

4. The Orthodox Union will not engage in maligning PETA in any way, nor
in questioning their motives. PETA and its adherents have a view of
animal rights to which they are entitled and which they can legitimately
espouse in a free and open society such as ours. We do, however, assert
that religious entities such as ours, or our Moslem cousins, also have
rights within a free society. Those rights, grounded in the U.S.
Constitution, include the ability to prepare animals for consumption in
the religiously prescribed manner.

5. We continue to vouch for the kashrut of all of the meat prepared by
AgriProcessors, which was never compromised. Like all the more than
6,000 plants-producing all kinds of foodstuffs-that are certified by the
OU, it has always been under our regular supervision.

At this point the Orthodox Union:

a) is committed to maintaining the highest ritual standards of shechita
without compromising the halacha one whit. That being said, we will
strive to the best of our ability to see to it that any cruel or
inhumane practices, which are by definition separate from the shechita
process itself, do not occur;

b) is coordinating with other kashrut agencies, and rabbinic and
communal organizations, to assure the most effective response to this

c) is preparing "talking points" which will be made available to members
of the Orthodox Union and the interested public;

d) will be placing educational materials regarding shechita on our

e) is proceeding with the good counsel of professional consultants and a
range of community leaders to effectively respond to the world-wide
concern about this matter.

Finally, we request that no one present himself to the press as an
expert on this matter, since several rabbinic figures have commented to
the press in ways that have confused the press and the public. Please
refer all such queries to Rabbi Menachem Genack, who heads OU Kashrut,
at 212-613-8125, or to my office, 212-613-8264.

Of course, we remain open to input and suggestions from each of you.

I close with best wishes for a Shabbat Shalom and a Happy Chanukah.


Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb

Executive Vice President