Answers to questions about cattle insensibility and pain during kosher slaughter and analysis of the Agriprocessors video

by Temple Grandin

Below is the letter I wrote after I watched the video that PETA filmed at the Agriprocessors plant in Iowa.

During my career I have visited over 30 kosher beef plants in the U.S., Canada and other countries. I have also worked on designing restraint equipment to replace shackling and hoisting in kosher slaughter plants. Kosher slaughter without stunning can be done with an acceptable level of welfare when it is done correctly (Grandin, 1994). When shehita is performed correctly with the long knife, the cattle appear not to feel it.

This tape shows atrocious procedures that are NOT performed in any other kosher operation. Removal of the trachea and other internal parts before the animal has become insensible would cause great suffering and pain. Many of the cattle on this tape had this dressing procedure performed when they were still fully sensible. Several cattle were walking around with the trachea and other parts hanging out of them. To provide an acceptable level of welfare the animal MUST be allowed to become fully insensible after shehita before any dressing procedure is done.

This plant also has some serious cattle handling and restraint problems. About 50% of the cattle were vocalizing during handling and restraint. This is due to bad practices such as using an electric prod to position the animal's head in the head holder. In a well run kosher plant the percentage of cattle that would vocalize during handling and restraint would be 5%.

To bring this plant up to an acceptable level of animal welfare the following is required. Items 1 and 2 are the most important:

  1. ALL cattle must be completely insensible before trachea removal or any other skinning procedure is conducted. Shehita (religious slaughter) is the ONLY procedure that can be conducted on a sensible animal.

  2. Improve handling and other procedures to reduce the percentage of cattle that vocalize to 5%. This will be in compliance with AMI guidelines.

  3. Implement a system of internal and third party audits to maintain animal welfare standards.

  4. For the highest level of animal welfare perform shehita while the animal is in the upright position. (This can be done in the existing equipment).

In conclusion, many of the cattle that had their trachea removed were fully conscious and fully sensible. The duration of complete sensibility was probably prolonged by the pain of having their inner tissues cut and pulled during this dressing procedure.

Since I wrote this letter many statements have been made on the web about how to evaluate this video. My evaluation is based on both scientific studies and my own experiences in kosher plants.

Question 1: Was the animal walking around with it's throat cut still conscious?

The walking animal was definitely fully conscious and ripping of the trachea would have caused great pain. Any animal that walks, lifts it's head, or attempts to get up after slaughter is still aware and conscious. Cattle on the floor that thrashed and kicked but made no attempt to raise their head where unconscious and insensible. Leg kicking is just reflexes, but raising of the head would be an indication of sensibility.

Question 2: Why did shehita fail to induce rapid unconsciousness in some cattle?

I have observed kosher slaughter of thousands of cattle and calves. Some shochets are much more effective than other shochets. The cuts from all the shochets were proper and acceptable from a religious standpoint but some shochets performed cuts that were biologically more effective. Shochets who performed a fast knife stroke at the moment the carotid arteries were cut induced rapid unconsciousness more reliably than shochets who used a slower stroke. A slower stroke may cause the blood vessels to seal off. I have observed that cattle are more likely to attempt to get up when a slow stroke is used. Other variables include the angle and the exact position of the cut. The best shochets are able to cause over 90% of the cattle to collapse within 10 seconds. It is my opinion that shochets should be evaluated on the ability to perform both ritually correct cuts and biologically effective cuts. This could be done by scoring them on the percentage of cattle that collapse within 10 seconds.

Question 3: Does the animal feel the shehita cut?

I have operated the hydraulic controls on restraining boxes that hold cattle in a standing upright position. To determine if the animal felt the shehita cut, I experimented by using less and less pressure to hold the animal's head in the head holder. I put the head holder on so loosely that the animal could have easily pulled it's head out. When the shochet performed the cut, the animal made no attempt to move it's head. The special long knife used in kosher slaughter is very important. When slaughter without prior sunning is performed with a shorter knife, cattle will violently struggle and definitely feel pain. This is due to the point of the knife digging into the incision. To prevent the animal from reacting to the cut, the blade must be long enough so that the end of the knife remains outside the incision. When I operated the restraining box I was amazed that the cattle did not react to the shehita cut.

Question 4: Is unconsciousness instantaneous after the shehita cut?

Several different scientific studies have shown that insensibility after the throat cut is not instantaneous. Most cattle will become unconscious and insensible within 5 to 10 seconds after a biologically effective cut. However, sensibility can last for over a minute in a small percentage of cattle. When I operated the restraining box, I completely released the headholder and all restraints on many animals so that I could observe their reactions after the cut. Most cattle just looked around before they collapsed. They appreared to not be aware that their throats had been cut. To maintain good animal welfare standards, the animal should be held in the restraining box until it collapses.

Question 5: How should the animal be held in position for shehita?

At Agriprocessors the cattle were held in an apparatus that rotated them onto their backs. It is my opinion based on observing many different restraining methods that the method used to hold the animal in position is a much greater animal welfare concern than shehita. I have seen both the very best and the very worst restraining methods. Some plants restrain the animal by suspending it by a chain attached to the hind leg. This will cause much struggling and bellowing. This cruel method should be banned. In other bad plants the live animal is chained up and dragged across the floor. The rotating box at Agriprocessors is probably more stressful than the best upright box, but it is much better than shackling and hoisting. Meat from animals handled in an abusive manner prior to shehita is technically still kosher but the spirit of religious law has been broken. Jewish principles of kindness to animals are violated when the animal is mistreated prior to shehita.

I recommend that restraining devices should be evaluated with objective scoring. Upright restraint boxes and rotating boxes should be designed and operated in such a manner that they can attain the following scores. One hundred cattle should be observed. The equipment at Agriprocess is capable of passing this welfare audit.

  1. Ninety five percent of cattle should remain silent and not moo, bellow or vocalize when they are entering the box and while they are held in it prior to shehita.

  2. An electric prod can be used on only 25% or less of the cattle to move them into the restraining box. The other 75% must walk in easily with just a tap on the rump.

  3. Ninety nine percent of the cattle must be handled prior to shehita without falling down. Boxes with slanted trip floors that cause the cattle to fall would automatically fail the welfare audit. Rotating boxes must have adjustable side panels and a back rest to fully support the animal during rotation.

Question 6: Why was the trachea (windpipe) ripped out?

I have still not received a satisfactory answer to this question. There are 3 possibilities:

  1. To prevent rumen contents from contaminating the heads.

  2. To facilitate bleeding. Several people gave me this answer. When a second cut is performed to facilitate bleeding, trachea pulling is not the normal procedure.

  3. To loosen lung adhesions to the body cavity so that more cattle would pass for Glatt kosher.

The plant has stopped this procedure and I have never seen this procedure in any other kosher plant. Some of the cattle were definitely conscious and pulling and tearing of the trachea would have caused pain. Agriprocessors also needs to work with their shochets so that they perform biologically effective cuts that will induce rapid loss of consciousness.

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