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Abolitionist Animal Rights, Animal Law, Animal Welfare, Animal Welfare Act 1999, Uncategorized

Schechita, Halal and Ministerial Conflicts of Interest

It’s been a week of big announcements about animal welfare from the Minister of Agriculture, David Carter. We’ve seen not only the phase-out of sow crates but also the reversal of his decision in May 2010 to outlaw the traditional Jewish method of slaughter, schechita, for chickens.

Schechita slaughter requires the animal to be fully conscious as its throat is cut and it is allowed to bleed out. The NAWAC animal slaughter code created under the Animal Welfare Act 1999 (AWA) requires that an animal to be slaughtered must be first rendered insensible – stunned – so that it does not experience ‘unnecessary’ pain or distress. Although Muslims also object to the stunning of animals at slaughter, a compromise has been reached with halal slaughter whereby the animal is stunned at the instant the cut is made.

But there’s one revelation about the reasons behind the decision to ban schechita in the first place that the Minister would rather not see the light of day.

Documents obtained by the Herald on Sunday:

[A]ppear to show Carter broke the rules governing his portfolio by considering trade implications when making the original decision.

An allegation of conflict of interest has been made because of that – he holds shares in a company which exports meat and met with senior managers who wanted a ban on shechita to protect their interests.

The MPs Register of Pecuniary Interests shows Carter owns shares in Silver Fern Farms Ltd and another major meat exporter to Muslim countries, Alliance Group Ltd.

Silver Fern Farms Ltd processes about 30 per cent of New Zealand’s cattle market. With other stock, it exports more than $200 million of meat to the Middle East … Carter owns three farms – a 1200ha cattle breeding property in Teddington, a fattening unit at Southbridge and shares in a property in Waiau.

Emails obtained under the Official Information Act 1982 show that Carter met in March with Silver Fern Farms Ltd chairman Eoin Garden and chief executive Keith Cooper, who said New Zealand meat exports [to halal-importing countries] would suffer if shechita wasn’t banned as Muslim countries may perceive the exemption for schechita while restrictions are placed on halal as favouritism. So, it would appear that Carter’s decision carried no small amount of potential personal financial benefit. Whether this is so or not – there is at least a clear case for a conflict of interest.

Carter was being sued by the Auckland Hebrew Congregation for changing the law in May to make schechita illegal. The case was set to begin in the High Court at Wellington until a reversal of the ban just days before the hearing was to begin.

The judgement of Justice Alan Mackenzie dismissing the action reveals that Carter’s office continued to talk about the trade implications of the decision even after being advised by Crown lawyers that only animal welfare issues were to be considered by the Minister in reaching his decision. It is also mentioned that Carter made his decision in substantial ignorance of some important facts, believing that chicken, lamb, and beef could all be imported from Australia where schechita is legal. Chicken may not be imported into New Zealand under the Biosecurity Act 1993 – an intriguing oversight given that Carter is also the Minister responsible for Biosecurity – because of the risk of Newcastle disease (END). Lamb is prohibitively expensive, costing about $120 per kilogram to be air-freighted from Australia.

Despite the obvious and significant issues around animal welfare and religious freedoms (as provided for in the Bill of Rights Act 1990) engendered in this controversy, the whole story shows the axis around which all decision making regarding animals in the Ministry turns. Although the Minister’s own (apparent) conflict of interest makes this a particularly egregious case, it is eminently clear that the motivation behind animal welfare codes in New Zealand is principally the facilitation of continued economic exploitation of animals.

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About Vernon Tava

Business broker, elected member of Auckland Council. Focused on sustainability. Lives in Auckland, New Zealand.

Discussion

4 thoughts on “Schechita, Halal and Ministerial Conflicts of Interest

  1. I don’t know if Carter’s business interests is really the most interesting thing about this case. The guy who found this out was looking for any information at all that would enable shechita to be allowed to continue, as it’s always been on the cards that it would be banned one day.
    NAWAC said that it doesn’t meet NZ welfare standards so all Carter had to decide was that there’s no exception for a small religious community that refuses to compromise. So he realised there’s no option for chicken but kosher beef and lamb can technically be imported – so that’s a more interesting question, will it go to court next year to decide on that? and can the Jewish community overturn the ban in court?

    Posted by Han Solo | 6 December 2010, 9:47 pm
  2. There are a number of interesting facets of this case. The Minister’s business interests are both interesting and relevant as they go a long way toward explaining both the reasons for the ban and his sudden reversal of it.
    Carter didn’t realise that there was no alternative source of kosher chicken. That was made clear in the judgement discussed above. What is also clear is that he didn’t make the decision based on the grounds you mention. That’s the problem with the way the decision was made – it put trade considerations at the centre of decision making rather than the animal welfare concerns that were prescribed by law as the proper basis for that decision.
    As to the question you frame: Perhaps more interesting but it is also an impossibility. The ban is not a matter for the courts. No one has legal standing to take the Minister to court to re-impose the ban. It is made at the Minister’s discretion, he takes the advice of NAWAC but he is not bound by that advice. He also has the final sign-off on any codes that NAWAC develop.
    Can the Jewish community have the court overturn a ban should it be re-introduced? We can only speculate. Perhaps, perhaps not. What we do know is that the case was ready to go and it was the Crown that pulled out. I’m sceptical of the possibility that the Minister would be willing to go to court over this issue. The most likely way that this would be done is by judicial review of the administrative decision. The grounds for that review would be that the Minister considered irrelevant factors as discussed above. Given the information already disclosed, this case would be relatively easy to make out and an outcome that he would be eager to avoid.

    Posted by Vernon Tava | 6 December 2010, 11:31 pm
  3. So, despite the Crown’s about-turn on chickens, the court case may continue at some point regarding the beef and lamb kosher slaughter bans here? I can’t work that out from media reports.

    Technically the Crown could argue that there is no burden on religous freedom if the Jewish community can import kosher beef and lamb. A French case in the European Court of Human Rights said there was no prima facie breach of the Jewish community’s Article 9 rights in France when they were prevented form opening a kosher slaughterhouse by the french government (this branch of the community practised a very strict version of sechita and were’t satisfied with the extant kosher slaughterhouses). The European court said they could simply import meat from Belgium, where their strict religious demands could be met. (Case is called Tsedek, I think).

    Posted by davord | 15 December 2010, 6:36 pm

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