It’s a Friday night staple in Israel and the US, but a kosher and organic certified roast chicken has never graced a Shabbat table in the UK.
However, growing interest in ethically reared meat has prompted campaigners to launch a petition to get kosher meat certified organic, or “organically reared”.
Organic meat was a hot topic at the Jewish food festival, Gefiltefest. Campaigners are looking for new ways to show meat has been ethically reared and are considering pushing for a rabbinical “kitemark”.
No kosher meat is certified as organic because the bodies authorised to certify produce as organic insist that animals for slaughter must be pre-stunned, which is not permitted under the laws of kashrut and shechita.
The campaign is being spearheaded by Spencer Shaw of Jewish events website JewPro, and advised by the London School of Jewish Studies’ Rabbi Natan Levy. Rabbi Levy was told by Soil Association head Helen Browning that “we are as keen as you are to find a way to offer organic kosher meat. However, sadly, I really do feel that the method of slaughter as set out in the kashrut laws is not compatible with the Soil Association’s principles on humane animal slaughter and any change would require compromises that would simply not be satisfactory to both.”
Mr Shaw, 32, described the position as “absolutely ridiculous – and I want to do something concrete about it.
“With our combined efforts we can do a proper campaign. We want to get the people who signed the petition involved in lobbying about the issue. I’d like to co-operate with the Muslims too, because it affects halal meat.”
The petition, which has been sent to the 15,000 users of Mr Shaw’s website, urges the Soil Association to “adapt a label specifically for halal and kosher poultry and meat that accredits those animals raised in the same humane and organic environment as any other organic animal. This ‘organically reared’ designation would give religious consumers the essential opportunity to conscientiously choose a trusted organic product in keeping with their faith.
“It would widen the organic market into new neighbourhoods and communities and it would simply increase the demand for healthier animals raised sustainably.”
Mr Shaw said it would allow consumers to know which farmers were producing ethically reared meat – there is currently no way of telling.
“I don’t want to eat a chicken kept in appalling conditions. But even if farmers are raising their kosher meat ethically, we can’t show support for them, because we don’t know. It’s really very important, because it will encourage farmers to keep the chickens in a more conscientious way. There arepeople doing it already, but they aren’t allowed to call the meat organic. It’s organic in principle but not in name.”
Rabbi Levy has also requested a meeting with Ms Browning to discuss a way forward. Shechita UK spokesman Shimon Cohen said he had hit a brick wall when trying to start the conversation about organic kosher meat at government level in 2005. In a letter from the agriculture department, he was told there was “nothing in organic standards which favoured one method of slaughter over another” and there was “no reason why a certification body should not be able to certify kosher meat”.
“I was amazed at the stupidity,” Mr Cohen said. “Why is it that if two chickens are raised in exactly the same way and sent to the same abattoir that one ceases to be organic because of the last two seconds of its life, when it’s handed to a shochet? But the certification bodies have no answer. We care about animal welfare, because Judaism commands it,” he added. “I would like to see a kitemark adopted, perhaps defined by rabbis, which gives meat a grading depending on how ethically it is reared. Organic meat is actually more expensive than kosher meat. People are willing to pay more for it.”