"I've noticed that quite a lot of people who are prominent in the animal liberation movement are Jews. Maybe we are simply not prepared to see the powerful hurting the weak." --Peter Singer (Author, Animal Liberation)


Hekhsher Tzedek's Animal Welfare Guidelines

On Thursday, the Conservative movement's Hekhsher Tzedek program released guidelines for its "justice certification" initiative, which paves the way for stamps of approval to accompany kosher certification marks on kosher food products. The guidelines discuss what it means for a company to be ethical for a host of issues, including treatment of employees, environmental impact, and corporate transparency.

I'd been suspicious that animal welfare concerns would not be a part of the final guidelines, but they are included. In practice, many mainstream abuses of animals will still be able to get Hekhsher Tzedek's approval because the requirements set by groups like the American Meat Institute don't do much to protect animals. Hekhsher Tzedek's promotion of the Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC) program is a step in the right direction, but my understanding is that relatively few farms actually are HFAC-certified.

The best way for kosher consumers to ensure that they're not supporting tza'ar ba'alei chayim in the meat industry is by not buying meat. But I understand that this is not Hekhsher Tzedek's motive, and I didn't expect Hekhsher Tzedek's definition of "justice" for animals to match mine. At the very least, these guidelines reinforce the point that animal welfare is very important in Judaism and must be taken into account in practice.

The following are Hekhsher Tzedek's guidelines for animal welfare:

Companies that work with animals should have policies and practices in place to ensure they are treated humanely at all points of the production cycle. Companies will be favored for the Hekhsher if they have strong quality management and animal welfare policies in place. Companies may be disqualified from receiving the Hekhsher if they perform poorly in the aforementioned areas or if they have been involved in serious or widespread controversies relating to product safety, marketing, or the treatment of animals. The following indicators will be used to assess compliance with these criteria:

Animal Welfare Policies. Companies will be favored for the Hekhsher if they adhere to the Humane Farm Animal Care Standards (HFAC). Companies will remain eligible for the Hekhsher provided they adhere to animal welfare guidelines that are endorsed by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) or National Council of Chain Restaurants (NCCR.) These include the animal welfare guidelines of the following producer groups:

o American Meat Institute
o Dairy Quality Assurance-National Milk Producers Association
o National Cattlemen’s Beef Association
o National Chicken Council
o National Turkey Federation
o United Egg Producers

The USCJ and RA view adoption of, and compliance with, FMI-NCCR animal welfare guidelines as a minimum standard, but encourage the adoption of more robust animal care standards (i.e. HFAC.)

Animal Welfare Controversies. The company’s record with regard to animal treatment/cruelty controversies. Companies will be favored for the Hekhsher if they have avoided any major, recent controversies. In the case of controversies, efforts will be made to corroborate the claims, including requesting company comments on the allegations.


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