In its response to two requests to file class action suits against the company, heard Monday in Jerusalem District Court, Tnuva Food Industries was surprisingly upfront about the practices at its Bet She'an slaughterhouse.
The suit applications follow a televised investigation on Israeli television several months ago with disturbing images from the slaughterhouse.
"Whereas the purchasers of other consumer goods could believe their production does not entail causing suffering and harm to the workers who participate in it,” Tnuva said in its statement to the court, “the consumer of meat products cannot make a similar assumption about the animals from whose flesh they are produced, since slaughtering by its very nature causes the animals great suffering."
On Monday, the court was scheduled to debate the merit of the actions ahead of deciding whether one or both may go forward.
In separate applications, Ruth Kolian and Perach Amzaleg argue that Tnuva has deceived consumers by creating a false impression of strict regulations and fair treatment of the animals, while in reality the production of meat at the slaughterhouse, which is sold under the Adom Adom label, involves great suffering for them.
The claims are based on an investigative report broadcast in December 2012 on Israel Channel 2 television's Kolbotek.
The segment was produced by Ronen Bar, a journalist and animal rights activist who worked at the slaughterhouse for a month and a half while secretly documenting its practices.
In the broadcasted scenes, workers are seen hitting calves and lambs with sticks and electric shockers, holding animals by one leg and dragging them with a forklift, throwing lambs into the air and hanging the animals upside down, still alive and conscious, after slaughter.
Both lawsuit applications cite consumer deception as the legal basis for the action. Kolian and Amzaleg say Tnuva has profited illegally from many consumers who would not have bought its products had they been aware of the practices at the slaughterhouse.
Amzaleg is requesting damages of NIS 200 million for the plaintiffs she plans to represent, which she says includes anyone who purchased Adom Adom brand products and suffered emotional distress after seeing the Kolbotek segment. Kolian seeks NIS 100 million in damages - NIS 500 for each of the estimated 200,000 consumers who were affected. Both Amazaleg and Kilian say they would donate any compensation awarded in the suit to an animal welfare organization.
Attorney Aviad Amzaleg, who is representing his wife, Perach, in the suit, said Tnuva "did not act in good faith when it depicted itself as abiding by hygiene and quality regulations. The investigative report proved that Tnuva’s advertisements are blatantly untrue. Not only is the slaughter process at the plant not of high quality, it is also not under the supervision of inspection agencies and is in violation of regulations."
Aviad Amzaleg told Haaretz that his wife, Perach, decided to file a class action after being horrified by what she saw on Kolbotek and after realizing, from comments on social network sites, that many other Israelis were also horrified.
“It is important to stress that the damage was the result of what was exposed in the investigative report, and not of the report itself," Aviad Amzaleg said.
Kolian, who is an ultra-Orthodox Jew, took the additional step of obtaining from Shlomo Yosef Mahfoud, a Sephardi rabbi, and the Ashkenazi Eda Haredit slaughter board, rabbinical rulings declaring that unnecessary cruelty to animals would render any meat so produced unkosher. “We have a holy Torah,” says Kolian, “and it explicitly prohibits animal cruelty.”
In its response to the court Tnuva said that all slaughter involves cruelty that would horrify any viewer. “There is no reason to assume the claimed damage of ‘profound shock, anger, repugnance and sadness’ would not have been caused to consumers even if what had been documented and broadcast had been the usual, violent procedure in accordance with the regulations concerning the animals at the time of their slaughter, the legality of which is not in dispute."
The document Tnuva submitted to the court describes in detail the banality of the slaughter process: “It suffices to mention that in order to slaughter the animals, when they are fully conscious and sometimes die of fright, they are put into a facility called the holding chamber, in which arms that seize them press hard on their heads and bodies. Then, together with the chamber they are turned 180 degrees and as they are held their neck are slit and they bleed until they lose consciousness. It is indisputable that broadcast of a film documenting these actions ‘proper under the regulations’ would horrify most meat-eating consumers, even though this is absolutely legal behavior.”
Tnuva rejected arguments that it has a duty to inform consumers about how its products are made, saying customers would not want to be exposed to this information.
"Is information provided to consumers, for example, about the processes involved in manufacturing sneakers, or breakfast cereals, or toilet paper? How much more so in the case of meat products: This is exactly the sort of information consumers want to be concealed from them, so as to enable them to enjoy the product while repressing the thought that their enjoyment entails causing suffering to a living creature,” Tnuva's response to the court said.
To exemplify this, the document mentions the popular Internet video “Fresh Pork Sausage prank,” which “documents the reactions of supermarket shoppers who happily sample fresh pork sausages" until, when supplies run out, a live piglet is brought out as if it is intended to provide them with more sausages, at which point shoppers "react with horror, disgust and even aggression.”
Tnuva argued that the prank “proves it suffices to expose consumers of meat products to an entirely ‘clean’ fictional process (without blood, bleats or the images of slaughter) of transforming an animal into sausage to cause them profound horror, anger and disgust. The usual and regulated process animals undergo when they are slaughtered at a slaughterhouse is much more violent and shocking than putting an animal into a closed box and turning the crank on its side,” as in the video.
In its response Tnuva also admitted that kosher slaughter practices do not conform to international animal welfare standards: "All the instructions of the OIE-World Organization for Animal Health concerning the stun methods that can be used on animals prior to slaughter to reduce their suffering in the slaughter process … are incompatible with the Jewish kashrut laws requiring the animal to be fully conscious at the time of slaughter and which Tnuva observes so that the factory's products can be sold as kosher," the response said.
Kolian argues that the harm to the animals at Tnuva's slaughterhouse should horrify every observant Jew. Officials in Israel's Chief Rabbinate, after watched the video from the Kolbotek segments and discussing its implications for animal welfare and kashrut issue, decided not to withdraw the plant's kashrut certification on the basis of the images.
In a response to Haaretz, Tnuva said: "The incident occurred a number of months ago. Adom Adom condemned the actions and took immediate and significant steps in full coordination with the regulators in Israel and ... regrets the incident and is acting to ensure the quality of its products."
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