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Israeli Animal Rights Groups Seeks Criminal Charges Against Meat Processing Firm

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A scene from a Channel 10 broadcast on abuse at a Soglowek slaughterhouse, October 2013.Credit: Kolbotek screengrab

The Israeli organization Anonymous for Animal Rights has petitioned the High Court of Justice in a bid to force the filing of criminal charges against meat processor Soglowek. The petition follows the airing on Channel 10 three years ago of the results of an undercover investigation by Anoymous purportedly showing systematic unnecessary cruelty to chickens at a Soglowek slaughterhouse.

The film footage from Anonymous, which aired on Channel 10’s “Kolbotek” program, caused a public uproar. Police opened an investigation and provided their findings to the prosecutor’s office, but the prosecutor has not filed criminal charges, although it has not closed the case either.

The High Court petition, which was filed jointly with another animal rights group, Let the Animals Live, comes after the two groups, in a legal procedure provided for in the Animal Rights Law but never invoked, sought to assume the role of the state and pursue criminal prosecution in the case. The High Court petition was filed last week after the prosecutor’s office rejected the groups’ request to prosecute the case themselves.

“Nearly three years have elapsed since the disclosure of this matter,” the petition states. “The case remains open and no indictment has been filed.”

The petition goes on to allege that, to the best of the two animal rights organizations’ knowledge, the file is languishing in the prosecutor’s office. “The legislature anticipated such situations, in which the authorities don’t vigorously enforce the Animal Rights Law,” the petition asserts, noting that Section 15 of the law authorizes animal rights groups approved by the environmental protection minister to pursue the criminal charges themselves. Both the petitioner groups have the minister’s approval.

The groups are seeking to press charges against senior management at Soglowek, saying that responsibility for animal abuse cannot rest only with low-level employees. In the past, sources at the prosecutor’s office have said that they share the desire to press charges against individuals in Soglowek’s senior management, but there are legal difficulties in taking such a step.

In July 2015, nearly two years after the allegations were initially reported, the two animal rights groups asked the Haifa district office of the state prosecution for permission to pursue the criminal charges on their own over the allegations against the Nahariya-based company. The groups claimed that the failure to file charges at that point could be “interpreted in the field as a green light for continued abuse.”

A month and a half later, the prosecutor’s office denied the request, saying that the case was still being dealt with and adding that the filing of a criminal complaint by a private organization is exceptional, and approved only when the public’s interest in the case is low but the interest of the victim of the alleged offense is great. No decision had yet been made on the merits of this particular case, the prosecutor’s office noted, but the current case doesn’t appear fall into that exception.

The animal rights groups asked in their High Court petition: “If that means that there is indeed major public interest in the case, how does this square with the foot-dragging in dealing with it?” The two organizations also claimed that they twice approached the prosecutor’s office for a reconsideration of the decision but did not receive a positive response.

In response to this article, the prosecutor’s office stated that the file in the Soglowec case in its “advanced stages, but no final decision has been made on it.”

The expose, which was broadcast in October 2013, purportedly shows a series of animal rights violations at the Soglowek slaughterhouse in the northern town Shlomi. The petition alleges that the findings document a machine that tips the cages containing the chickens for slaughter at a sharp angle, “forcefully shaking them while again and again the chickens fall from the cages from a great height, or are shaken while hanging, caught between the bars of the cage, from their heads, wings or other body parts.”

The petition notes that the case was one of three involving serious animal abuse in recent years committed by Soglowek. In the two others, the Agriculture Ministry opened an investigation but did not have indictments filed.

The petitioners said the first of the other cases arose in 2013, when a truck carrying chickens to a Soglowek slaughterhouse was involved in a traffic accident, causing cages containing chickens to fall onto the highway, scattering cages with live, injured and dead chickens on the road. Soglowek employees are alleged to have been documented forcefully throwing chickens back into the cages, throwing them in the air and kicking them.

In July last year, Channel 10 broadcast another report purportedly showing serious violations of the Animal Rights Law at a Soglowek slaughterhouse, including instances of employees shaking the chickens, throwing them in the air and kicking them.

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