United Poultry Concerns
Ritual Poultry Slaughter
Empire Kosher

The following description of kosher chicken slaughter appeared in the Baltimore Jewish Times, June 2, 1995, pp. 44-49. The article, "A 'Cutthroat' Business: Walking the line of Halachah at Empire Kosher Poultry," is by Judy Oppenheimer. The accompanying photograph shows a young female chicken and a young male chicken about 9 - 10 weeks old. They are sitting in the same transport crate. The upper beak of both birds is cut off.

Photo by: Baltimore Jewish Times
empire_kosher_poultry (46K)

"This is the killing room of the Empire Kosher Poultry plant, and the blood surrounding you is all too real. Sharp, raw, acrid smelling. More blood than you can imagine, the kind that results when hundreds of throats are being cut per minute.

"The blood is everywhere. . . . the men stand in tight stalls in a long line running the length of the room. Each stall contains one shochet, or ritual slaughterer, and three workers; all wear long white coats heavily smeared with bright red blood. Their faces are expressionless as they go about their work. Down the long row of stalls, the same scene is repeated, over and over. . . .

"The chickens, fat and white, packed solidly against each other, glide in yellow cartons down the moving belt. Each is grabbed by one worker, held up by another to the shochet's blade, then hung head down by yet another on a moving line of hooks. The knife cut is tiny, quick, undramatic. Almost impossible to believe this is the sole cause of the blood that spurts violently out onto the floor, the walls, the men, its overflow lapping up over shoes and pant cuffs. . . .

"On the hooks the chickens thrash desperately. . . .

"The Empire production factory, located in the green rolling hills of Mifflintown, Pa., less than an hour north of Harrisburg, is the largest kosher chicken plant in the world. Millions of chickens, born in hatcheries, raised in nearby farms, travel through this line every year.

"Daily many trucks, each carrying up to 8,000 chickens, unload their live cargo, packed neatly in yellow crates, onto the moving belt. Three hours or so later the chickens, now referred to as the product, emerge, packed in the more familiar supermarket trays, ready for market. . . .

"Other than the rabbis, none of the workers at the plant are Jewish. If a special blessing from God helps protect the shocket from becoming calloused and insensitive, what protects those who work with him?

"Here Rabbi Yurman equivocated a bit. 'Most of the fellows in the factory go hunting,' he said. But hunting is not forbidden in Halachah, it is noted (only eating the spoils is). 'But very few will only give a clean shot,' he argued.

" 'Look,' he said finally. 'To work on the line, that's someone's own choice. Nobody forces a person to work on the line.'"

My Trip to the Empire "Chicken Processing Plant."
Bu Jonathan Grindell
July 2002

Recently, I got an E-mail about a Hillel (A Jewish student organization) trip to a local kosher chicken slaughter plant in Mifflintown, PA. I felt I "needed" to go. I will say this: I never felt so horrified and helpless in my life. Right there before my eyes, the same eyes these beautiful creatures once had, I saw thousands of dead chicken bodies hanging from the remains of their legs.

The stench was of death. The floor was covered in blood and former chicken parts.

We went to the "live room," or "live-ary," as these people call it. Right there, I saw a "holy Rabbi" take out his self-described "perfect-edged knife" and make one cut into the chicken's throat without looking at the chicken. When I saw this my neck snapped back and blood rushed through my head. Chickens by the ton struggled to get away. Some had fallen into "the pit." I looked at them and they looked back.

I was told they also kill turkeys at the plant.

At the end of the tour, we met the head Rabbi/knife inspector. He talked about how he was doing a "mitzvah" -God's work, and how the knife had a perfect edge and made the death as painless as can be, and how stun guns are painful and not kosher.* As he talked about the Torah and holiness, his cell phone went off a few times. He answered the phone. . . .

*Stun guns cause torture in fact, as does the electrified water trough through which birds' heads are dragged upside down in standard (non-ritual) commercial slaughter operations like Tyson and Perdue. The purpose of electrical "stunning" of birds in poultry slaughter is not to reduce or eliminate pain or to induce unconsciousness, but to immobilize the conscious birds, who would otherwise be thrashing, and to facilitate the removal of their feathers by paralyzing the muscles in which their feather follicles are embedded. Before electrical immobilization was developed in the 1930s, paralysis of the muscles in which the feather follicles are embedded was done by piercing the bird's brain with a twisting knife inserted through the roof of the bird's mouth. "It is necessary that the brain be pierced with a knife so that the muscles of the feather follicles are paralyzed, allowing the feathers to come out easily." (Earl W. Benjamin and Howard C. Pierce, Marketing Poultry Products, New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1937, p. 139. Quoted on page 64 in Karen Davis, PhD, More Than a Meal: The Turkey in History, Myth, Ritual, and Reality, New York: Lantern Books, 2001).

Ritual Slaughter
From Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs: An Inside Look at the Modern Poultry Industry, pp. 119-120, by Karen Davis, PhD (Book Publishing Company, 1996)

Ritual slaughter refers to "a method of slaughter whereby the animal suffers loss of consciousness by anemia of the brain caused by the simultaneous and instantaneous severance of the carotid arteries* with a sharp instrument and handling in connection with such slaughter" (Federal Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, USA). Contrary to assertions, ritual slaughter (e.g. Kosher, Muslim) does not ensure a humane death. Researchers at the Food Research Institute at Langford near Bristol in the UK showed that "in cattle, brain activity sometimes persisted for some time after Shechita" (Jewish ritual slaughter), and that "sometimes the carotid arteries balloon within 10 seconds of being cut, causing an increase in blood flow to the brain, and so maintaining its activity" (Birchall, p. 46).

In practice, "ritual slaughter" may not even be used at some (perhaps many) ritual slaughter plants. For example, a New York State "Shopping Guide for the Kosher Consumer" (1987) says, "The shocket [orthodox Jewish slaughterer] severs the windpipe and jugular vein" (Regenstein).** Regarding handling, the British Farm Animal Welfare Council found that the demand for ritually acceptable birds "can lead to rejected poultry being left overnight in transport crates without food and water. Individual treatment, advanced as an advantage of religious slaughter, often meant in practice 'callous and careless' handling with birds being thrown or rammed into bleeding cones after their throats were cut" (Birchall, p. 46).***

*The carotid arteries are deeply embedded in a bird's neck muscles. As in mammals, the carotids carry the oxygenated blood, on which consciousness depends, to the brain. When birds are hanging upside down to be slaughtered, oxygenated blood rushes through their carotid arteries to their brains.

**Severing the windpipe, or trachea, of a conscious bird is extremely painful because the lining of the trachea (the organ through which the breath passes from the larynx to the lungs) has a full supply of nerves. "The lining of the trachea is well innervated," according to Dr. Paula Cameron, DVM, in a phone conversation with UPC President Karen Davis on December 18, 2002. The jugular veins, which are closer to the surface of the skin than the carotid arteries, carry spent blood away from the brain. Cutting only the jugulars extends the time it takes a bird to die, according to Dr. Neville Gregory. Worst is the severance of only one jugular vein, which can result in a bird's retaining consciousness in severe pain for as long as 8 minutes. If both jugular veins are cut, brain failure occurs in approximately six minutes. If both carotid arteries are quickly and cleanly severed, the supply of blood to the brain is disrupted, which is said to result in brain failure in approximately 4 minutes." (N.G. Gregory, A Practical Guide to Neck Cutting in Poultry, Meat Research Institute memorandum No. 54, published by the Agricultural and Food Research Council, Langford, Bristol, UK, August 1984. 8pp.)

***A bleeding, or killing, cone is a metal funnel in which the bird is restrained for neck-cutting. It is commonly used by small slaughter and "family farming" operations to immobilize the birds upside down, as opposed to the use of an electrical immobilization device. It is not humane, because in addition to the pain of neck cutting, the bird cannot thrash or move at all. It is strictly for the convenience of the killers. Imagine having your neck cut and being unable to move your arms or any part of your body at the same time.

For video documentation of smaller-scale slaughtering and handling of chickens, see Humane Slaughter?. Produced by Farm Sanctuary (farmsanctuary.org), this 9-minute video shows Farm Sanctuary's undercover investigation, in Los Angeles, of a small ethnic chicken slaughter operation-the kind that is often cited as a "humane alternative" to the large-scale industrial commercial operations like Tyson. Humane Slaughter? is available from UPC for $18 (price includes postage).


  • Birchall, Annabelle. Kinder ways to kill. New Scientist May 19, 1990: 44-49.

  • Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, Title 7 U.S. Code, Section 1902(b).

  • Regenstein, Joe. Dr. Joe Regenstein of Cornell University faxed United Poultry Concerns the relevant pages from this Shopping Guide for the Kosher Consumer, issued by Gov. Cuomo (NY) and Richard Kessel (NY State Consumer Protection board) and written by himself, M. Ratzerdorfer, and L. Letson.
Home | What's New? | News Releases | Action Alerts | PoultryPress | Resources | Merchandise | Links | E-mail