I am writing to share some recent developments that, although far from the headlines, posed a major challenge to our community.
Access to kosher options is a key pillar of a stable, sustainable and thriving Jewish community. Here in Canada, our domestic kosher meat sector was put at risk in the past week. If left unresolved, this would have had a massive impact on the community.
Recent changes in the way Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) regulations were being interpreted threatened to end shechita (kosher slaughter) in Quebec and Ontario. Specific plants that were immediately affected produce 100% and 85% of all kosher veal for the Canadian and U.S. markets, respectively. It became clear the ruling would quickly be applied to all abattoirs, threatening the entire range of kosher beef, calf and lamb products.
In the lead up to Passover – when demand spikes – there was an especially pressing need to resolve the issue and preserve the supply of kosher meat in Canada.
CIJA was contacted by the various kosher certifying agencies (MK, COR, and various US agencies) with an urgent request that we intervene with the government to resolve the situation. We reached out to key federal officials to enlist the support of the Minister of Agriculture (who is responsible for CFIA). MP Anthony Housefather deserves special recognition for the committed and effective way in which he contributed to the overall effort.
Following a site inspection by senior CFIA officials, CIJA, and rabbinical representatives, the issue was fully resolved. The plants have returned to regular operations and the interpretation of the CFIA guidelines have been recalibrated to more precisely reflect the actual process – which is entirely consistent with shechita. The CFIA Manual will be updated to better clarify the rules, which will help prevent future disruptions to kosher slaughter facilities.
It is important to emphasize: There is absolutely no reason to believe this serious challenge was motivated by ill will on the part of CFIA. Rather, it emerged from well-intentioned but flawed interpretations of the regulations.
In fact, the Government of Canada was incredibly responsive and supportive in bringing this issue to a positive resolution. CFIA officials were deeply respectful and saw the continued supply of kosher meat as an important part of their own mandate. This process has, ironically, only reaffirmed CFIA’s understanding that shechita is an indisputably humane way to conduct animal slaughter – as scientific research and expert opinion have confirmed time and again.
We are relieved that kosher meat will remain on the shelves in the weeks leading up to Passover, and especially grateful to live in a country that values and protects freedom of religion.
Shimon Koffler Fogel