Jerusalem District Court on Monday will hear arguments over the validity of a consumer class action suit against Tnuva Central Cooperative for the Marketing of Agricultural Produce in Israel Ltd., based on the claim that Tnuva misled consumers regarding the humane treatment of animals in its Beit She’an beef slaughterhouse and meat-packing plant, where its Adom Adom (“very red”) top quality brand is produced.
After a December 6, 2012 expose on Israeli TV consumer advocacy program “Colbotech” revealed some shocking details of the way animals are being treated in the Beit She’an slaughterhouse, a group of consumers, headed by a Haredi woman named Ruth Kolian, is looking to sue Tnuva for consumer anguish.
The issue at hand is whether the fact that the animals had undergone inhumane treatment in itself justifies a claim for monetary compensation for the plaintiffs, and whether it is sufficiently broad to justify a class action suit.
Tnuva, for its part, will be arguing that the very fact that the plaintiffs are essentially organized and represented by an organization called Anonymous for Animal Rights, which exposed the terrible violations at the Beit She’an plant in an effort to get it to close down, disqualifies them from adopting the stance of a cheated consumer.
Here are just some of the appalling conditions the Colbotech show exposed, the list is very long:
Calves were beaten and shocked repeatedly to urge them to march to slaughter.
Calves who had difficulty walking were shocked dozens of times in a row, in different parts of the body including the head and testicles. Those who still did not manage to walk were dragged on the floor by forklifts (the law in such cases says they should be killed on the spot).
Lambs were dragged on the ground by workers holding them by one leg (one employee was documented hauling two lambs at the same time).
Lambs were beaten repeatedly on their heads and bodies with a pipe, in order to encourage them to stand or walk, sometimes without any apparent reason.
Workers were documented stepping on lambs, lying down on them or riding them, throwing them in the air and catching them by the lambs’ mouths.
Calves were kept hanging upside down before slaughter for extended periods of time. An employee told an undercover investigator: “Today a live calf released itself, because of a worker’s blunder. It freed itself [from a conveyer belt to which it was attached hanging upside down by one leg] after it had already been butchered, it came to us still alive, it started to riot, nearly killed us. We fled. Finally they overcame it, with electric shockers. They beat it up until it calmed down ”
In many cases this Tnuva slaughterhouse’s meat was disqualified as traif because of bone fractures and other issues. The meat was marketed non-Jewish consumers.
It is interesting to note that while the plaintiffs never make the claim that it’s the halachic shechitah which is to blame for the terrible images the TV audience had viewed last winter—they blame Tnuva’s mismanagement—it is the corporation which, in effect, is making the anti shechitah case, suggesting it is impossible to slaughter an animal humanely.
The defense also provided a friend of the court note from Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Machpud, head of the Badatz kashrut system, who argues in very strong language against unnecessary cruelty to animals, stating that such action would entail the removal of the kosher certification.
Anonymous for Animal Rights has recruited potential plaintiffs for the district court case by defining them as “any person who has purchased … over the seven year period prior to the filing of this appeal, meat products produced by the brand ‘Adom Adom,’ and who, because of watching the investigation on Colbotech … has suffered emotional anguish and damage to their private autonomy.”
The suit is for 200 million Shekel (roughly $55 million).
The defense will argue that the law in Israel does not award damages to a person who suffered anguish from watching another person’s suffering (parents and their children, for example). How much less entitled are the plaintiffs, who were only affected by watching animals suffer.
But, of course, as Yossi Wolfson, an attorney for the plaintiffs, noted, the human-suffering is in relation to a third person, while here the consumer experienced the anguish directly.