Kosher poultry decision fairest

Wellington, New Zealand - Agriculture Minister David Carter has defended his decision to exempt the Jewish tradition of shechita from animal welfare law changes, despite labelling the chicken slaughter practice as "frankly cruel".

Mr Carter told Radio New Zealand he was keen for New Zealand to have the highest animal welfare standards but had to weigh that up against the religious rights of the Jewish community.

In May Mr Carter ruled that all commercially killed animals must be stunned before slaughter to "ensure that the animals are treated humanely", which effectively outlawed kosher killing, called shechita.

The Jewish community took the issue to court and the case was due to be heard today, but after months of negotiations with Crown Law an agreement was reached on Friday to allow chickens to be killed - about 5000 a year - but this could be extended through talks.

Mr Carter said the decision was "probably the best and fairest", although he did have reservations with the practice.

"To kill animals that doesn't allow pre-stunning is frankly cruel," he said.

Mr Carter said he had received a number of emails about the decision to outlaw the practice, including some accusing him of being a Nazi.

Jewish community leader David Schwartz told Radio New Zealand about 1000 Jewish families would have been affected.

"We based our case on the religious rights of the Jewish community that's upheld by the Bill of Rights," he said. "We believe shechita is a humane way of killing animals."

Mr Schwartz said kosher chicken cannot be sourced from abroad because of Newcastle's Disease.