LONDON, March 11 (JTA) As far as foot-and-mouth disease is concerned, it’s good to be Jewish.
Since the outbreak of the disease last month, Jews who keep kosher have faced fewer serious meat shortages than the rest of the British community.
In order to contain the highly contagious livestock virus, British authorities have imposed severe restrictions on the movement of animals. The regulations mean that animals cannot be taken from farm to slaughterhouse, and many stores have seen their stocks of meat disappear.
Kosher slaughter ground to a halt for several days at the end of February, the executive director of the London Board of Shechita, Michael Kester, told JTA.
“For about five days, some of the smaller stores were without meat,” he said, but larger stores keep 10 to 12 days’ worth of meat in stock.
The problems affected the country’s entire meat industry, not just kosher butchers. But the economics of kosher slaughter worked in Jews’ favor as the crisis continued.
Most kosher slaughterhouses are small, Kester said, so it makes financial sense for them to keep running even when only small numbers of animals are available for slaughter.
And because most kosher slaughterhouses are family-run operations located near the farms that supply them, they were less affected by restrictions on the movement of animals.
“For a change, we’re ahead of the game,” Kester said.
Foot-and-mouth is essentially harmless to humans, but can be fatal to cloven-hoofed animals such as cattle, sheep, pigs and goats.
Under the current restrictions, animals and the vehicles that transport them must be licensed to travel, and police have been stopping drivers to check their papers.
Farming experts say the fact that animals travel long distances from farm to slaughterhouse is partially responsible for the rapid spread of the disease in Britain.
Within two weeks of the first discovery of foot-and-mouth disease or hoof-and-mouth disease, as it is known in the United States cases have been reported on 96 farms widely spread across the United Kingdom.
Kester estimates that about 60 percent of Britain’s roughly 300,000 Jews keep kosher. Those numbers rise during Passover, he said, perhaps because families host guests who keep more strictly kosher.
Although there is currently a shortage of kosher meat, supplies should be back to normal in time for Passover, which begins on April 7, Kester said.
The London Board of Shechita has investigated the possibility of importing kosher meat from Ireland or France if regulations are tightened further, but Kester said he does not think things will go that far.
He also said that there has been a notable increase in poultry sales since the outbreak of the disease, as people switch from beef to chicken. Chickens cannot catch the disease.
Europe is taking the spread of foot-and-mouth disease very seriously.
The European Union has banned livestock markets in order to prevent animals from different locations from coming into contact with each other.
British travellers to the continent have been ordered to disinfect shoes and car tires.