One Year After the AgriProcessors Raid: What People Are Saying
One year ago today, government agencies raided Postville, Iowa–based AgriProcessors, which was the world's largest kosher slaughterhouse. The raid further opened up public discourse, particularly in the Jewish community, about labor, animal welfare, and ethical business practices. Many people and media outlets are sharing their thoughts in light of the one-year anniversary.
In Postville: Spiritual leaders in Postville are urging Americans to wear or display red ribbons today. At 10 a.m., local churches will ring their bells 389 (the number of people arrested in the raid) times to "sound a call for justice"; a shofar will also sound. At St. Bridget's Catholic Church, where I and many other Jews donated money to help with Postville's humanitarian crisis, the 389 names will be read at an interfaith prayer service. There will be a solidarity walk to AgriProcessors following the service. "Our children, the children of all faiths and from all parts of the world, have experienced terror in a way that others outside of this community cannot imagine,"said one bishop in a news release.
Iowa Newspapers: The Quad City Times commented, "A year of uncertainty has taken its toll on the small town. Postville’s mayor resigned this spring in frustration and exhaustion. City leaders, churches and passionate volunteers have struggled to work together behind a unified vision for the future of Postville. 'I would have thought as we approached the one year anniversary we’d be a lot further along,' said Jeff Abbas, general manager of Postville’s community radio station." The Gazette featured a retrospective and a moving audio slideshow, and The Des Moines Register ran an op-ed calling for seven principles to be used in reforming immigration policy.
National Secular Media: This paragraph in the Los Angeles Times' retrospective was a nice summary of the overall situation: "The aftermath of the Postville raid has rippled across the country, rupturing the nation's kosher meat supply and setting back Midwest livestock farmers who supplied the plant. While advocates of stricter immigration laws argue that towns like Postville shouldn't be allowed to grow so dependent on illegal labor, critics see the raid as a symbol of greater problems with U.S. enforcement. And the fallout has helped spur changes in federal policy." The Associated Press also had a one-year retrospective.
Three Articles in the Forward: The current issue of the Forward features an article about "treyf" prosecutorial tactics in Postville and a related board editorial that concludes, "With all the care that many Jews take to examine and purify what we eat, we should be equally insistent that our government behaves in a way that respects the law and the rights of those who produce that sustenance." The paper also "asked a diverse group of contributors to reflect on what this episode has taught us about immigration, labor, kosher food and Jewish community and values," and the following are select excerpts:
"Any product that is called kosher by a rabbi must adhere to strict standards of both Jewish law and ethics. If we fail in this area, we will desecrate G-d’s name. But if we succeed in this daunting task, His name will be sanctified by our actions."The Animals: The humanitarian tragedy caused by the raid is without a doubt deserving of our attention, but the plight of AgriProcessors' animals should not be forgotten. Over the summer, the U.S. Department of Agriculture cited AgriProcessors for violating the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act after PETA documented that shochtim were making a "second cut" to slaughtered cattle following the initial cut of shechita. PETA and Dr. Temple Grandin called on the company to implement a live video-monitoring system so that animal abuse could no longer take place when nobody is watching. In October, tens of thousands of baby chicks were killed, apparently because AgriProcessors could not afford to feed them.
—Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld
"If we eat kosher meat that has been slaughtered without compassion, can we really call it 'kosher'? ... How we answer these questions will determine how kashrut is perceived both by Jews and by our neighbors."
—Joan Nathan, author
"Despite overwhelming evidence of misconduct in Postville, the Jewish community as a whole is still skittish about challenging the we-are-right, everyone-else-is-wrong mindset that prevails within ultra-Orthodoxy. ... Jews need to condemn all forms of injustice, exploitation and bias — particularly when the wrongdoers are fellow Jews."
—Stephen G. Bloom, journalism professor and author (who went vegetarian after visiting AgriProcessors while researching his 2000 book, Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America)
In yesterday's heebnvegan post, Shmarya Rosenberg noted that only birds are slaughtered at AgriProcessors right now and speculated this means that "probably the animal welfare issues are relatively contained. But who knows?" PETA's 2004 AgriProcessors investigation documented animal welfare problems for chickens as well as cattle, including that one chicken had "her foot caught between the conveyor and the wall, and she was unable to pull her foot out"; another chicken's "head and wing were caught between the retaining wall and the conveyor"; and "Some birds fell after being placed into buckets—these birds flopped around on the ground violently, and once stopped, they were thrown into the garbage." That AgriProcessors is only slaughtering chickens now does not alleviate animal welfare concerns. I'm likewise not comforted by the hopes of many that AgriProcessors will be bought and remain a slaughterhouse, even if it seems like a financial best-case scenario for Postville.
The apparent kosher meat shortage in the wake of the raid led many Jews to embrace vegetarianism. The focus on AgriProcessors in the media and other discussions in the Jewish community created many opportunities to focus on animal suffering. By and large, talk about animals has been drowned out by the other important angles of this story. The animal (and worker) suffering at AgriProcessors, both before and after the raid, begs Jews to consider the awful conditions even in kosher facilities and choose to leave meat off their plates.