"I've noticed that quite a lot of people who are prominent in the animal liberation movement are Jews. Maybe we are simply not prepared to see the powerful hurting the weak." --Peter Singer (Author, Animal Liberation)


Undercover Investigation of Shackling and Hoisting (Part II)

In yesterday's Part I post, I talked in depth about PETA's undercover investigation of shackling and hoisting in a Uruguayan kosher slaughterhouse. This post focuses on responses to that story in newspapers and on blogs.

The Forward's article, which I referred to quite a bit in my original post, gave a fantastic, comprehensive overview of why so much kosher meat comes from South America, what the undercover investigation found, and the controversy that surrounds the issue. The article quotes leading animal welfare expert Dr. Temple Grandin, who says that shackling and hoisting "is in a category by itself for badness." She adds, "It’s cruel to the animals and it’s dangerous for the employees."

In an op-ed in the Jerusalem Post, Rabbi Adam Frank thoughtfully discusses the cruelty-to-animals and labor implications of kosher slaughter. Says Rabbi Frank:
Judaism is prideful of the fact that Jewish law protects the rights of workers and protects against the unnecessary infliction of pain to an animal. It is for these reasons that the exploitation of worker and animal welfare by current rabbinic leadership is so disappointing, and enraging. The Jewish laity places its trust in rabbinic authority. Not only is a halachic cut assumed, but a kosher leadership is expected. ... [T]he ability and responsibility to implement caring changes in kosher meat production is in the hands of the Israeli rabbinate and the OU - the two authorities who support the import of South American kosher meat for sale in their respective countries.
Not surprisingly, the two J-blogs to lead the way with this story are The Jew & The Carrot and Failed Messiah. The Jew & The Carrot's post, "Shackle and Hoist - A Serious Shonde," focuses on the article in the Forward and says, "Is anyone else just getting bored by our (meaning Jews, meaning Americans, meaning Israelis etc.) collective ignorance and/or defiance about how the animals that give their lives to feed us are treated?"

Failed Messiah posted about the news right around the time the Forward put its article online on Wednesday. The following day, Failed Messiah discussed the Jerusalem Post article and various issues related to it. Yesterday, Failed Messiah featured a post with a quote from a rabbi about how shackling and hoisting relates to New Zealand as well as a post suggesting that the USDA should ban the importation of meat whereby animals were killed by shackling and hoisting through the Humane Slaughter Act.

PETA's blog The PETA Files featured a fascinating interview with the undercover investigator who was actually at the Uruguayan kosher slaughterhouse. In the interview, the investigator said:
As someone who keeps kosher, I feel ashamed and embarrassed that the kosher food industry has been complicit in some of the worst farmed animal abuses. ... Undercover footage is the best way to expose the truth and ultimately hold people accountable to make conditions less cruel for the animals. I desperately want kosher food to live up to the highest standards and I know other kosher consumers demand the same.


Undercover Investigation of Shackling and Hoisting (Part I)

This past week, PETA went public with an undercover investigation of a Uruguayan kosher slaughterhouse that performs shackling and hoisting, a cruel and widely condemned method of kosher slaughter. Click here to view video footage from the investigation. A PETA news release states:
[U]ndercover investigators documented that workers were tripping cows by tying a rope around one of the animals' legs and pulling on it, causing the cows to fall to the ground violently. Once the animals were down, one of the shackled back legs would be partially hoisted in the air. A worker would stand on one of the animals' legs while other workers--including one holding the animals' heads in place with a sharp metal pole--attempted to restrain the thrashing animals so that they could slit their throats. Some animals were forced to endure this trauma for several minutes. After the cows' throats were slit, the animals were immediately hoisted into the air by one leg to be bled out, but some cows were obviously still conscious and struggled for many minutes. Workers were caught on tape cutting into the animals' heads, necks, and joints while the animals were still conscious and able to feel pain.

Eighty percent of kosher slaughterhouses in South America use shackling and hoisting, according to PETA. The Forward reports that "[i]n recent years, every major American kosher meat producer has set up a South American operation." The Forward also notes that Israel imports nearly 60,000 tons of meat from South America annually and that, citing Rabbi Menachem Genack (the CEO of the Orthodox Union's Kosher Division), "the Israelis are the major market force in South America." In other words, this inhumane slaughter method is used in four out of five cases on a very large scale and this is a key concern when we talk about animal welfare issues that affect kosher consumers in the U.S. and Israel.

The cruelty of shackling and hoisting, as shown in the undercover video, has been the subject of criticism from animal welfare experts and heavyweights in the Jewish community alike. Dr. Temple Grandin, a leading animal welfare expert who has designed equipment used in kosher slaughterhouses, said, "The methods used to restrain cattle in this plant were atrocious. Shackling, hoisting, and holding the fully conscious animal down with four people is a barbaric way to handle cattle in a modern slaughter plant. This is total animal cruelty." The Rabbinical Assembly of Conservative Judaism responded by quoting from and reaffirming a previous statement by its Committee on Jewish Laws and Standards against shackling and hoisting. Even the Orthodox Union has weighed in against shackling and hoisting. In the Forward article linked to above, Rabbi Genack said that shackling and hoisting is "not the kind of system that we want to have, that we would be proud of."

It seems unlikely that shackling and hoisting will be stopped because of secular animal welfare laws in Uruguay or Argentina. It would be wonderful if the Orthodox Union and U.S. companies exerted their influence to make slaughter practices more humane. But it seems as though the key player here is the Israeli Rabbinate, which definitely has enough influence to get shackling and hoisting stopped in South American slaughterhouses. PETA has a petition you can sign urging the Israeli Rabbinate to take action. The Rabbinate is being pressured not just by PETA but also by Concern for Helping Animals in Israel (CHAI). The Forward article states that Rabbi Adam Frank, an activist with the organization, recently wrote a letter to the Rabbinate in which he asked, “Since less painful and more humane methods of animal restraint and treatment exist and are used in the kosher slaughter process, is the Shackling & Hoisting of a conscious animal an unnecessarily cruel practice, thus defining it as prohibited under Jewish law?” CHAI and Frank have not yet received a response, according to the article.

This is not the first time that a PETA undercover investigation has unearthed cruelty to animals in a kosher slaughterhouse. Read about PETA's 2004 investigation of Iowa's AgriProcessors (the world's largest glatt kosher slaughterhouse) and 2007 investigation of Nebraska's Local Pride, both of which are owned by the Rubashkin family.

Click here to read Part II, which focuses on responses in newspapers and on blogs.


Baruch Dayan HaEmet: Rep. Tom Lantos

On Monday, Rep. Tom Lantos passed away. Lantos, a Hungarian Jew by birth and the only Holocaust survivor ever elected to Congress, announced last month that he was suffering from esophageal cancer. Lantos was widely recognized as a leading human rights advocate in Congress (read Amnesty International's press release) as well as a champion for animal issues. Click here to read my January 5 tribute to Lantos.

Lantos' dedication to animal issues has been prominently noted in obituaries, including ones in the Los Angeles Times (second paragraph of the article) and The New York Times (fourth paragraph of the article). The day after Lantos' death, the Chico Enterprise Record published an article titled "Lantos a Fierce Defender of Animal Rights."

Seemingly every major animal protection organization issued a statement or otherwise praised Lantos in the wake of his death. Links and excerpts are below. These excerpts show that Lantos did wonderful work on a wide range of animal issues. This man was a true hero.

PETA (Letter to the editor by Kathy Guillermo, director of research, in J.: The Jewish News Weekly of Northern California)
We at PETA came to know Rep. Lantos when he offered to help us with the Silver Spring monkeys, a group of animals that had been terribly abused in a Maryland laboratory. I had the honor of interviewing Rep. Lantos and his wife, Annette, about their efforts to send these animals to a sanctuary. They showed me a photograph of themselves from 1939, when they were happy childhood friends in Budapest, Hungary. But they were Jewish, and not long after the picture was taken, Annette went into hiding and Tom was sent to a forced labor camp. Their families were killed in the Holocaust. These traumatizing experiences, they told me, helped them understand what it was like to be victimized simply because they weren’t like others.

PETA (Blog post on The PETA Files)
At PETA, we are profoundly indebted to Tom Lantos for his insistence that oppression should be fought wherever it exists, not just where it’s convenient, and we will always remember the important work that he did to help animals with gratitude and admiration. Tom Lantos will be deeply missed here at PETA, both by those of us who knew him personally, and by those of us, like me, who have been inspired by his example.

The Humane Society of the United States (Press release)
Congressman Lantos was constant and steadfast in his leadership in championing the needs of pets such as his beloved dog Gigi and other animals in disaster planning. He worked to stop cruel seal hunts, call attention to the killing of dogs in foreign countries, and address animal fighting, horse slaughter, puppy mills, antifreeze safety, canned hunts, bear baiting, non-animal methods in chemical testing, marine mammal protection, downed animal mistreatment and other farm animal welfare issues.

"Today, as we mourn the passing of Representative Lantos, we remember him as a remarkable leader and advocate for the protection and defense of all animals," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS. "In recognition of his devoted work for animals, The HSUS will honor Representative Lantos with the Joseph Wood Krutch Medal, its highest honor."

Humane Society Legislative Fund (Statement by Michael Markarian, president)
At every turn, he insisted that animal protection was not only a just cause but an urgent one. His leadership was based on his deep personal conviction that every animal matters and deserves our consideration.

Lantos was the founder and co-chairman of the Congressional Friends of Animals Caucus, along with Congressman Chris Shays (R-Conn.), which has held numerous briefings on the Hill to inform lawmakers and their staff about a wide range of animal issues from dogfighting to farm animal welfare.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Statement by Ed Sayres, president and CEO)
Yesterday, we lost a great champion for America’s pets and grieve for a man who understood the important bond that exists between pet and pet owner. . . . Congressman Lantos’ legacy of support for our nation’s animals will be remembered for years to come. His drive and determination to pass the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act became a model of hope for pet owners after the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, requiring federal emergency management officials to provide emergency pet shelter. More recently, he supported a public education campaign to combat the effects of the Michael Vick dog fighting scandal.

International Fund for Animal Welfare (Statement by Jeffery Flocken, director of the U.S. Office)
As a great champion for both animals and people, he will be sorely missed. During his almost 30 years in Congress, Mr. Lantos worked tirelessly to promote conservation and end cruelty. ... Just last spring, Congressman Lantos introduced a resolution urging Canada to end the brutal commercial seal hunt in Canada, saying, "Killing baby seals echoes the torture and cruel killing of so many other animals around the world. As cochairman of the Congressional Friends of Animals Caucus, I will continue to bring the world's attention to such practices wherever they exist."

Farm Sanctuary (Press release)
Lantos was notably a proponent of the Downed Animal and Food Safety Protection Act (H.R. 661), which, if enacted, would require critically ill and injured animals to be humanely euthanized as well as prohibiting their slaughter for human food.

Gene Baur, president and co-founder of Farm Sanctuary added, “Representative Lantos was truly an extraordinary advocate for the most vulnerable among us. He will be remembered in exceptional esteem as a man with a passion for protecting animals.”

In Defense of Animals (Web post)
Representative Lantos introduced and/or helped pass such legislation as the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act (which requires inclusion of animal companions in state and local disaster planning), the Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act, the Downed Animal Protection Act, and the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, among many others.

In celebrating the life of Tom Lantos, we hope that his example will inspire others, especially his political colleagues, to take up the crucial causes for which he fought so passionately. His life serves as an example of how each individual can expand their circle of concern beyond themselves to those who are most in need of our help, both human and non-human.


I Just Voted for Barack Obama

It's 6:10 a.m., and I just got back from voting for Sen. Barack Obama in the Virginia primary. After voting for Rep. Dennis Kucinich in the meaningless Pennsylvania primary in late April of 2004, I was very excited to vote when things are still being decided! That's why I kept waking up throughout the night and couldn't help but get to my polling place at 6 a.m. when doors opened!

As usual, heebnvegan's focus is on Judaism and animal issues. Click here to go to the Jews for Obama homepage. Obama has been supportive of animal rights, at least in a general sense. Last month, Obama was quoted as saying, "I think how we treat our animals reflects how we treat each other. And it's very important that we have a president who is mindful of the cruelty that is perpetrated on animals."

Click here to go to Barack Obama's Web site and learn more about other issues, particularly the ones that matter in a presidential election!


Vegan Cupcakes Really Are Taking Over the World

Man No. 1: Cupcakes!
Woman No. 1: These look diabolical. Oh!
Peggy: They're vegan.
Man No. 1: What?
Peggy: There's no milk or butter or any animal products in them. No animal was harmed in the making of those cupcakes.

Year of the Dog

Cupcakes are the in-thing at every vegan potluck I go to these days. One might say that vegan cupcakes are taking over the world. Without a doubt, the 2006 cookbook Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World: 75 Dairy-Free Recipes for Cupcakes That Rule is responsible for this trend. The book was co-authored by Isa Chandra Moskowitz (who wrote a fantastic guest post about Passover foods last year) and Terry Hope Romero.

I'm not the world's most hard-working chef, but my taste buds and my stomach have greatly benefited from this trend for the last year or two. My girlfriend, Eva, just bought the book recently, so we decided to make cupcakes this past weekend. We took the cupcakes to a vegan potluck on Sunday (not too surprisingly, we weren't the only people who had made cupcakes), and the remaining cupcakes were quickly devoured by my coworkers on Monday morning.

Eva and I made carrot-cake cupcakes and peanut-butter cupcakes, and we mixed and matched a bit with the peanut-buttercream (with some chocolate chips, just because) and vegan cream-cheese frostings. I was a big fan of every variation! The cupcakes' appearance were anarchy at its best—without decorating tips or pastry bags, we used what I called the Punk-Rock Ziploc method ("In a super punk-rock pinch you can stuff frosting into zip-top bags, seal the top, and cut a tiny hole in one of the bottom corners. It's a little messy and unpredictable, but that's anarchy for you")—and the cupcakes were delectable.

Go buy the book, make some vegan cupcakes, and blog about it. As Isa and Terry say, vegan cupcakes are "blogworthy": "A surefire way to get people to look at your blog is by posting pictures of cupcakes. No one wants to hear about your terrible day at the office or what you think of China's space program. They want to see pictures of cupcakes, trust us." I'll trust them—here's a picture of the cupcakes:

Some of you are surely saying, "Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World rocks my socks, but I've had it for a couple of years now." Well, you're in luck! Isa and Terry have a new cookbook out, Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook, and you can win a free copy by entering PETA's contest here. (In other PETA news, PETA's Veg Cooking Blog just ranked Isa and Terry's The Post Punk Kitchen the number-one vegetarian cooking show.)


Two Significant Posts From FailedMessiah.com

Last week, Failed Messiah had two posts that are worth discussing here (three if you include the one that I talked about in my previous post).

On Wednesday, Failed Messiah talked about The Humane Society of the United States' investigation of a cow slaughterhouse in California, posting a Washington Post article, video footage, and personal commentary. Failed Messiah points out:

Jewish law would not allow the slaughter of downed animals or seriously weakened animals, would it?

In theory, Jewish law would forbid the slaughter for kosher meat of a downed or seriously weakened animal.

Rubashkin did process several suspect cows and was cited for that by the USDA FSIS.

More than that, no major kosher supervision company or organization supervises the holding pens and transit facilities. None of these rabbis make sure weak or sick cattle are kept out of the kosher food chain. None of them do anything to ensure humane handling of the animals prior to slaughter. None of them even make sure animals have water to drink and, if being held overnight, food to eat.

Rabbis do not enforce tzaar baalei hayyim [unnecessary animal suffering] laws.

The following day, a Failed Messiah post showed some interesting "digging" on the kosher slaughter issue. The post begins:
Documents ... obtained by FailedMessiah.com under the Freedom of Information Act show that the USDA now permits probing or excision of an open ritual slaughter wound using a meat hook, even though the cattle this procedure is perfomed on are fully conscious at the time the procedure is carried out.

Further, even though internal USDA documents, made public here for the first time, show the USDA expects a "rabbi" will perform the meat hook procedure, in practice the USDA allows any plant employee, Jewish or not, trained or not, to carry it out.

The USDA ruled in an internal document ... dated June 12, 2007 that use of a "node hook" (a small meat hook often called a boning hook) by a "rabbi" to "facilitate bleeding" falls under the religious exemption for ritual slaughter and can be done to fully conscious cattle.
Click here to read the entire post and see the actual documents.