"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)


The Latest AgriProcessors Scandal

Note: I posted about the AgriProcessors raid on May 13, but I later removed that post.

On May 12, more than a dozen federal agencies raided Iowa-based AgriProcessors, the world's largest glatt kosher slaughterhouse. In part, AgriProcessors is infamous because of a 2004 PETA investigation that exposed cruelty to animals at the slaughterhouse, including by documenting that cows had their tracheas and esophagi ripped out of their throats while still conscious. In recent weeks, there have been some disturbing new allegations (and yes, these should be seen as allegations):

  • AgriProcessors employed hundreds of illegal immigrant workers who were arrested in the May 12 raid.
  • Among those arrested were 18 juveniles (some as young as 13)—on a school day.
  • According to an affidavit quoted in USA Today, "approximately 76% of the 968 employees of Agriprocessors were using false or fraudulent Social Security numbers in connection with their employment."
  • In one incident, a floor supervisor put duct tape over the eyes of a worker and hit him with a meat hook.
  • Many workers say they were required to work overtime without compensation.
  • Workers were apparently paid $5 per hour as a starting salary.
  • Some employees ran a methamphetamine lab at the slaughterhouse and brought weapons to work.
  • Workers were pressured into giving sexual favors in exchange for promotions and shift changes.

This latest AgriProcessors scandal (there have been many) has led to some interesting developments. AgriProcessors CEO Sholom Rubashkin has been ousted. It seems likely that the nation's supply of kosher meat is in jeopardy, since such a large percentage of it comes from AgriProcessors. The Rabbinical Association and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism asked Conservative Jews "to evaluate whether it is appropriate to consume Rubashkin products until this situation is addressed." In that vein, my rabbi gave an overview of the AgriProcessors controversy in his sermon about Parashat Bechukotai this past Shabbat, promoting Hekhsher Tzedek and the theme that our actions have consequences (e.g., we are rewarded for good deeds and punished for bad ones). The Orthodox social justice group Uri L'Tzedek is calling for a boycott (which is supported by Hazon), as is a Washington, D.C., Orthodox rabbi.

The story has been covered extensively by Jewish blogs and papers, the JTA, mainstream papers, and other media outlets. I follow this stuff closely, and even I can't keep up—the number of posts about this on FailedMessiah alone is mindboggling. There are too many articles and posts to mention all the great ones, but Jewschool deserves recognition for two standouts: "It's Our Turn to Help" (May 15) and "Blogging the Omer, Day 29: And You Shall Eat and Be Satisfied" (May 18). (Kol Ra'ash Gadol has been blogging the omer for Jewschool and has mentioned the AgriProcessors scandal quite a few times. I blogged the omer last year, so you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone more pleased about this than I am!) Kol ha'kavod to those who are shining the spotlight on corrupt business practices in the kosher meat industry.


Go Visit a Farm Sanctuary

Today I went to Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary in Maryland for the first time. I'd previously been to Farm Sanctuary, United Poultry Concerns, and Ooh Mah Nee. Animal sanctuaries rescue farmed animals, take care of them, and let them live out their lives. It's great to see animals in such surroundings rather than on factory farms. Visiting a farm sanctuary helps vegetarians remember why animals should be allowed to live in peace and not be raised for food and demonstrates that point to people who have never been exposed to it before. The 400-acre Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary is home to cows, horses, goats, sheep, pigs, geese, chickens, and turkeys.

I was reminded of how much I love pigs. They're such sweet-natured animals. One pressed his snout against my pant pocket until he broke a box of Tic-Tacs, which I found rather amusing.
Jake weighed 2,200 pounds and was taller than I am. He would've been killed at a few months old for veal, but he was rescued and just kept growing.


'Jewish Punks Embrace Nazi Rhetoric and Imagery' in New Vilna Review

In 2005, I wrote an article for New Voices that gave an overview of Jewish punk. When I finished writing that article, I realized that I was just scratching at the surface. I kept digging (and later went to California to cover a Jewish punk tour for the Forward). What I found was a peculiar but compelling trend of Holocaust rhetoric and imagery among Jewish punks. My article about this has just been published in New Vilna Review.

In the article at least, I try not to take a side about whether the playfulness about the Holocaust crosses the line. The article attempts to present different perspectives about the meaning and rationale behind such Holocaust rhetoric and imagery. It uses examples from punk's early years (e.g., Malcolm McLaren, The Ramones) and the modern era (e.g., Jewdriver, Johnny Cohen and the New Age Nazis). This is controversial stuff, but it's worth considering nevertheless. The article is framed by its epigraph:

“Just where are the limits of taste and irony here? And what should they be? Must a depraved crime always lead to such depraved artistic responses? Can such art mirror evil and remain free of evil’s stench?”
—James E. Young, “Looking Back Into the Mirrors of Evil”


And the Most ‘Gentile’ Animals Are … Alpacas!

Last month, I asked heebnvegan readers to vote for the most “gentile” animal—a silly idea based on typos for the term “gentle animals.” Thank you to everyone who participated! Alpacas got 64% of the vote, whereas none of the other five choices got more than one vote. The alpacas’ victory was decisive!

Alpaca issues had never come up on this J-blog before, and in all likelihood, they never will again. I’d like to devote this post to alpacas, who face a wide range of abuses reminiscent of what other animals go through:

  • According to PETA, “The alpaca-wool industry exploded in the 1980s, when South American alpacas and llamas were marketed worldwide to entrepreneurs. The demand for alpaca wool has increased, so much so that herds numbering in the tens of thousands are now raised in the United States and Australia. Most of the world’s alpacas live in Peru, but government officials there believe that Australia could take over the industry within two decades.” Learn more about the cruelty behind wool at SaveTheSheep.com.
  • The Animal Protection Institute notes that in 2002, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) cited the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus because “the outdoor enclosure for the alpacas and goats had accumulations of debris (pieces of plastic, metal, cans, paper, etc.), and a piece of wood on the ground with several sharp nails sticking up.” Learn more about inhumane conditions for animals in circuses at Circuses.com.
  • Last year, The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) offered a $2,500 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person(s) who decapitated a 5-day-old alpaca. A news release said, “Tana Ward noticed one of her alpacas was missing from her home, at Willow Tan Farm, north of Delavan. She later found the alpaca—a baby named Arianne—dead, decapitated and lying in the pasture. Police determined the head was severed cleanly and are considering the case animal cruelty.” In 2003, HSUS offered a $2,500 reward following an apparent act of arson that killed five alpacas (and two cats). Learn more about the connection between cruelty to animals and violence toward humans.
  • In 2006, HSUS intervened to help 215 hoarded animals, including alpacas, in Broome County, New York. Click here to learn more about animal hoarders.
  • According to HSUS, alpacas or llamas (the factsheets don’t distinguish) have been used for experimentation by Bushover’s Biologicals Inc., Midwest Animals Blood Services Inc., the USDA-ARS-Animal Disease Research Unit, College of Southern Idaho, Pierce College, San Diego Mesa College, Auburn University, Brigham Young, Oregon State University, Tufts, Colorado Mountain College, Cornell, Ohio State University, Texas A&M, University of Missouri-Columbia, University of Pennsylvania, Washington State University, and Purdue. Fortunately, an “alpaca venipuncture/catheterization model” is available to students and experimenters looking to simulate various tests on alpacas. Learn more about vivisection at StopAnimalTests.com.


Miscellaneous Up the Wazoo!

  • I just got back from my community's Yom Hashoah commemoration. Apparently, Rep. Tom Lantos had agreed to be the speaker. (Check out my February 16 obituary post.) If only he were still alive ...
  • This week, the Forward has a must-read article about Hannah and Philip Schein, who have been behind many of PETA's investigations of kosher slaughterhouses. Here's an excerpt:
The Scheins maintain that they want only for kosher slaughter to live up to what they consider its original purpose: to minimize the suffering of the animals. Orthodox Jewish standards of kashrut have “gotten so focused on the letter of the law that they’ve lost sight of the fact that [kashrut] is about reducing suffering,” Hannah said.
  • In today's Jerusalem Post, the "Ask the Rabbi" feature discusses tza'ar ba'alei chayim, veal, foie gras, and other animal welfare issues.
  • Earlier this week, Jewschool and The Jew & The Carrot featured posts about the recent controversy surrounding in vitro meat. The former has some somewhat tongue-in-cheek questions from a Jewish angle. If you read the latter, please see my comments following the post.
  • Seth Powell, a Jewish vegetarian who was on my Birthright trip last year, is undertaking an amazing project. Beginning May 23, as part of a pilgrimage for peace, Seth will walk 900 miles along the California coast. Go to MindfulRoots.com to read about why he's doing this and his transformation into someone who is socially conscious (in terms of vegetarianism and other issues). The site also has info about how you can support Seth on his journey.