"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)


Inhumane Treatment of Animals and Child Labor Charges at AgriProcessors

On Thursday, I wrote, "Sentiment against AgriProcessors appears to have hit rock bottom." Just when it seemed as though things couldn't get much worse for AgriProcessors, they did.

Inhumane Treatment of Animals

Last month, I talked about how the animals' side of the story hasn't been the focus of the ongoing AgriProcessors saga as much as it should be. A new PETA undercover investigation could help bring more attention to animal suffering in the kosher meat industry.

On Thursday night, The New York Times reported that PETA had again gone undercover at AgriProcessors. The mid-August investigation—which followed PETA's 2004 investigation at the Iowa slaughterhouse and 2007 investigation at Nebraska's Local Pride (which is also owned by the Rubashkin family)—revealed animal abuse that had been hidden from public view. Undercover video footage showed that a worker other than the shochet made a "second cut" to animals' throats following the initial cut of shechitah, which is a big no-no. This second cut was not made when Dr. Temple Grandin (the world's foremost expert on slaughter methods) visited AgriProcessors in 2006 or when rabbis and community leaders visited on July 31 of this year.

On Saturday, the Des Moines Register reported:
Federal regulations bar workers performing kosher slaughter from making the second cut unless a rabbi is watching.

Agriculture Department inspectors followed up on the video and determined that a worker had violated the regulation and issued the citation, known as a "noncompliance record," said Amanda Eamich, a spokeswoman for USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service.

PETA is calling the USDA's citation of AgriProcessors for violating the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act a "Victory!" but is also asking for more. Per Dr. Grandin's recommendation, PETA is demanding that a live video-monitoring system be installed at AgriProcessors to help ensure that animal abuse can no longer take place when it's assumed that nobody is watching. Click here to urge the USDA to work with AgriProcessors to implement such a system.

Yesterday, the JTA came out with a terrific article about how this new development has cost AgriProcessors the support of Dr. Grandin:

Dr. Temple Grandin, an animal scientist who has served as consultant to scores of slaughterhouses across the country, said the practice shown in the video -- in which two workers make "gouging," saw-like cuts into the necks of animals immediately after the ritual cut performed by a rabbi -- is inhumane.

Grandin said she hasn't seen that type of second cut at any of the 30 or so kosher slaughterhouses she has visited, nor did she see it when she toured the Agriprocessors plant in Postville, Iowa, in 2006 and declared it satisfactory. The practice also was not in evidence in a video released by a Long Island Jewish newspaper of a visit to Postville by 25 Orthodox rabbis on July 31; after visiting, the clergymen said the plant adhered to the highest standards of kosher practice.

The new video, shot Aug. 13 by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, known as PETA, has led Grandin to conclude that slaughterhouse visits are useless in determining whether animals are being treated properly. She has called for Agriprocessors to install round-the-clock video cameras on the kill floor that can be independently audited by a third party over the Internet.

“There's no point,” Grandin said of the visits. “I've been in business 35 years, and I'm getting sick and tired of: They act good when you're there and they don't act good when your back is turned. They did the same thing for the rabbis they would do for me -- put on a show.”

AgriProcessors' treatment of animals seemed to garner a decent amount of media coverage in Jewish papers, Jewish blogs, and secular media. Today, however, the spotlight shifted.

9,311 Child Labor Charges

Today, the Iowa attorney general's office reportedly filed 9,311 child labor charges against AgriProcessors and each of five individual defendants—including owner Abraham Aaron Rubashkin and former plant manager Sholom Rubashkin. Each count carries a maximum of 30 days in jail and a fine between $65 and $625. The Associated Press explains:
The more than 9,000 violations the state alleges fall into five categories: employing a child under age 18 in a meatpacking plant; employing a child under age 18 in an occupation that exposes the child to dangerous or poisonous chemicals; employing a child under age 16 who operated power machinery; employing a child under age 16 who worked during prohibited hours or more hours in a day than permitted by law; and employing a child under 16 who worked more days in a week than permitted by law.

It said the company's records also show that employees were not paid for all overtime worked.
It took 9,311 criminal charges per defendant, but the Orthodox Union (OU) is finally not taking the news of AgriProcessors' shameful conduct sitting down. Rabbi Menachem Genack, head of kosher supervision for the OU, told the JTA that the OU will suspend its supervision of AgriProcessors if there isn't new management within two weeks. Rabbi Genack reportedly told FailedMessiah that AgriProcessors must hire a "new independent CEO" and that the Rubashkin family "can’t be involved in running the plant — actually hands on running of the plant." In other words, change is on its way.

Perhaps there's no better way to end than with some user comments from FailedMessiah:
  • "It's starting (or maybe ending?)."
  • "It's really all over now. The fat lady has sung."
  • "It's very heartening to see the wheels of justice in actual motion. This is just the beginning, folks."
  • Scroll down to the fourth comment here (from Yochanan Lavie) for an outlandish and hilarious parody of Elvis Presley's "Jailhouse Rock," titled "Rubbishcan Rock."

(Update 9/19/09: I reflected back on my promotion of "Rubbishcan Rock" and regret making light of Sholom Rubashkin's situation in this manner.)


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