"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)


Yet Another Post About AgriProcessors

There's a lot going on related to AgriProcessors, but I'll start out with the big news. Today, the JTA reported that 12 Jewish members of Congress have sent a letter criticizing AgriProcessors on a variety of issues. The letter largely focuses on animal welfare matters:
The allegations about the company’s treatment of its workers and the animals raise serious questions about the company’s compliance with U.S. law and the highest standards of Jewish law and tradition concerning kashrut–a subject certainly beyond the scope of the U.S. government’s concern, but one of considerable importance to the Jewish communities in our districts. . . .

In addition to our alarm over reports of your company’s extensive, deplorable and illegal treatment of many of its workers, we have been disgusted by revelations about Agriprocessors’ slaughtering practices and the company’s treatment of animals. Between January 1, 2006 and January 24, 2007, Agriprocessors was issued five separate citations by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for faulty monitoring of mad cow disease and more than a dozen citations for fecal and bile contamination of beef and poultry, which resulted in two separate meat recalls. A 2005 report by the USDA Inspector General also found evidence of inhumane slaughter practices.

After an undercover investigation by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) in 2004 showed footage of cattle walking inside the Agriprocessors facility with slit throats ... the company asked Dr. Temple Grandin, a well-respected expert in the fields of animal rights and humane slaughtering practices, to tour the facility and recommend reforms.

More recently, another undercover PETA investigation filmed the use of a practice known as “gouging,” which inflicts deep, agonizing, saw-like wounds onto an animal immediately after the rabbi completed the ritual cut as proscribed by Jewish law. The new report led Dr. Grandin to rescind her earlier support of the slaughtering practices employed by the company and recommend the permanent installment of cameras that would be independently monitored. . . .

We would appreciate a detailed explanation of the steps Agriprocessors will be taking ... to address the company’s systemic problems and ensure the humane and ethical treatment of both workers and animals in accordance with both U.S. laws and Jewish standards.

The Forward reported:
“We wanted them to know from whence this came — that they have conducted this offense and that we are particularly offended as Jews,” Rep. Gary Ackerman, a New York Democrat who organized the letter, told the Forward. “As my mother used to say, it’s a shande to the goyim.”

Ackerman said that they had deliberately asked only Jewish members of Congress to add their signatures.

I've been following the AgriProcessors saga since 2004, and it's heartening to see more and more that people in power are catching on. In the words of British politician Tony Benn, "It’s the same each time with progress. First they ignore you, then they say you’re mad, then dangerous, then there’s a pause, and then you can’t find anyone who disagrees with you." Slowly but surely, we're getting there.

Other AgriProcessors News

  • Last Wednesday, Yeshiva World News posted an interview with Rabbi Menachem Genack, head of kosher supervision for the Orthodox Union. When asked why AgriProcessors rather than any other company has been the focus of so much controversy and attention (from the government, media, activists, consumers, etc.), Rabbi Genack noted that it is in part "because Agri was in the crosshairs after the story with PETA four years ago." That backs up what I've been saying all along: The 2004 animal welfare scandal at AgriProcessors is one of the chief foundations of the current/ongoing saga.
  • Earlier this month, Shmarya Rosenberg from FailedMessiah posted a must-read overview of the ongoing AgriProcessors saga on Jewcy, discussing both animal welfare aspects and other topics. Says Rosenberg, "I’d like to say that the Jewish community deserves better than this – but we don’t. We stood by silently as Agriprocessors business practices became exponentially more abusive and exploitative. Having access to kosher meat was more important that how that access was gained or who was hurt as a result."
  • Last week, AgriProcessors hired a new CEO, Bernard Feldman. The Associated Press reported that Feldman "said Agriprocessors has treated its workers fairly," FailedMessiah noted. Click here to read an open letter (courtesy of FailedMessiah) to Feldman from a Postville, Iowa, resident. "As you decide what is 'right for the company,' please try to decide what is right for the community, too," says the letter.
  • I often link to articles from secular media, Jewish papers, and relatively few Jewish blogs, but it's nice to have another perspective from time to time. Here's a thought-provoking piece from a J-blog called Jewneric in which the writer explains why he and his wife have stopped buying "any Kosher butchered red meat." The post says, "Every single shechita should be done the best way possible. Anything less than this means unnecessary tza’ar ba’ale chaim to the animal. While we are permitted to cause the minimal pain necessary to slaughter the animal, we are obligated to ensure that we cause only the minimal pain."
  • A new article in The Jewish Week suggests that AgriProcessors and Hekhsher Tzedek will be common sermon topics for many rabbis during the High Holidays. "The issues of our day include topics like Darfur and the ethical treatment of animals,” says Rabbi Eric Stark, director of the Union for Reform Judaism Greater New York Council.


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