December 31, 2004

Special JVNA Newsletter - Postville Slaughterhouse Case #9

Shalom everyone,

This special Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA) Online Newsletter is the ninth follow-up to the JVNA newsletter on the Postville slaughterhouse issue sent out on December 1. It includes much material from various perspectives to give you an idea of some of the latest developments. For additional information, please do an Internet search for recent articles and/or check web sites of PETA, the OU, and other involved groups, and the blog at

This newsletter has the following items:

1. Newsletter Editor's Comments/Sample Letters

2. Counter-response to PETA's Campaign Coordinator by Rabbi Avi Shafran, Agudath Israel

3. PETA's Response to Rabbi Shafran's Statement (Above)

4. Los Angeles Times Article

5. Washington Post Article

6. PETA calls on Allamakee County Attorney to prosecute AgriProcessors

7. Statement by OU Kashrut Expert Rabbi Menachem Genack

8. More Jerusalem Post Letters

9. Statement From JVNA Advisor John Diamond

Some material has been deferred to a later update/newsletter to keep this one from being even longer.

[Materials in brackets like this [ ] within an article or forwarded message are my editorial notes/comments.]

Opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the JVNA, unless otherwise indicated, but may be presented to increase awareness and/or to encourage respectful dialogue. Also, information re conferences, retreats, forums, trips, and other events does not necessarily imply endorsements by JVNA, but may be presented for informational purposes. Please use e-mail addresses, telephone numbers, and web sites to get further information about any event that you are interested in.

As always, your comments and suggestions are very welcome.


1. Newsletter Editor's Comments/Sample Letters

Incredibly, as indicated in the dialogues and articles below, the controversy over the Postville Iowa slaughterhouse case continues. In many ways, I will be happy when it is over, and I can get back to my normal, hectic life, but the continuing coverage and discussions are keeping a focus, especially among Jews, about what is involved in producing meat for their tables, and it gives us an opportunity to present our case: a shift toward vegetarianism is both a religious imperative because the production and consumption of meat is inconsistent with at least six basic Jewish mandates and a societal imperative because animal-based diets and modern intensive “livestock” agriculture is having devastating effects on human health, the environment, our resources, our climate, in short on the future of humanity. These issues are generally being ignored by the media and the main participants in the Postville controversy, so it is essental that we respectfully bring it up. Of course, improving conditions at Postville and making sure that better standards to make sure that shechita is properly carried out are important concerns, but we should make people aware that there are many more problems related to the meat industry.

So, please review the articles below, check your local newspapers, and do an Internet search to see where additional articles have been written, and please respond with letters to editors, calls to talk shows, and discussions with local rabbis and others in your community. There is the possibility of a major change of consciousness here, and we should take advantage of the opportunity.

I planned to state some points that you should consider in composing letters to editors and in helping spread our messages in other ways. Instead, I am pasting below excerpts from some letters that I have written, in the hope that it will provide background information and inspiration for your own letters. Please feel free to use any of my material, without attribution. Please also consider sample letters in previous issues of the JVNA newsletter. Our letters can help convince editors, rabbis, educators, and others to look more deeply into the issues.

Many thanks.

Sample letters and excerpts:

Letter 1:

… However, even if shechita is carried out perfectly, can we ignore the severe cruelty that animals are subjected to daily on factory farms, and the other ways that the production and consumption of animal products violate basic Jewish teachings?

Since nutritionists have concluded that one can be properly nourished on a diet free of animal products, a fundamental question to be addressed is: since Judaism mandates that we should diligently guard our health, treat animals with compassion, protect the environment, conserve natural resources, and help hungry people, and animal-based diets and agriculture have negative effects in each of these areas, shouldn’t Jews (and others) seriously consider a switch toward meatless diets?

Letter 2:
I believe that the horrific scenes of the mistreatment of animals at the Postville glatt kosher slaughterhouse and the efforts of some Jewish groups to defend the facility’s procedures raise questions that go to the heart and soul of Judaism: If slaughterhouse procedures are not consistently monitored for strict adherence to the ideals of shechita, are we carrying out our mandate to be "rachmanim b’nei rachmanim" (compassionate children of compassionate ancestors)? Are we failing in our obligation to properly imitate G-d, Whose "tender mercies are over all His creatures" (Psalms 145:9)? If, as is recited at synagogue services every Sabbath and Yom tov morning, "the soul of every living creature shall bless G-d’s Name," can we expect these cruelly treated animals to join in the praise? If, "the righteous person considers the life of his or her animal" (Proverbs 12:10), how will we be judged, based on our treatment of animals?

Even if shechita is carried out perfectly and pain during slaughter is minimized, can we ignore the many violations of Jewish teachings on compassion to animals that occur daily in the mistreatment of billions of animals on "factory farms" in the United States and worldwide?

Finally, perhaps the most important question: since Judaism mandates that we should diligently guard our health, treat animals with compassion, protect the environment, conserve natural resources, and help hungry people, and since animal-based diets and agriculture have major negative effects in each of these areas, shouldn’t Jews (and others) seriously consider a switch toward meatless diets?

Letter 3:

The Orthodox Union is to be commended for initiating an end to the horrible treatment of animals at the Postville, Iowa slaughterhouse that were revealed on the PETA videotapes.

Alternate start: I wish to express my deep concern about the mistreatment of animals at AgriProcessors in Postville, Iowa, and to commend the Orthodox Union both for its swift movement to correct the situation there and for its laudable public commitment to do all that is Halachically acceptable to ensure the most humane slaughter conditions possible in all plants that it certifies.

But what about the many other violations of Jewish teachings related to animal-based diets and agriculture?

When Judaism mandates that we treat animals with compassion, can we ignore the cruel treatment of animals on factory farms, where they are raised in cramped, confined spaces without sunlight, fresh air, or opportunities to fulfil their natural instincts? When Judaism stresses that we must diligently protect our health, can we ignore that animal-based diets are major contributors to the epidemic of heart disease, many forms of cancer, and other killer diseases and ailments afflicting the Jewish community and others? When Judaism mandates that we be partners with God in protecting the environment, can we ignore the significant contributions of animal-centered agriculture to air, water, and land pollution, species extinction, deforestation, global climate change, water shortages, and many other environmental threats?

For the sake of our health, the sustainability of our imperiled planet, Jewish values, as well as for the animals, it is essential that we consider shifting toward plant-based diets.

Letter 4:

It is essential that the widespread publicity over the cruel abuse of animals at the kosher slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa lead to much needed changes throughout the entire industry and a reevaluation of our dietary habits. The Orthodox Union (OU) is to be commended for its initial steps toward ending the abuses of animals revealed by videos at the Postville facility, but these horrors are part of a much wider pattern of animal abuse in today's meat industry. We can no longer ignore the suffering and abuse that many farmed animals experience for their entire lives on factory farms.

The current controversy must be a wake up call to end the many violations of Jewish teachings associated with the production and consumption of animal products. Since Judaism mandates that we preserve our health, treat animals compassionately, protect the environment, conserve natural resources, and help hungry people, and animal-based diets and agriculture have negative effects in all of these areas, Jews should seriously consider a shift toward plant-based diets.

Letter 5:

As president of the Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA), I can assure you that JVNA has consistently opposed efforts to single out shechita for criticism and that we have been very critical of some of PETA’s outrageous methods . While we believe that Jews and others should shift toward plant-based diets, JVNA believes that properly carried out ritual slaughter is a humane method of slaughter, which aims to minimize animal pain, and that Jews who continue to eat meat should eat kosher meat.

However, we, respectfully, believe that it is essential to indicate that the inhumane treatment of animals at the Postville slaughterhouse that has been shown on the videotape is not typical of shechita. It is critical to immediately change the slaughter procedure [some changes have already been made], based on the advice of halachic experts and animal welfare experts, such as the highly respected Dr. Temple Grandin. Otherwise, we fear the possible negative effects on Jews and Judaism if people associate conditions at that slaughterhouse with Jewish ritual slaughter.

What appears on these videos seems to show animals, unnecessarily and in contravention of Jewish tradition, being mistreated and made to suffer. I am concerned that those who know little of Judaism may come to believe that this is actually what Jewish observance requires and condones, and may thereby become hostile to Jews and Judaism.

We want the idealistic vision of the Torah to be admired and influential in the world, not associated with cruel and insensitive practices.

In this case PETA has consistently focused on the Postville plant and stated that they believe that shechita, when properly carried out, is a superior method.

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2. Counter-response to PETA's Campaign Coordinator by Rabbi Avi Shafran, Agudath Israel of America

I thank Mr. Goldsmith for his response to my piece on the AgriProcessors controversy.

The issue of PETA’s core philosophy is not one that I will use this space to discuss further; ample material is available to anyone who wishes to explore in that direction. But I do feel it necessary to note that, contrary to what Mr. Goldsmith writes, PETA’s co-founder and president declared that “A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy” (Vogue magazine, 1989) not in the context of the sensation of pain but rather as a coda to her contention that "There is no rational basis for saying that a human being has special rights.” As she concluded, “They are all mammals.”

And so, with all due respect to Mr. Goldsmith's assurance that PETA “has never been duplicitous” and “never would exaggerate,” I must remain skeptical as well about PETA’s assertion of a 25% rate of consciousness after shechita at the plant during the period in question. The current rate seems to be something less than 1%.

Mr. Goldsmith asserts that AgriProcessors, like "criminals [who] sometimes act in accordance with the law,"” has simply changed its procedures. But the only relevant change instituted in the interim was something that, according to veterinary expert Dr. I. M. Levinger, who recently spent two days observing shechita at AgriProcessors, would have little or no impact on the rate of animals that remain conscious after shechita.

What Mr. Goldsmith characterizes as the "ripping" of animals'’ tracheas and esophagi was in fact the manipulation of those neck organs to facilitate a second cut to the carotid arteries – to better bleed the animals, and hence render them unconscious even more quickly. Such manipulation is not required by Jewish law, however, and it is that procedure that has now been discontinued (although a second cut to the carotids is till being done). If the current practices at the plant yield an acceptably miniscule post-shechita consciousness rate, as Dr. Levinger and a host of government and rabbinic officials have testified, there is no reason to believe that a dramatically higher consciousness rate was the product of a procedure designed to stimulate even more rapid bleeding.

The discrepancy between what Mr. Goldsmith claims is shown on PETA’s full videotape and the unanimous testimony regarding the current situation at AgriProcessors is striking. More striking still is the internal tension inherent in Mr. Goldsmith’s response to my article.

On the one hand, he seems to accept the testimony that the procedures currently in place at AgriProcessors are entirely humane, and that only a tiny percentage of animals – well within normal and acceptable bounds – display signs of post-shechita consciousness. But then he goes on to insist that AgriProcessors must make yet additional changes to their procedures.

If shechita as currently practiced is in fact, as Mr. Goldsmith concedes, humane, whence the necessity for further changes?

Mr. Goldsmith asserts that his group is “not asking much” of AgriProcessors or other kosher meat producers. And, at least to an innocent eye, what PETA is in fact demanding of all kosher meat processing facilities sounds innocuous: that such facilities be held to “the widely-accepted regulatory standards for religious slaughter developed by the Food Marketing Institute.”

Those standards, though – which, incidentally, go far beyond what the government has determined to be the requirements of humane slaughter, and were unilaterally compiled without any consultation with kashrut authorities – are not at all "widely accepted." On the contrary, they have been widely rejected, as they were adjudged by religious authorities many months ago to be incompatible with the ritual requirements of shechita. The incompatibility led fifteen Jewish kashrut experts and organizational heads, representing the full gamut of the glatt kosher meat producing and consuming community in the United States, to go on written record three-quarters of a year ago informing FMI that its standards "could improperly interfere with our religious ritual requirements." And requesting that the standards be modified accordingly.

Which leads to the crux of the issue, my original article's bottom line: Who will determine how shechita is done in the United States – rabbinic authorities or non-Jewish partisan groups? By petitioning U.S. governmental agencies to impose new rules on Jewish ritual (and despite the fact that no one is pointing to anything objectionable transpiring at AgriProcessors), by pressuring supermarket chains to stop doing business with kosher meat suppliers that are in full compliance with religious and federal law but do not follow the religiously objectionable and legally excessive standards unilaterally promulgated by the FMI, PETA has crossed a dangerous line. And that should alarm anyone committed to religious liberty.

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3. PETA's Response to Rabbi Shafran's Statement (Above)
By Ben Goldsmith of PETA

I appreciate Rabbi Shafran's thoughtful consideration of my response. As I said before, it is evident that we share similar concerns about animal welfare and adherence to Jewish law.

In light of this common cause, I hope Rabbi Shafran will agree that there need not be a dichotomy between the welfare standards proposed by humane organizations and those advocated by certain religious leaders. Surely the two are not mutually exclusive, and given our shared concern for the welfare of animals, I hope we can work together to ensure that kosher slaughterhouses live up to the requirements of Jewish law. Rabbi Shafran should not view PETA as a threat to rabbinic authority.

As I said before, I am glad that AgriProcessors has made a few small improvements; but without the proper guidelines for kosher slaughter in place, they could resume their shoddy killing practices after the current scandal fades from memory. This is why we are encouraging AgriProcessors and the OU to adopt a set of standards that will guarantee that kosher slaughter is humane without fail.

The changes that PETA has requested of AgriProcessors were recently summarized by their lawyer, Nathan Lewin, as follows: “Repair your unloading ramps. Restrict the use of electric prods. Ensure that no more than 5 percent of cows vocalize. Ensure that each chicken is held one at a time, by one person, for slaughter. Provide fresh, clean water for all animals at unloading. Ensure that all animals are calm at all stages of processing. Engage in self-audits on a regular basis.”

Reading their own lawyer's recitation of the changes that we are suggesting, I am left wondering why AgriProcessors or anyone else in the Jewish community would object to our recommendations. If AgriProcessors had made these simple, very reasonable improvements two years ago when we first approached them, they could have avoided the scandal and subsequent public scrutiny that they face today.

The Food Marketing Institute standards that we are asking AgriProcessors and the OU to adopt do indeed "go far beyond what the government has determined to be the requirements of humane slaughter." The scientists who developed the standards are very proud of this fact. Doing more for animal welfare than the bare minimum dictated by the government should be a goal to which kosher slaughterhouses continually aspire.

If there are issues with the FMI standards, the OU and other authorities should address those issues. As we read the standards, it's unclear to us what is at issue; the authors of the standards, also, have not heard from any OU or other authorities that there is any issue with the standards, other than the pen. That should be something to work on, rather than something that causes the standards to be discounted entirely. Since the OU prefers the pen, perhaps the OU could use its considerable influence to help change the preference of the Chief Rabbinate in Israel; since the Chief Rabbinate's stance appears to be based in humane considerations, this endeavor would seem likely to meet with success.

PETA has no interest in undermining rabbinic authority, and it is not our desire to "impose new rules on Jewish ritual." The issue here should be halacha, not an imagined power struggle. Our only objective is to assure that rabbinic authorities live up to the precepts of Jewish law that forbid causing unnecessary suffering to animals. We are pleased to be told that the OU shares our concern and will do all that it can, within Halachic parameters, to ensure the most humane slaughter possible. Our goal in this case is precisely that they do so, with unannounced audits of AgriProcessors, to ensure compliance at all times.

The fact remains that AgriProcessors was slaughtering animals horribly—that fully one-quarter of the animals showed unarguable signs of consciousness even after they had been mutilated (throats ripped out) and dumped onto the concrete, and that Mr. Rubashkin and his attorney, Mr. Lewin, continue to defend all practices; they continue to argue that these animals were not conscious, in complete denial of what is scientifically true. Extrapolated over the 2,500 to 3,000 cattle AgriProcessors slaughters each week, we're talking about 600 to 750 or so still conscious, every week, fully a minute after shechita. And that doesn't even address the mutilation, which no expert contacted by PETA or anyone else has ever indicated having seen. These overt violations of the Jewish commitment to kindness should be concerning to anyone who cares about Jewish values, as should be AgriProcessors continued defense of these horrors.

Rabbi Perry Raphael Rank, the President of the Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative movement, stated that "the disturbing video that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals produced of incidents during shechita at the AgriProcessors' plant in Postville, Iowa should be regarded as a welcome, though unfortunate service to the Jewish community."” We hope that Rabbi Shafran will join the other religious leaders who recognize that they should do everything in their power to address this problem, and not become preoccupied with attacking the messenger.

Finally, I feel odd that we even have to continue to discuss the often-misquoted statement of Ingrid Newkirk, our President. It is a rare thing for someone to insist that he knows what an organization stands for better than its representatives. In fact, it is simply true that physiologically, in the capacity to feel pain, as well as in other biological needs, other animals are our equals. They were designed this way by G-d. That was the whole point, regardless of an attack article by Fred Barnes in Vogue Magazine, which is run by one of the most animal-unfriendly women in the history of publishing. That it was repeated incorrectly by others who are opposed to PETA’s mission only proves that we do upset the likes of Philip Morris by opposing their cruel experiments, KFC by opposing their breeding and drugging animals so that they can’t even walk, and other large corporations with the resources to misrepresent us.

But PETA actively recognizes the different moral standings of animals and humans. One of our primary differences lies in the human ability to show compassion in choosing the foods we eat. When given the choice between cruelty and kindness, we believe that humans should choose the latter; in calling on AgriProcessors to make improvements in its slaughterhouse, we are fulfilling our obligation to act kindly towards animals. This is very much in accordance with Jewish law.

I understand Rabbi Shafran's concerns, but I am also certain that our position on animal welfare closely matches that of the Jewish community—one does not have to choose between the two. Again, rabbinic authorities should not view this as a power struggle; instead, they should focus their energies on improving animal welfare. We all want to ensure that kosher slaughter is consistently quick and humane, in keeping with Jewish law, and PETA maintains that by adopting a uniform set of standards, Jewish leaders will be doing their part to guarantee that kosher slaughter will never again cause animals the horrible and wholly unnecessary suffering that was the norm at AgriProcessors for some years. I am confident that this is a goal we can all embrace.

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4. Los Angeles Times Article

Cattle Video Stirs Kosher Meat Debate
Tue Dec 28, 7:55 AM ET
Top Stories - Los Angeles Times
By Stephanie Simon Times Staff Writer

The beef is produced according to ancient Jewish law: A trained rabbi makes a swift cut across each animal's neck with a long, sharp knife. The blood drains quickly from the meat. Orthodox rabbis supervise the process and certify the beef as kosher.

But when an animal rights activist went undercover at one of the nation's top kosher slaughterhouses, he found practices that had raised deep concerns among some observant Jews.

The activist, from the group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, was assigned to the sausage line at Agriprocessors Inc. in Postville, Iowa. Whenever he could, however, he slipped over to the kill floor with a hidden camera. There, he filmed cattle struggling to stand minutes after they should have been dead. Some even staggered about after their throats had been slit and their windpipes ripped out.

The Orthodox Union, the largest kosher certification authority in the world, has declared that the procedures at Agriprocessors "meet all [our] standards to the highest degree." Meat from the plant — sold under the brand names Aaron's Best and Rubashkin — is certified not only as kosher, but as glatt kosher, which means it's deemed of the highest quality.

But kosher law is more than a procedural checklist. It's based on the ancient Jewish principle of tza'ar ba'alei hayyim — the need to minimize pain to all living beings. And that's where the video has caused unease.

The Torah lists specific rules for treating animals humanely. For instance, oxen must not be muzzled on the threshing floor because it would torment them to see grain they could not eat. Rabbinical scholars nearly 2,000 years ago introduced the general principle that Jews must make sure the animals they use for work and food do not suffer.

That principle is integral to kosher slaughter, which, experts say, can be virtually painless if done correctly.

After watching the video, which PETA posted online, some rabbis have concluded that the animals at Agriprocessors suffer unnecessarily — and have declared the meat unfit.

"The animals appear to be in agony," Rabbi Joel Rembaum recently wrote his congregation at Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles. "The meat that comes from there is not kosher."

He was shocked, he wrote, by the sight of animals with gashed necks thrashing on a bloody floor for a minute or longer. He also rejected as unacceptably cruel the equipment the plant uses: a revolving metal drum that turns the cattle upside down, baring their necks for the cut, and then dumps them out seconds later on the concrete.

Rabbinical scholars within the Conservative movement declared the inverted pen unacceptable for kosher slaughter in a legal opinion issued in 2000. The Iowa plant is one of the few in the nation that still use it.

"Does the meat technically fulfill the requirements of kosher slaughter? Yes," said Rabbi Elliot Dorff, a leading philosopher in the Conservative Jewish movement. "But if by calling it 'not kosher' [you] mean that the meat should not be eaten, I agree with that. The way it's produced violates Jewish law."

Many Orthodox rabbis dispute that conclusion.

They point out that the inverted pen was designed to speed the draining of blood — an imperative in kosher slaughter. It's the method preferred by the chief rabbinate of Israel. And it is an ancient Jewish custom.

"This is the way we did it in the Holy Temple all those years. This is basically the exact way that God asked us to do it," said Rabbi Sholem Fishbane, who supervises kosher slaughterhouses for the Chicago Rabbinical Council.

"The PETA video wasn't pretty, that's for sure," Fishbane said. "But the meat was definitely kosher."

The debate comes against a backdrop of concern among some Jews about PETA's motives.

The group in the past has compared chickens to Holocaust victims, juxtaposing scenes of Nazi death camps with photos from factory farms. Jewish leaders also were appalled when PETA wrote the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat (news - web sites) to complain that a donkey had been injured in a bombing attack in Jerusalem.

PETA coordinator Bruce Friedrich has made a point of praising kosher law for its emphasis on animal welfare. Nonetheless, some in the Jewish community view the undercover video as an anti-Semitic attack.

Nathan Lewin, an attorney for Agriprocessors, noted in a column in the Jewish Press that the Nazis launched their attacks on Jews in the 1930s with a campaign to discredit kosher slaughter as barbaric.

And Agriprocessors executive Heshy Rubashkin recently wrote customers urging them to join "with us in defending our religious practices against these extreme political attacks."

Customers like Leah Hoffmitz have followed the back-and-forth with some unease.

Hoffmitz, a graphic design professor from Los Angeles, said she always assumed that kosher slaughter meant humane slaughter. Hearing PETA's allegations "disturbed me," she said. But not enough to stop her from grilling Rubashkin steaks for dinner.

In the end, she said, she has to believe that the rabbinical authorities certifying the plant's meat as kosher are doing their jobs.

"As an observant Jew, I have to trust these people," she said. "Their job is to make sure the food I'm eating is proper."

Although Agriprocessors maintains that its animals do not suffer, it will — on the advice of the Orthodox Union — implement some new practices on the kill floor.

Workers no longer will rip out the animals' windpipes immediately after the neck is cut. Veteran slaughterhouse inspectors have described that practice as horrifically painful. Also, any cattle that survive the initial cut will be stunned to ensure they lose consciousness quickly. (Animals handled in this way will not be sold as kosher.)

Other changes also may be in the works. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (news - web sites) sent a team this month to investigate the plant — including the work of its own inspectors, who are supposed to monitor animal welfare as well as meat safety.

Meanwhile, two big Agriprocessors customers, supermarket chains Albertsons and Safeway, have asked the slaughterhouse to accept surprise inspections from independent animal welfare experts. And some Jewish leaders intend to push for a rethinking of kosher certification laws across the industry. Calling for rabbinical inspections on farms and ranches, they argue that "kosher" should mean an animal has been treated humanely while alive, not just at the moment of death.

"We really ought to check," Dorff said. "This is a very important issue."

To some loyal customers, any change is unnecessary.

Mike Engleman distributes a million pounds of Agriprocessors beef annually through Doheny Kosher Meat Market on Pico Boulevard. He visits the Postville plant twice a year and says he has always been impressed.

"They do a great job serving the Jewish community," Engleman said.

"The PETA people sent me a tape," he added. "I threw it in the garbage."

Times staff writer Patricia Ward Biederman in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2004 Los Angeles Times

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5. Washington Post Article

USDA Investigating Kosher Meat Plant
Advocacy Group's Grisly Video Sparked Outcry

By Alan Cooperman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 31, 2004; Page A03

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has told federal meat inspectors that they should immediately shut down any slaughterhouse where they observe acts of cruelty similar to those surreptitiously videotaped by an animal rights group at a kosher meat plant in Iowa.

The videotape by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which shows a steer struggling to its feet and walking into a corner after its throat has been cut and its trachea and esophagus are dangling out, has caused a furor among Jewish organizations and rabbis around the world.

AgriProcessors Inc. sells meat to kosher markets and meat counters like this one in Evanston, Ill. The company's method of slaughtering is being questioned. (Peter Slevin -- The Washington Post)

Some are angry at PETA, accusing the animal rights group of reviving the Nazi libel that Jewish ritual slaughter involves torture of animals. But other Jewish groups have condemned the AgriProcessors Inc. plant in Postville, Iowa, saying it appears to have violated the spirit, if not the letter, of the rules for kosher butchering, which require a swift cut with a razor-sharp knife by a person trained to put down a large animal in seconds, with minimal suffering.

PETA says one of its members got a job at the Iowa plant and used a hidden camera to record five hours of operations on the "kill floor" over a seven-week period this summer. Based on its video footage, it filed a complaint with the USDA on Nov. 29 and has urged Iowa authorities to prosecute the plant's managers for animal cruelty.

Bruce Friedrich, a spokesman for PETA, said it advocates vegetarianism and is "not a fan of killing animals, period." But he said PETA acknowledges that "done correctly, kosher slaughter is no less humane, and probably is better, than the conventional method" in commercial slaughterhouses, which fire an air gun or metal bolt into the animal's brain.

"We're not objecting to kosher slaughter in general," Friedrich said. "We're objecting to the sloppy, unethical methods used at this particular plant, which many experts on slaughterhouse standards say is the worst cruelty they have ever seen."

Nathan Lewin, a Washington lawyer who represents AgriProcessors, said the plant is continuously monitored by USDA inspectors and kosher certifying organizations, none of which has found anything wrong. PETA's campaign, he said, "is really an attack on shechita," or kosher slaughter.

"I'm not suggesting this is part of an anti-Semitic wave. But I do I think it's an attempt to get rid of kosher slaughter, maybe as a first step to getting rid of all slaughter," Lewin said.

PETA's allegations have reverberated internationally because the Postville plant is the largest glatt kosher meat producer in the United States and the only one authorized by Israel's Orthodox rabbinate to export beef to Israel -- though, at present, Israel does not accept any U.S. beef because of concerns about mad cow disease. Glatt, the Yiddish word for smooth, is the highest standard of cleanliness.

Federal and state officials, noting the sensitivity of regulating religious rituals, have responded cautiously. The USDA sent four investigators to the Postville plant Dec. 2, two days after PETA made the videotape public. Their inquiry remains open and has neither exonerated the plant nor concluded that it broke federal laws on humane handling of livestock, USDA spokesman Matt Baun said.

The USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service, however, sent a detailed advisory to federal meat inspectors on Dec. 22. The three-page document, obtained by The Washington Post, does not mention either PETA's videotape or the Postville plant by name. But it describes what inspectors should do in a scenario that corresponds closely to the situation shown on the tape.

"You are the Public Health Veterinarian" assigned to monitor a kosher slaughterhouse, the scenario begins. "Today the establishment is ritually slaughtering cattle." Seconds after the shochet, a rabbi trained as a kosher butcher, cuts a steer's throat, a plant employee steps forward to make a second cut and pull out the steer's trachea, or breathing tube, and its esophagus, or gullet.

AgriProcessors Inc. sells meat to kosher markets and meat counters like this one in Evanston, Ill. The company's method of slaughtering is being questioned. (Peter Slevin -- The Washington Post)

"The trachea and esophagus are dangling from the neck of the animal. . . . You are concerned as to whether the animal is sensible during this process," the scenario continues. "But before you can call the District [supervisor] or adequately examine the animal . . . the steer begins to right itself, and then stands, and starts to stumble around in the bleeding area, flopping its head on adjacent equipment."

In such a situation, the document says, the federal inspector should immediately notify the slaughterhouse that it has a "conscious" animal "at a point in the process where it should be unconscious." After waiting to verify that the animal has been put out of its misery, it says, the inspector should place a "U.S. Reject" tag on the device that restrains the cattle during slaughter and "inform the plant that the slaughter operation is suspended."

"You take these actions because the plant personnel performed a dressing procedure on a conscious animal, and because they failed to react appropriately to address a suffering, conscious animal. In addition, you inform establishment management that they will be receiving an NR [Non-compliance Record] for this egregious violation," it says.

Gary A. Dahl of Aurora, Colo., who has been a USDA slaughterhouse inspector for 21 years and heads a federal inspectors union, said he had no doubt, given the timing and the details of the USDA's instructional scenario, that it was a reaction to the PETA videotape.

Dahl said he could speak only for himself and the inspectors union, not on behalf of the USDA. But he said he considered the scenario a "very, very strong" response that "gives us a guideline and a tool to help us stand up to the pressure we would get from plant management" if an inspector were to shut down a kosher slaughterhouse under such circumstances.

One Orthodox Jewish group, Agudath Israel of America, has called PETA's campaign a "vicious and unethical attack" on Judaism, which "introduced human society to the concept of humane treatment of animals." Noting that Nazi propaganda included photographs of allegedly cruel kosher slaughter, it said, "PETA now follows in that vile course."

The Orthodox Union, the largest association of Orthodox synagogues in the United States and a major certifier of kosher foods, also has defended the plant. But it has refrained from attacking PETA, and its executive vice president, Rabbi Tzvi H. Weinreb, said in an interview that he found the videotape "disturbing."

The images of cattle attempting to rise to their feet after slaughter "certainly appear to be cruel or inhumane," he said. As a result, Weinreb said, the plant has made two changes.

"We asked that they discontinue this practice of excising the trachea and esophagus immediately after the [ritual cut], and they agreed to that. They also agreed to stun or shoot animals which show the kind of motor coordination that's indicative of consciousness," he said. "So both kinds of images that were portrayed on the video are no longer happening."

Israeli newspapers have followed the controversy closely, with Saul Singer, the editorial page editor of the Jerusalem Post, writing that he has decided to avoid beef until he is assured that kosher slaughter is being performed "according to the full letter and spirit of Jewish law."

The Rabbinical Assembly, an association of Conservative rabbis, said the PETA video "should be regarded as a welcome, though unfortunate, service to the Jewish community." When a company "purporting to be kosher violates the prohibition against . . . causing pain to one of God's living creatures, that company must answer to the Jewish community, and ultimately, to God," the assembly said.

The Postville plant was opened in 1987 by Aaron Rubashkin, a Lubavitcher Hasidic butcher from Brooklyn. It is now run by his son, Sholom Rubashkin, who declined through a spokesman to be interviewed.

The spokesman, Mike Thomas, said the phenomenon of cattle moving their heads or struggling to their feet after their throats have been cut is rare but not unknown at AgriProcessors and other kosher facilities. "Biologically, if the cut was done correctly, that shouldn't have happened. It must have been an incomplete cut or a faulty cut," he said. "The only thing we can say is, human error does happen."

© 2004 The Washington Post Company

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6. PETA calls on Allamakee County Attorney to prosecute AgriProcessors


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After a statement by Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Patty Judge indicated that Postville-based slaughterhouse AgriProcessors, Inc., is subject to the local cruelty-to-animals statute, PETA formally called for charges against the company at a news conference Tuesday, Dec. 28, outside the Allamakee County Courthouse.

In a formal complaint that was delivered immediately before the news conference, PETA explained the legal case against Postville-based AgriProcessors and called on county attorney William Shafer to institute legal proceedings against the company - which packages meats under the Iowa's Best Beef, Rubashkin's, and Aaron's Best labels. After delivering the complaint, PETA presented and discussed video footage that supports the group's call for local prosecution.

A PETA undercover investigator videotaped workers at the plant ripping the tracheas and esophagi out of the throats of fully conscious cows and slaughtering them in such an inadequate manner that many were still attempting to stand as long as three minutes after their throats had been cut open.

PETA's request is in response to comments made by Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Patty Judge, who told the Globe Gazette that she found the footage "disturbing." She stated that if she had the jurisdiction, she would shut the plant down and launch an investigation but that charges of cruelty to animals would have to be brought by local law enforcement. While PETA disputes that the secretary is unable to enforce state law on state grounds when violations are brought to her attention, the organization is heeding her suggestion by simultaneously working to reverse her decision and calling for local prosecution under the state's cruelty-to-animals statute.

"The Iowa secretary of agriculture has understandably expressed her revulsion at what AgriProcessors was doing to animals," says PETA President Ingrid E. Newkirk. "What AgriProcessors was doing behind closed doors is the ultimate violation of 'Iowa nice,' and we are calling on Mr. Shafer to take swift and decisive action against the company, its owner, and the kosher certification agencies that allowed state law to be so flagrantly violated."

©Waukon Standard 2004 Copyright © 1995 - 2004 PowerOne Media, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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7. Article by OU Kashrut Expert, Rabbi Menachem Genack

Setting The Record Straight On Kosher Slaughter
Posted 12/29/2004

Many people expressed concern about the standards for humane treatment of animals at a kosher slaughterhouse after viewing a well-publicized video of kosher slaughter at the AgriProcessors plant in Iowa, which was released by the animal rights organization PETA.

Any slaughterhouse, whether kosher or non-kosher, is by definition a disconcerting, blood-filled and gruesome place. Torah law, however, is most insistent about not inflicting needless pain on animals and in emphasizing humane treatment of all living creatures.

Kosher slaughter, shechita, involves cutting the trachea and esophagus with a sharp, flawless knife. At the same time, the carotid arteries, which are the primary supplier of blood to the brain, are severed. The profound loss of blood and the massive drop in blood pressure render the animal insensate almost immediately. Studies done by Dr. H. H. Dukes at the Cornell University School of Veterinary Medicine indicate that the animal is unconscious within seconds of the incision.

After the shechita at AgriProcessors, an additional cut is made in the carotid arteries to further accelerate the bleeding. This is not done for kashrut reasons -- for after the trachea and esophagus have been severed the shechita is complete -- but rather for commercial reasons, to avoid blood splash, which turns the meat a darker color. The carotid arteries are attached to the trachea and at AgriProcessors the trachea was excised to facilitate the bleeding.
In the overwhelming number of cases the animal is insensate at that time. However and inevitably, particularly when it is considered that 18,000 cattle were slaughtered during the seven-week period when the video was shot, there was a tiny percentage of animals whose carotid arteries were not completely severed so they were not completely unconscious. Although this is very infrequent, the removal of the trachea immediately after the shechita has now been discontinued.

It should be kept in mind that in a non-kosher plant, when the animal is killed by a shot with a captive bolt to the brain, it often has to be re-shot, sometimes up to six times, before the animal collapses. The USDA permits up to a five percent initial failure rate.

At AgriProcessors and at other plants it supervises, the Orthodox Union is committed to maintaining the highest ritual standards of shechita without compromising halacha one bit. The OU continues to vouch for the kashrut, which was never compromised, of all the meat prepared by AgriProcessors.

As I indicated previously, images of slaughter ¡ª especially selected images in an abbatoir ¡ª are jarring, particularly to the layman. Statements by PETA that animals were bellowing in pain after the shechita are an anatomical impossibility. After the animal`s throat and larynx have been cut, it cannot vocalize.

PETA is well known for the passion it brings to the issue of animal rights, but it is an organization devoid of objectivity. PETA`s comparison of the killing of chickens to the Holocaust is, at a minimum, morally obtuse. So to whom should we turn for an objective view about the situation at AgriProcessors and about kosher slaughter in general? Here are the opinions of some experts:

1. Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Patty Judge inspected the plant. She found the handling of the animals to be humane and commendable. She said, after viewing the shechita, that the animals were unconscious within two to three seconds. She also said that chickens were handled more carefully by the rabbis than by her own "grandmother on the farm."

2. AgriProcessors is under constant USDA inspection. Dr. Henry Lawson, the USDA veterinarian at the plant, told me he considers the treatment of the cattle at AgriProcessors to be humane and that the shechita renders them unconscious within a matter of seconds. He determines this by certain physiological criteria related to the eyes, tongue and tail of the animal.

3. Earlier this week, Rabbi Dr. I.M. Levinger, a veterinarian and one of the world`s foremost experts on animal welfare and kosher slaughter, called the shechita practices at AgriProcessors "professional and efficient," emphasizing the humane manner in which the shechita was handled. Dr. Levinger was also highly impressed with the caliber of the ritual slaughterers. He issued his evaluation following a thorough two-day on-site review of shechita practices and animal treatment at the plant. He viewed the kosher slaughter of nearly 150 animals.

4. AgriProcessors has hired an animal welfare and handling specialist to evaluate the plant processes. The specialist was recommended by both Dr. Temple Grandin, a foremost expert in animal welfare, and also by the National Meat Association. In reviewing the shechita process last week, the specialist made the following observations:

* The shechita process was performed swiftly and correctly;
* The shechita cut resulted in a rapid bleed; and
* All animals that exited the box were clearly unconscious.

The OU and AgriProcessors are committed to the Torah principles of humane treatment of animals. At the OU we constantly review our procedures, evaluate them, and if necessary, improve or correct them. We don`t want ever to be wedded to a mistaken procedure. AgriProcessors has been completely cooperative in working with the OU and shares our philosophy.

As Torah Jews, we are imbued with the teachings which require animals to be rested along with people on the Sabbath and fed before the people who own them, and that the mother bird must be sent away before her young are taken to save her grief. These and similar statutes make it clear that inhumane treatment of animals is not the Jewish way.

Kosher slaughter, by principle, and as performed today in the United States, is humane. Indeed, as PETA itself has acknowledged, shechita is more humane than the common non-kosher form of shooting the animal in the head with a captive bolt, for reasons noted above. The Humane Slaughter Act, passed into law after objective research by the United States government, declares shechita to be humane. For Torah observant Jews, it cannot be any other way. ?
Rabbi Menachem Genack is rabbinic administrator of the Orthodox Union`s Kosher Division.

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8. More Jerusalem Post Letters

Morally kosher

Sir, - In "Cutting-edge kashrut" (UpFront, December 17) Saul Singer points out the absurdity of following the letter of ritual law while ignoring morality, as the Orthodox Union has done in response to the abuses exposed at the AgriProcessors slaughter plant.

It is eye-opening for anyone who believes that kosher meat is necessarily humane meat.

NOAM MOHR [JVNA Coordinator]
Forest Hills

Sir, - A member of my family who worked in the US meat industry once told me: "If you visited a kosher slaughterhouse, you would never eat meat again."



Sir, - I was raised in an Orthodox Jewish home in Brooklyn. My grandfather, a kosher butcher, loved animals and gave free meat to poor people.

He assured me that the holy books promote respect for animals. He said cows were free to graze in the fields and chickens to spread their wings on Shabbat, which we now know doesn't happen in factory farms.

He told me that animals were slaughtered by the swiftest cut from the sharpest blade to cause the quickest death and minimize their pain and distress.

PETA's AgriProcessors footage sickened me. I became a vegetarian after seeing Victor Schonfeld's masterpiece The Animals. I consider vegetarianism the ultimate form of kashrut.

Temple Grandin, in "Kosher slaughter done right" (UpFront, December 17), described the form of shehita my grandfather told me about.

RINA DEYCH [JVNA Newsletter reader]

New York
Sir, - I applaud Saul Singer's decision to restrict his diet. A vegetarian for 35 years, I recently took a similar step.

Last spring I attended a lecture on the socioeconomic reasons for vegetarianism, together with a presentation by an animal rights group. It showed films about how animals and chickens in Israel are treated pointing out, among other things, that the terms "organic" and "free-range" are misleading.

After seeing cattle being branded and de-horned without anesthetic and chickens eing de-beaked and even tossed living into garbage bags – not to mention the horrid conditions in which these creatures live – I decided I could no longer regard dairy products and eggs as kosher and adopted a vegan diet.

Living so far removed from the sources of our food we have to accept packaged products bearing someone else's stamp of approval. And yet see where that can lead.

The whole question of kashrut has indeed become "both suspect and absurd."



Sir, - I've been wrestling with the morality of kosher slaughter since hearing about the AgriProcessors video. It's obvious to me that modern shehita is not as humane as we've been told.

Maybe it's because of the assembly-line atmosphere that prevails in modern slaughterhouses, or because portions of the Orthodox world seem to have moved in the direction of stringency in matters of ritual while downplaying Halacha's moral element.

Whatever the reason, it's made me reexamine my eating habits. I've stopped eating beef, and toyed with the idea of stopping eating kosher.


Brown University
Providence, Rhode Island

Saul Singer [Jerusalem Post Editorial Page Editor] responds:

Don't stop being kosher, that's throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I still believe that kashrut in general either is – or potentially is - a beacon of morality. I want kashrut to meet that potential, not abandon it.

To Yehuda Miklaf: I have to clarify that I am not a vegetarian and don't believe that kashrut is in principle "suspect and absurd." I do believe that the many Jewish laws designed to reduce animal suffering, including the laws of shehita, should be interpreted to prohibit abusing the animal in the shehita process.

I see kashrut as so important to Judaism that I would rather be kosher than vegetarian - even though a vegetarian diet is also kosher and it is arguably morally superior to abstain from meat altogether.

I feel this way partly because I support the Jewish distinction between human and animal life. I don't agree with PETA and others that the life of a person is equal to the life of an animal.

It wouldn't do

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9. Statement From JVNA Advisor John Diamond

As a member of the Advisory Committee for the Jewish Vegetarians of North America, I want to comment on some points in Rabbi Gennack's latest statement on 12-29-04.

In this statement, he says:

"As Torah Jews, we are imbued with the teachings which require animals to be rested along with people on the Sabbath and fed before the people who own them, and that the mother bird must be sent away before her young are taken to save her grief. These and similar statutes make it clear that inhumane treatment of animals is not the Jewish way."

Unfortunately, animals raised for kosher slaughter on modern-day factory-farms are subjected to treatment which violates the Torah Law of "tsa'ar ba'alei chayyim," certainly not in accordance with the "Jewish way," as he mentions.

I would very respectfully like to challenge Rabbi Gennack and other rabbis in the kosher certification industry, in addition to making the ongoing improvements in the AgriProcessors plant, to begin a serious effort to see that only animals from organic humane-certified farms be accepted for kosher slaughter in all OU, KAJ, etc. approved slaughterhouses. For meat eating Jews and others, this would permit them to eat cruelty-free meat which would be far more healthier for them and as well as the earth's environment.

Posted by: John K. Diamond December 29, 2004 06:51 PM at

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