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Kosher Meat Plant Accepts Probe, but Peta Calls Report a Wrist Slap

March 16, 2006
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

A kosher slaughtering plant says it has come to terms with a written warning from a U.S. government agency. But the activist group behind the complaints that led the U.S. Department of Agriculture to probe the Agriprocessors plant in Postville, Iowa, isn’t satisfied.

A spokesman for Agriprocessors, which received the warning following an investigation into allegations that kosher slaughter rules — and therefore, U.S. law — were being violated at the plant, said the company accepted the probe.

“It was fair,” Mike Thomas said. “That’s the job of the regulator and we respect it.”

But People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the animal-rights group that ignited the controversy in 2004 when it sent an undercover person into the plant with a video camera, promises not to let the issue rest.

The group vowed to appeal to the U.S. Attorney’s Office that declined to prosecute the case, call on the Agriculture Department to fire investigators who failed to enforce kosher standards and intensify calls on the Orthodox Union, which oversees kosher operations at the plant, to allow what PETA calls “legitimate animal welfare experts” into the plant to monitor the process.

“This is the least the O.U. should be doing if it takes its own claims about kosher being humane seriously,” a PETA spokesman, Bruce Friedrich, said in a e-mail.

The release of the report reignited an issue that created controversy in the kosher world. Some Jews accused PETA of launching a veiled anti-Semitic campaign intended to suppress religious freedom, while others saw the gruesome video that PETA ran on its Web site as evidence that the plant had violated the humane aspects of kosher slaughter.

In its report, which can be found at, the Agriculture Department determined that employees at the plant violated kosher principles. The video obtained by PETA appeared to show cows walking around and looking alive after the killing presumably was completed, and additional cuts made to the animals’ tracheas to facilitate bleeding before they were rendered “insensible.”

Soon after PETA released the video in 2004, the Orthodox Union said it would no longer allow slaughterers to pull out an animal’s trachea to hasten death. Instead, an artery that supplies blood to the brain will be severed on a second cut. Also, the plant now has a stun gun that can be used to make animals insensate if the initial cut does not do so, though this meat is not sold as kosher.

Under Jewish law, an animal cannot be considered kosher if it is stunned before it is killed. The Humane Slaughter Act of 1978 requires stunning, but contains an exception for religious slaughter.

Officials with the Orthodox Union, the largest kosher supervisory organization in the world, refused to comment for the story.

The report also criticized federal inspectors for not being vigilant at the plant, noting that some of them played cards in a plant office and others accepted gifts of meat from the plant in violation of the department’s policy.

Inspectors “observed the acts of inhumane slaughter and did nothing to stop the practice,” the report says.

As a result of the investigation, the Agriculture Department suspended one of its inspectors for 14 days and gave warning letters to two others.

In a letter to Agriprocessors dated Sept. 20, 2005, the department warned that “future violations could result in the matter being referred for legal action,” though no such action has occurred.

PETA believes the warning and report should “serve as a wake-up call” to Agriprocessors, Friedrich said.

But Thomas said Agriprocessors has no plans to talk to PETA, let alone comply with any of its demands.

“We view PETA’s efforts as an attack on kosher slaughter. They put their political interests before the right to the free practice of religion,” Thomas said.

When the news initially made headlines, some members of the kosher community were upset that slaughter at Agriprocessors appeared less humane than they expected.

But that hasn’t affected sales, Thomas said — and since the PETA video was made, Agriprocessors has opened another plant, in Nebraska.

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