Unkosher Goings-On At Meat Plant
03/17/06
Staff Writer
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In a damning report, a federal investigation in late 2004 found that employees of one of the nation's major kosher slaughterhouses "had engaged in acts of inhumane slaughter," that federal inspectors did nothing to stop it and instead accepted gifts of meat from plant employees. Further, the inspectors were found in their offices playing video games, the report said. In the course of the probe of AgriProcessors Inc. of Postville, Iowa, by the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a federal inspector at the plant said that in February 2004 he saw rabbis there inspecting turkeys "with fecal matter on them" and then inspecting other turkeys without washing their hands. "This could cause cross contamination," the report said. The federal inspector ordered the slaughtering halted until the problem was corrected, but he was overruled and told he "could not interfere with the rabbis." Nevertheless, he told the rabbis to wash after each inspection and the rabbis complied. The Inspector Generalís report, dated April 25, 2005, was obtained last week through the Freedom of Information Act by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. PETA placed the report on its Web site. A spokesman for the USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service, Steven Cohen, said the investigation was triggered by a videotape released late last year by PETA that purported to show steers at AgriProcessors walking around after their necks were cut as part of the ritual kosher slaughter, and after workers had pulled out their tracheas with a hook to speed the bleeding. Several of the animals were videotaped staggering around in a pen with their windpipes dangling. PETA said it took several minutes for some of the animals to collapse and die. It was the act of pulling out the tracheas with hooks that the federal report said was "inhumane slaughter." The report pointed out that Jewish ritual slaughter (the quick severing of both carotid arteries with a sharp knife, causing the animal to lose consciousness by anemia of the brain) is considered a humane method of slaughter. It added that no other work, such as additional cutting to facilitate bleeding, is to be performed on the animal until it is insensible. The federal investigation found that no federal inspectors were present in the slaughtering area and that some were in their offices playing computer games: Cohen said that has been corrected. Cohen also said the "inhumane" treatment of the steer has been stopped and that in the event a steer is not rendered unconscious when its throat is cut, a "stunning device" is used.The Inspector General's report was sent to the U.S. Attorney's office in Iowa, which declined to file any criminal charges. But Cohen said three of the 10 federal inspectors assigned to the plant were administratively disciplined. One was suspended for 14 days and two others were given letters of reprimand; he declined to say which actions merited which punishment. But Rabbi Harry Cohen, a kosher supervisor at Eastern Meats in Brooklyn, a distributor of kosher meat, charged that had these violations occurred at one of the five slaughterhouses in New York and Maryland that he had supervised, federal inspectors "would have stopped the kill and closed the slaughterhouse." He said the Iowa plant's practice of yanking out the trachea had rendered the animals non-kosher because the lungs would have been damaged in the process, and it would have been impossible to properly examine them to determine if they had imperfections that rendered them non-kosher. AgriProcessors, the country's largest producer of meat certified as glatt kosher, sells meat under the brands Aaron's Best, Rubashkin's and Iowa's Best Beef. Rabbi Cohen said that had the federal inspectors ordered the plant shut, it would have had serious repercussions. "What would they have done with all the families that depend on the plant" for their livelihood? he asked. "Are you going to close up a whole town? Close them up and you close up the whole country" because they are the nation's largest supplier of kosher meat. "The whole country depends on them," he said. A PETA spokesman, Bruce Friedrich, said his organization would like to see the plant open its doors to outside experts to see if conditions have really changed.

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