I spoke a few moments ago with Karen Brown, the Vice President of the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) in charge of the FMI's Animal Welfare Audit Program (AWAP).
I asked her about the recent AWAP audit passed by AgriProcessors, and the OU's characterization of that audit as a vindication of both AgriProcessors and the rabbis who provide kosher supervision to the plant.
Ms. Brown said that the OU's portrayal of the audit "bothers us a lot" and called the notion that the AWAP audit "vindicated" AgriProcessors and found its past behavior humane, "not accurate " and "unfortunate."
"I have always grown up thinking that, regardless of the religion, honesty, truth and integrity is a very important virtue or attribute – So I am always surprised when in a conversation or in communications from a religious organization there appears to be inaccuracy in the statements."
Ms. Brown pointed out that an audit measures only a plant's performance on a given day. It was not intended to and cannot be a measure of past activities.
The OU claims that the AWAP audit has been made public. In fact, as FailedMessiah.com pointed out earlier, only a brief, non-detailed general summary of the detailed audit has been released.
I asked Ms. Brown if she had seen the audit. She had not.
"No. I haven't seen the audit. The way the program was set up … [the audits are] confidential information between trading partners, between buyer and seller. We did not want the audits to be used for a political standpoint … against companies or for companies. This is about the animals. This is about making sure the animals are treated humanely.
"This is not about politics, this is not about money, this is not about market share. This is about the humane treatment of animals."
Ms. Brown also noted that audits are meant to be an ongoing process, with some audits scheduled ambiguously – between this week and next week, say – to have an element of surprise built into the process.
"It is a stretch" to apply the findings of one audit to a plant's "past activities" or to its ongoing status, Ms. Brown said, noting that, in light of the OU's portrayal of the audit, the FMI was "concerned about the credibility of our own program," and is concerned that others may now attempt to misuse AWAP audits.
Ms. Brown agreed that Rabbi Genack and the OU must have known that the audit did not and could not vindicate past activities and is not a judge of whether humane slaughter laws were violated at AgriProcessors.
When told that Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, considered the leading rabbi in the ultra-Orthodox world, had ruled late last month that the laws governing cruelty to animals did not apply to the slaughter process or to the growing of animals as long as there was some benefit to man, and that Rabbi Elyashiv had specifically found tube force-feeding of geese for fois gras to be kosher and not a violation of tzaar baalei hayyim (cruelty to animals) law, Ms. Brown was surprised, noting that while she is not Jewish or versed in Jewish law, rabbi Elyashiv's ruling seemed to conflict with all the information on tzaar baalei hayyim law that she had seen.
"I have a high level of discomfort" with the implications of Rabbi Elyashiv's ruling, Ms. Brown said. "We as humans have a responsibility to treat animals well – particularly if we are going to use them for food. I think that is a basic principle of humanity."
Representatives of the FMI and the OU are expected to meet in two weeks to continue work on the FMI's guidelines for kosher slaughter. The OU's representation of the AWAP audit as a "vindication" is expected to be addressed at that time.