I asked USDA FSIS chief spokesman Steven Cohen the following questions last night:
Again, is the use of a meat hook by a non-rabbinic employee to make an "additional cut" within USDA regulations? Is it legal? Is thrashing and probing the open neck wound with a meat hook humane slaughter practice according to the USDA FSIS?
It would seem from this H.I.K.E. Scenario that the answer is no:
It would also seem to be illegal based on the internal investigation done after the problems in Agriprocessors Postville, Iowa plant in 2004:
So, is it legal to use a meat hook in the open throat wound of an animal a few seconds after ritual slaughter?
A few moments ago, Cohen responded this way via email:
An FSIS supervisory veterinary medical officer conducted a Humane
Handling Verification visit at the plant. It was observed that at
certain times, an instrument was used by a plant employee designated by
the rabbi as a means of facilitating bleeding. Clarification of the
acceptability of this practice was sought and it was determined that
this limited practice was acceptable as it is within the religious
exemption provided for in the HMSA. Therefore, by law (ie the HMSA) is
it humane. Even though it was determined acceptable, the practice has
since been discontinued by the plant.
A plant employee removes ears tags, when present. The yellow plastic
tags are removed soon after the religious cut is made, however, the ear
is NOT cut, just the tag. The silver metal ear tag is removed by
incising the ear only AFTER the animal had become unconscious. All
animals observed had lapsed into unconsciousness prior to release,
shackling, or hoisting. The facility was found to be in compliance with
Humane Handling Regulations.
So we now know the following:
- The USDA refuses to call a meat hook a meat hook.
- Anything the rabbis want to do to an animal that even remotely can be linked to ritual slaughter is considered legal by the Bush USDA, even though the law states the opposite.
- Humane Slaughter law will not be enforced by the USDA unless outsiders like PETA embarrass the agency.
- The USDA insists the meat hook to the throat is part of the ritual slaughter. If it were not, the USDA would not allow it.
- The OU lied ( 1, 2 & 3) and sanctioned this cruelty.
- The other kosher supervising agencies went along with this cruelty.
- The plant's head of kosher, Rabbi Wiessmandal of Supreme Kosher (a haredi company) was in charge on the ground and is the chief agency responsible for everything regarding kosher at Rubashkin's plants, including this one, including the meat hook.
- There is no way to determine that the meat you eat was slaughtered in a humane fashion, especially if you keep glatt kosher.
It's your choice, people. All I'll add to this mix is to note that none of the kosher certifying agencies involved seem especially trustworthy to me, and that should enter into your calculations about what other, non-meat foods you eat, as well.