At the heart of both of the Rubashkin slaughter scandals is the so-called "second cut," a cut made after the ritual slaughter cut to speed bleeding.
This was – until Rubashkin – a rarely used procedure. When it was done, it was normally carried out by the shochet (ritual slaughterer) himself, most often with his ritual slaughter knife (and, much less often, a similarly sharp substitute).
In large part this procedure, controversial within halakha (Jewish law) and not widely practiced or accepted, was done to make up for a slaughter cut that was, while still kosher, no sufficient to kill the animal quickly or, more importantly to halakha, allow it to bleed out. But this only came into play when the original cut was insufficient. A well done shechita cut would not require a "second cut."
Enter Rubashkin and his rabbis.
The leniency in Jewish law that allows for a "second cut" is used to do a "second cut" that is really a throat-ripping with a meat hook. In Postville, the animal's trachea and esophagus were yanked out of the throat with a meat hook and the gaping throat wound was slashed and hacked with a regular, non-surgically sharp knife. In Gordon the trachea and esophagus were yanked around in the throat cavity by a smaller meat hook, which was also used to hack at the blood vessels. While less gruesome in appearance the procedure's effect – and the pain it caused the animal – were similar.
This Rubashkin "second cut" is far from the "second cut" envisioned by Jewish law. And, again, even that older, kinder, "original" "second cut" was controversial and not accepted by many, if not most, rabbinic authorities.
Rubashkin does a "second cut" procedure I'm told because blood splash and bruising are common in ritually slaughtered cattle, especially when that slaughter is not done in an effective manner. Blood splash and bruising decreases the value of the meat. This is largely a problem for Rubashkin's non-kosher output, which is at least 65%, if not more, of his production. This non-kosher meat is sold to non-kosher restaurants, mostly in the Chicago area, and to large supermarket chains that buy Rubashkin's kosher output. The latter buy Rubashkin's non-kosher only because they need to fill up space on their trucks shipping Rubashkin's kosher meat, to reduce shipping costs per pound of overall product.
The so-called "second cut" as practiced by Rubashkin is a dressing procedure, not a legitimate part of kosher slaughter. It serves no ritual purpose and it is not carried out in the manner a "second cut" was historically done. It is therefore illegal, despite claims by the USDA to the contrary.
I suspect this issue will be resolved eventually in the courts and in congress. Until then, buyer beware.