Menachem Lubinsky's Kosher Today, the voice of the kosher food marketing and producing industries, and Agudath Israel of America are charging the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) with violating religious liberty.
By requiring audits of all plants – not just kosher plants – before meat can be sold to FMI-member grocery stores and National Council of Chain Restaurants (NCCR)-member fast food outlets.
The FMI audit requires standing shechita in an ASPC-pen. Only one kosher plant in America – AgriProcessors in Postville, Iowa – does upside-down shechita. All the others do standing ASPC-pen shechita.
Agudath Israel, Mr. Lubinsky, and kosher supervising agencies and representatives demanded almost one year ago to meet with FMI's president to change the FMI guidelines to allow upside-down shechita.
Agudath Israel's Rabbi Avi Shafran and Kosher Today's Menachem Lubinsky both allege that FMI refused to meet with their group and instead attempted to set up a meeting between two "consultants" working for FMI and the Agudah group. The Agudah-led group has so far refused that meeting.
Karen Brown, the senior vice president of FMI in charge of the Animal Welfare Audit Program told me last week that all special interest groups – religious, animal welfare or even growers – have been asked to meet with the consultants directly rather than with FMI staff.
Because FMI is a marketing group that represents retailers (like Albertson's and Safeway). The FMI staff are not scientists or experts in animal welfare. FMI believes that the criteria for auditng animal welfare should be decided first by the experts – the scientists. So, if the chicken growers have trouble with sections of the audit, they will be directed to FMI's consulting scientists, just as the rabbis were. This position has been made clear to all that have contacted FMI.
So, why are the rabbis refusing to meet with FMI's consultants? And why are they claiming "violation[s] of religious liberty"?
Perhaps because FMI's consulting scientists are Dr. Temple Grandin and Dr. Joe Regenstein.
Outside of the requirement for standing shechita, it is difficult to see what in the FMI audit is a potential "violation of religious liberty."
Dr. Regenstein notes:
I repeat the key question that no one has provided me or Dr. Grandin with an answer to date: Is there any other technical issue besides the one big one: If an upside down pen that is properly operated and maintained were to be accepted (or at least allowed) by FMI/NCCR (and AMI), what other technical issues are there to be addressed?
If things are working well NOW at AgriProcessing -- then I believe that they could pass an audit with that one variance. And they are the only major glatt plant in the US (and Canada) that I am aware of that has that issue.
Yet, David Zwiebel, a vice president of Agudath Israel of America and a point-man on this issue is quoted by Kosher Today as asserting that:
[W]hile FMI had been put on notice that there are religious problems with the audit document, it is highly inappropriate to be conducting any audit of a kosher facility based on the FMI guidelines. Only after such a meeting takes place, and all religious objections to the current audit document have been properly accommodated, should audits be permitted.
So why are the rabbis refusing to meet with scientists supportive of shechita?
Perhaps this is why:
The OU supervises Latin American kosher slaughter. That slaughter involves the shakling, hoisting and casting of live animals with slaughter performed on a slaughter table with slaughterhouse employees restraining the terrified animals using ropes and sometimes chains.
Kosher meat from this slaughter is imported to America and sold in restaurants, in frozen food products and canned products. The corned beef you bought at your local deli could very well have been produced from Latin American meat.
But it may not be only kosher meat from Latin American slaughter that is imported to America. A food industry source tells me that the non-kosher production from those slaughterhouses is also imported to America, and here may lie the problem.
For that meat to be sold to FMI or NCCR members, the plants – even if located in Latin America – would have to pass an audit. None of the OU plants in Uruguay could pass.
If the shechita process – from the initial restraint of the animal to its hanging post-shechita for processing – is exempted from FMI guidelines, all plants under the OU's supervision – including AgriProcessors in Postville – could pass audit with only minor adjustment.
Even the slaughter seen on PETA's videotape of AgriProcessors could pass.
And this may very well be what Menachem Lubinsky, et al, are after.
You can read the entire Kosher Today article after the jump.
Kosher Leaders Urge Supermarkets Suspend FMI Audit: Charge Violation of Religious Liberty
New York (www.koshertoday.com) News that at least one large supermarket chain is moving to request a controversial kosher slaughter audit from a major kosher meat purveyor has prompted a sharp rebuke from leaders of the Orthodox Jewish community involved in shechita (kosher slaughter). As reported exclusively in Kosher Today, Washington-based Food Marketing Institute (FMI) continues to reject overtures from a broad coalition of national Orthodox Jewish organizations and kosher certification agencies for an urgent meeting to discuss FMI s audit document covering Religious Slaughter. Rabbinic leaders and kosher certification agencies charge that the audit grossly misrepresents shechita, violates the religious liberty of kosher consumers, and ignores US laws defining kosher slaughter as humane.
David Zwiebel, Vice President of Agudath Israel of America, a leading Orthodox Jewish organization, said that while FMI had been put on notice that there are religious problems with the audit document, it is highly inappropriate to be conducting any audit of a kosher facility based on the FMI guidelines. Only after such a meeting takes place, and all religious objections to the current audit document have been properly accommodated, should audits be permitted. Zwiebel said that he was part of a meeting of the leading authorities on kashrus who carefully reviewed the FMI audit document. Rabbi Menachem Genack, kashrus administrator of the Orthodox Union, the world s largest kosher certification agency, also urged the supermarkets to hold off on any audits until the audit document is urgently amended to reflect the realities of kosher slaughter as per Jewish law.
A number of other kosher authorities urged FMI to immediately put the audit document on hold until they have received input from kosher authorities. In an unprecedented joint letter (March 30, 2004) to Tim Hammonds, President and Chief Executive Officer of FMI, the nation s leading rabbis and certification agencies demanded to meet with FMI but that organization has responded by urging the kosher leadership to meet with the consultants who misrepresented the kosher interests in the first place. One source close to the supermarket chain moving to implement the audit, said that the major retailer was under pressure to move ahead because of the recent controversy surrounding the video released by the radical People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) of kosher slaughter at Agriprocessors in Postville, Iowa. But a series of government, rabbinic. and animal scientists who have subsequently visited the plant reported that all practices at Agri were in accordance with the highest standards of kashrus and humaneness.