The OU's head of kashrut Rabbi Menachem Genack told the Forward that he had not yet "had the chance" to see the new PETA video but that the OU has sent an "inspector" to the Nebraska plant to check it out. Rabbi Genack also said that, from what he has learned “this is nothing like the same story as Postville.”
What does this mean? Let me point out a few things and then you decide:
- In the Forward article, Rabbi Genack admits that PETA contacted him about the newest abuses at Rubashkin's Gordon plant before contacting the media. My sources told me Monday that contact happened more than a week before PETA went public.
- Rabbi Genack is currently on vacation. He was due back today but then sometime late Monday decided to take an extra day off.
- Even though the video is very short, less than five minutes in duration, and widely available on the Internet, and even though PETA approached him days ago, Rabbi Genack could not find the time to view it.
- The OU apparently has no presence at the Gordon plant, yet it puts its hechsher on the meat killed there.
- The abuses at Gordon are less severe than the abuses at Postville because the animal is standing in Gordon and on its back in Postville. The extra fear and stress from upside down slaughter and from being flipped right side up and dumped onto a bloody floor immediately after slaughter extends the dying process.
- Further, as bad as the shechita is in Gordon, what was passing for shechita (and may still be passing for shechita) in Postville is much worse. Why? Because of the design of the Weinberg Pen used for upside down slaughter in Postville. Shoctim, slaughterers, have to be very careful using the Weinberg Pen because its design makes it very easy to bring the knife in contact with the pen's metal, which causes damage to the blade and means that a shochet must spend a large amount of time repairing that damage and not shechting, slaughtering. This costs Rubashkin money and puts extreme pressure on the shochtim to avoid doing this. So shochtim make shallow cuts that protect their knives but often miss severing the carotids and jugulars of the animals.
- In Gordon the extended dying time comes from poor quality shechita and bad animal handling immediately before and after shechita.
- Rabbi Genack told me in a 2004 interview that meet hooks would not be used to excise the trachea and windpipe, and that a shochet would do the second cut, if a second cut was necessary.
- Today, in researching the OU's position from that time, I ran across a quote from the JTA published in December of 2004. "O.U. officials told JTA on Tuesday that they will make two main
changes to slaughtering procedures followed by the plant, which
processes meat for the Rubashkin/Aaron’s Best label.
The plant no longer will allow slaughterers to pull out a slaughtered animal’s trachea in order to hasten death. Instead, an artery that supplies blood to the brain will be severed on a second cut.
The Orthodox Union also said it would look for a way to either kill or stun cows that are still walking even after the initial stage of slaughtering."
- As you can see in the new PETA video, a meat hook is used. The trachea and windpipe are not excised. Instead they are pulled aside and then the hook is used to hack the major blood vessels.
- This may appear less gruesome but it is still a painful, illegal procedure.
- Animals that remained conscious for up to two minutes were not put down by captive bolt, even though they should have been.
- The OU appears to have no one in charge at Agriprocessors Gordon plant, yet its supervision seal is placed on the meat killed there.
Rubashkin's attorney Nathan Lewin is quoted by the Forward this way:
Nat Lewin, a Washington lawyer who has defended AgriProcessors in the past, said that the video does not show anything illegal or out of the ordinary in slaughterhouses.
“All I can conclude is that it proves that PETA is out to destroy or make unlawful [kosher slaughter] in all its actual implementation,” Lewin said. “The purpose of the video is to have people say, ‘Look, there is a man with a beard and a long knife.’”
“We’ll put them on the wall with Hitler,” Nathan Lewin, an Orthodox Jew and a lawyer for Agriprocessors, said, referring to PETA.”
Meanwhile, leading Humane Slaughter expert Dr. Temple Grandin joined other leading experts in condemning the latest abuses from Rubashkin and the rabbis who endorse his products:
Among the critics of the new footage is animal rights expert Temple Grandin, who was also a prominent critic of AgriProcessors after the release of the 2004 video. She visited the Iowa plant last year, after a series of reforms had been implemented, and gave it a clean bill of health. Now, in response to the new footage, she is again criticizing the company.
“They’re not working on fixing the details of their procedure,” Grandin told the Forward. “Now, it’s nowhere near as bad as the other AgriProcessors thing. I would label that atrocious. This I would label poor.”
The USDA's FSIS spokesman Steven Cohen told me in an email Monday that the statement attributed to the USDA and reported by the AP on Monday afternoon, that the USDA sent an inspector to the plant and found no violations, "does not accurately represent the position of the agency."
Here's what the USDA told the Forward:
A spokesman for a branch of the United States Department of Agriculture, Amanda Eamich, said that her agency had sent a veterinarian to the Nebraska plant after receiving the PETA complaint. Eamich said that her agency is “reviewing the procedures” at the Nebraska plant but has not made any conclusions.
My sources tell me the OU knew about the PETA findings before the USDA sent its inspector. Rubashkin also had prior warning.
Last time around, the USDA sat on its internal report for almost one year. When it was forced into the open by PETA and the the media, it became clear why the USDA held the report. The USDA had ignored Humane Slaughter violations at Agriprocessors. Its inspectors played computer games while on duty, slept and took presents of cold cuts and beef from Rubashkin.
What will come of these latest Humane Slaughter violations? Not much is my guess. Orthodox Jews has proved that issues of tzaar baalei hayyim, animal cruelty, don't matter much (if at all) to them or to the rabbis who provide kosher supervision. Non-Orthodox Jews largely do not keep kosher. Those who do rely on Orthodox rabbis for their meat because there is no other option.
The Conservative Movement's so-called tzedek hechsher is plodding along at a slow pace. And my impression is that its rabbis are more concerned with making sure their kosher-keeping members have access to kosher beef than they are to any tzaar baalei hayyim issues surrounding its production.
The USDA is perhaps the most corrupt agency in the federal government. Its current head is the former Republican governor of Nebraska, the state where these latest Rubashkin violations took place.
Expect little to come from the USDA's 'review' of its procedures, and expect little, if any, change from your rabbis.
If you want to keep kosher, keep kosher. But realize the hamburgers sold at McDonald's are produced in a much more humane and ethical way than the glatt kosher burger you're fressing on.