During the first Rubashkin scandal, people wondered how the USDA could have allowed ripping out the throats of live cattle with a meat hook.
Here's the answer.
I exclusively reported in December 2004 that Orthodox rabbis, kosher supervision agencies and kosher industry mouthpiece (and paid Agriprocessors' consultant) Menachem Lubinsky – led by Agudath Israel of America – met with senior USDA officials in Washington on October 23, 2003, one year before the PETA videos documenting graphic, horrific animal abuse at Agriprocessors were made public. In this meeting, the rabbis claimed USDA directives outlawing "sawing" by the religious slaughters would be wrongly used to stop all kosher slaughter.
The rabbis asked for the directives to be reworded. The USDA agreed. Ann Veneman, a former food industry lobbyist who was appointed Secretary of Agriculture by George Bush, is thought to have participated in that meeting and to have approved the rewording.
The new directive was written with close participation of Agudath Israel of America and its supporter, Nathan Lewin, a noted constitutional lawyer. Lewin was also Agriprocessors' (the Rubashkin family's) attorney.
(Both the original and the new directives are found at the end of this post.)
The new directive made it nearly impossible for a USDA line inspector to stop a kosher slaughter line and created the horrors seen in the above videos.
The latest food safety crisis (tomatoes) has brought intense media scrutiny to the Bush Administration's enforcement of food safety regulations and its ability to do what is necessary to ensure the safety of our food supply.
Paul Krugman lays out the history of the problem in the New York Times:
…Hard-core American conservatives have long idealized the Gilded Age, regarding everything that followed — not just the New Deal, but even the Progressive Era — as a great diversion from the true path of capitalism.
Thus, when Grover Norquist, the anti-tax advocate, was asked about his ultimate goal, he replied that he wanted a restoration of the way America was “up until Teddy Roosevelt, when the socialists took over. The income tax, the death tax, regulation, all that.”
The late Milton Friedman agreed, calling for the abolition of the Food and Drug Administration. It was unnecessary, he argued: private companies would avoid taking risks with public health to safeguard their reputations and to avoid damaging class-action lawsuits. (Friedman, unlike almost every other conservative I can think of, viewed lawyers as the guardians of free-market capitalism.)
Such hard-core opponents of regulation were once part of the political fringe, but with the rise of modern movement conservatism they moved into the corridors of power. They never had enough votes to abolish the F.D.A. or eliminate meat inspections, but they could and did set about making the agencies charged with ensuring food safety ineffective.
They did this in part by simply denying these agencies enough resources to do the job. For example, the work of the F.D.A. has become vastly more complex over time thanks to the combination of scientific advances and globalization. Yet the agency has a substantially smaller work force now than it did in 1994, the year Republicans took over Congress.
Perhaps even more important, however, was the systematic appointment of foxes to guard henhouses.
Thus, when mad cow disease was detected in the U.S. in 2003, the Department of Agriculture was headed by Ann M. Veneman, a former food-industry lobbyist. And the department’s response to the crisis — which amounted to consistently downplaying the threat and rejecting calls for more extensive testing — seemed driven by the industry’s agenda.
One amazing decision came in 2004, when a Kansas producer asked for permission to test its own cows, so that it could resume exports to Japan. You might have expected the Bush administration to applaud this example of self-regulation. But permission was denied, because other beef producers feared consumer demands that they follow suit.
When push comes to shove, it seems, the imperatives of crony capitalism trump professed faith in free markets.…
The Rubashkin family are very heavy Republican supporters who contribute large sums of money to Republican campaigns. The family had an "amazing decision" made on its behalf when the rabbis and consultants in its employ helped to rewrite USDA Humane Slaughter directives to allow a brutal procedure – throat-ripping with a meat hook. Throat-ripping was done to reduce blood splash in the meat, an unwanted byproduct of Rubashkin's unusual slaughter methods that greatly reduced the value of his meat on the non-kosher market. It was not a part of shechita (ritual slaughter) and therefore should have been illegal.
I believe Bush Administration corruption and cronyism are at the heart of the Rubashkin scandals. Haredi bloc votes and bundled cash go a long way.
Perhaps one day soon more information will come out, enough to say without question that the Rubashkins' money bought our rabbis – and our rabbis and the Rubashkins bought the Republicans.
[Hat Tip for the Abramoff article: Yisroel-by-the-Bay]