Officials Agreed: Agriprocessors’ Cruel Methods Had to Change
Since going public with our investigations, rabbis, scholars, animal welfare experts, and USDA inspectors all spoken out about the extreme cruelty that our undercover investigators were able to capture on tape. Read the following statements of other experts from around the world who all agree that the conditions at Agriprocessors had to change.
Violations of Jewish Laws Pertaining to Kosher Slaughter at Agriprocessors
Jewish law (Halacha) pertaining to kosher slaughter (shechita) details a strict set of requirements intended to minimize the trauma for the animal. The knife (chalef) used to cut the neck of an animal must be completely free of nicks or imperfections, and it must be razor sharp so that the animal is almost unaware that it has passed through his or her throat. No pressure may be applied to the blade as it is drawn across the animal’s throat, and the major arteries, trachea, and esophagus must all be severed with absolutely no hesitation and with a continuous stroke.
The Orthodox Union (OU), the world’s largest kosher certification agency and the certifier of Agriprocessors’ meats, states:
The Torah requires that meat and poultry be slaughtered in a prescribed manner known as shechita. The trachea and esophagus of the animal are severed with a special razor-sharp, perfectly smooth blade, causing instantaneous death with no pain to the animal.
(From “The Kosher Primer,” Orthodox Union Web site)
One of the five basic disqualifications of shechita is the tearing of the trachea and esophagus. At Agriprocessors, cows were first cut by the kosher slaughterer (shochet), but following that procedure by just a few seconds, another worker, not trained in ritual slaughter, tore the esophagus and trachea out of the conscious animal, clearly in violation of both the intent and the letter of kosher law.
Shechita is supposed to render the animal almost immediately unconscious, but even under ideal conditions, experts agree that it can take up to 15 to 30 seconds, and a significant percentage of animals will demonstrate prolonged consciousness for more than a minute. Experts also agree that stress before and during slaughter results in a higher percentage of incidents of prolonged consciousness. At Agriprocessors, animals were shocked in the face before slaughter, rotated upside-down in the inverted pen for shechita, had their tracheas hacked out while still conscious immediately after slaughter, and were prematurely dumped out of the restraining pens onto the floor—all contributing factors as to why many cattle at Agriprocessors struggled in agony for more than three minutes after shechita.
There is an important Jewish prohibition, known as tsa’ar ba’alei chayim, against causing unnecessary pain to animals. According to Jewish authorities, what we documented at Agriprocessors violated kosher laws as well as Jewish principles regarding the treatment of animals. The eminent chief rabbi of Haifa, Israel, Shear-Yashuv Cohen, condemned the actions as “definitely unacceptable by halakhic [religious legal] standards.” Rabbi David Rosen, former chief rabbi of Ireland, called the abuse a “flagrant violation of Jewish halachic requirements.” Rabbi Barry Schwartz, who sits on the Central Conference of American Rabbis’ Task Force on Kashrut, asserted, “The suffering of these animals during slaughter is sickening. Death is neither quick nor merciful.” Rabbi Ezra Raful, director of overseas shechita. and meat imports for Israel’s Chief Rabbinate, was one of the first experts to view the undercover footage. The Jerusalem Post wrote the following:
Israel’s Chief Rabbinate … told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that it would not consider as kosher cows that appear in an undercover video of ritual slaughtering at the AgriProcessors Inc. plant in Postville, Iowa. . . . “You see there, it looks like he ripped out the trachea and esophagus. We do not allow the animal to be touched after the shehita until the main part of the bleeding stops …”
Raful, who has supervised kosher slaughterhouses all over the world, including at Agriprocessors, said he has never seen the ripped throat practice before. … “Look,” noted Raful, “he did not cut one of the jugular veins, so blood is still flowing. That’s another reason for not accepting that shehita. It looks as though the animal wasn’t slaughtered properly.” Raful said it normally takes 30 seconds to a minute for the cow to lose consciousness if shehita is done properly.
The OU has a history of being concerned about animal welfare. It has been credited with using its considerable influence to convince kosher slaughterhouses to move away from the “shackle-and-hoist” system in the United States, in which fully conscious animals are lifted by one leg into the air before having their throats slit. The head of OU’s kosher division, Rabbi Menachem Genack, has voiced his opposition to shackle-and-hoist kosher slaughter in South America and has been an outspoken critic of rotating the animal into an upside-down position for kosher slaughter as is done at Agriprocessors. Rabbi Genack—in a lecture titled “The PETA Controversy” at the Ask OU conference in August 2006—stated that PETA was correct that animals were demonstrating prolonged consciousness at Agriprocressors: “The initial claim from our community was that [the animals] were not conscious, but that’s probably not true because that type of complex motor activity means that there is a certain level of consciousness.” In the same lecture, Rabbi Genack also explicitly said that Agriprocessors never should have been doing trachea dismemberment on conscious animals: “It’s a procedure that shouldn’t have been done, frankly; when the OU found out about it they stopped it right away.”
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
After reviewing PETA’s undercover video footage, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has concluded that Postville, Iowa-based Agriprocessors repeatedly violated provisions of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA) while federal inspectors looked on and did nothing.
The HMSA stipulates that animals cannot be dismembered until they are rendered insensible to pain, including during ritual slaughter. This was not the case at Agriprocessors. The investigations by both PETA and the USDA found that more than 10 percent of the animals whose tracheas were ripped out tried to stand up and writhed on the floor in pools of their own blood. In more than four hours of videotape shot by PETA’s investigator, more than 20 percent of the 278 animals shown being killed were clearly conscious after having their throats cut and their tracheas ripped out by workers.
The USDA report also states that some inspectors accepted gifts of meat from Agriprocessors, failed to report violations, and committed “other acts of misconduct.” Despite the USDA’s findings, the assistant U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Iowa has declined to press charges against Agriprocessors. PETA is requesting reports on what actions are being taken against the delinquent inspectors and is calling for their immediate dismissal.
Dr. Bernard Rollin
University Distinguished Professor
Colorado State University
I have been directly involved in animal ethics for almost thirty years in a mainstream way. I have taught the world’s first course in veterinary ethics and animal welfare at the Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine as a required part of the curriculum since 1978. I was a principal author of 1985 federal law regarding laboratory animals and have written standard works on animal research and animal agriculture.
Based on my experience, I can unequivocally affirm that what was depicted on this videotape is one of the most atrocious incidents I have ever witnessed. What occurred with the cattle shown is truly nightmarish. The use of the inverted killing pen obviously causes fear and distress—virtually no one uses such outmoded equipment any longer. The tearing of the trachea was both horrendous and absolutely unnecessary; the conscious animal staggering around in excruciating pain and fear with its throat cut and repeatedly hot-shotted was evidence of brutality at a level I could not have imagined. That such behavior can not only be tolerated but encouraged at a time in history when social concern for animals is at its height is appalling and evidences cavalier disregard of any semblance of morality.
As a person brought up in the Jewish tradition and as one who studied the Talmud, I was personally aggrieved and ashamed. The purpose of kosher slaughter was historically humaneness, a skillful cut with a sharp knife being far easier on the animal than being subjected to repeated blunt trauma. What one sees in this video is a hideous mockery of that purpose, one sure to elicit grave social doubts about ritual slaughter.
Such behavior cannot be allowed in civilized society. This plant has shown itself unworthy of even minimal trust, and should be closed down.
Lester C. Friedlander, D.V.M
I am a veterinarian and worked as a slaughter line inspector for more than 10 years for the USDA. I have received repeated certificates of merit and commendation from the USDA, and was USDA Veterinary Trainer of the Year in 1987. I have reviewed the video that was taken at Federal Establishment # 4653, Agriprocessors, Inc., in Postsville, Iowa. The video was taken by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and I have watched this video several times.
In my years with the USDA, I have seen literally millions of cattle slaughtered, including hundreds of thousands of cattle that were killed in kosher slaughterhouses. The footage captured by PETA represents the most egregious violation of the USDA Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA) I have ever witnessed.
I have supervised the kosher slaughter conducted by the Satmar sect and the Lubavitcher sect at my federal plants, and the procedure I saw on the PETA video bears little resemblance to the ritual slaughter that I am accustomed to.
The main problem with ritual slaughter is that there is much variation in the methods that rabbis use to conduct kosher slaughter. But, despite the lack of consensus amongst rabbis regarding proper kosher slaughter techniques, all slaughter must meet the minimum animal welfare requirements laid out in The Humane Methods of Slaughter Act of 1978. The HMS Act of 1978 states that “the slaughtering and handling of livestock are to be carried out only by humane methods” and that “the use of humane methods of handling and slaughtering livestock prevents needless suffering of animals and results in safer and better working conditions for employees in slaughter establishments.” The HMSA “requires” that humane methods for handling and slaughtering be used for “all meat” inspected by the USDA and FSIS.
FSIS recommends that establishments identify where and under what circumstances livestock may experience excitement, discomfort, or accidental injury while being handled in connection with the slaughter process.
After you watch the video once or twice, view it again with your eyes closed; you can hear the frantic bellowing of the cattle. Now open your eyes; you can see why they are bellowing. The fear and distress that they feel is overwhelming.
The carotids are severed while the cattle are upside-down. After severing, the cattle are released onto the floor, where some get up and thrash and hit their heads against the floor. When the esophagus and trachea are torn away, you can see the cattle extending their head[s], trying to relieve the pain. This is unnatural for cattle to do this; they normally keep their heads low.
After the proper severing of the carotids, the cattle should be held in the restraint position for 30 seconds or longer, so they can bleed out thoroughly.
There is unnecessary prodding before the cattle are led into the rotating drum. This prodding excites and distresses the cattle, and they are not at their normal gait.
Rabbi Kohn, of Agriprocessors, said the throat tearing was done only to speed bleeding. From my experience, this is only done to keep up with the line speed. Kosher slaughter as compared to conventional slaughter is supposed to be much slower due to the procedures involved. Again it is economics that dictate the procedures used. Removing the trachea and esophagus could bleed the cattle faster but at the expense of the cattle.
Rabbi Weinreb stated that he found the procedure “especially inhumane” and “generally unacceptable” but wanted to find out how regularly it happened. That has no bearing on the intentions of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. Even if it is violated only once, the plant should stop processing animals until the company can implement a procedure to prevent the violation from occurring again. This is not like a baseball game—a slaughterhouse doesn’t get three strikes before they’re out. Only one violation is enough to stop production at a slaughterhouse under the provisions laid out in the Humane Slaughter Act.
These statements are based on my professional opinion and on my own experiences working for the USDA for more than 10 years as a line inspector.
Representative of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Federal Meat and Poultry Inspectors Union (American Federation of Government Employees)
President, Local 925 AFGE
November 26, 2004
My name is Gary Dahl from Denver, Colorado. I represent through the Federal Meat and Poultry Inspectors Union (AFGE) all Federal Unit Inspectors through[out] the United States. I am a Local President in Colorado and a Council Vice President for the Southwestern United States. I’ve worked for the meat industry for 7 years and for the USDA FSIS as an Inspector for 21 years to include both red meat and poultry and 11 years on a slaughter production. I do not speak for the USDA, but for myself and others that I represent.
I have reviewed the kosher slaughterhouse footage you sent me and the suffering of these animals was obvious, as was their consciousness after they had their tracheas removed. For animals to be allowed to remain mobile and be able to thrash around after this procedure is uncalled for and inhumane. To be mean and cruel to animals has no place with regards to the harvest of food.
I also had the following comments about the following incidents, as numbered on the video.
The restraining device is designed more for convenience and safety rather than welfare. Firstly, the washing of the throat could interfere with the breathing of the animal. That would be the first inhumane act. Whenever water is applied in this fashion, this is not natural. Nor is turning the animal upside down. Anything that is not natural to the animal creates a level of stress. The ripping of the trachea and esophagus while the animal is conscious is atrocious and really wrong. The restraining device is probably full of blood, which creates a heavy blood environment which a conscious animal can readily sense, leading to additional undue stress.
The animal was dumped from the restraining device totally conscious and aware, with his trachea hanging out. The animal was totally mobile. If an animal comes out of the device totally conscious and walking around in the manner of this one, then that animal should be desensitized through a knocking procedure. To be subjected to this kind of dismemberment while still fully aware and conscious is not fair to this animal.
With the animal upside down and making that type of cut, possibly the blood would be absorbed into the lungs. By cutting into the trachea, the cow could be breathing in his own blood or drowning in his own blood, which would be a violent process. At least if the animal was upright, the blood would not be directed towards the lungs. The amount of time that this animal is fully conscious on the floor, partly dismembered, causes the animal pain and suffering.
With excessive thrashing and with exposed wounds, and being that the floor contains contaminants such as pathogens from the hides to include fecal contamination such as salmonellas and [E]. coli, is a concern from a food safety perspective.
Being mobile, and the floor being as slippery as it is, there is going to be a lot of joint injuries and dislocations for conscious animals. These injuries would be very painful.
I noticed that there were 3 or 4 movements with the cut rather than a single cut, which could indicate that the knife was dull (I noticed the same on others). The conscious animal did a cartwheel, which threw the animal. After being dumped from the device, the animal then gets up and moves around. The animal is aware and alert to everything that is being done to her.
With the animal’s legs sliding around, there will be pain on the joints and possible bruising. This can also cause a splitter, when the rear legs split leading to muscle and tendon tears.
This animal was shackled and strung up while still fully conscious. You can see that the shackler was in a bit of a hurry because he seemed to be behind, so the animal was actually shackled while still conscious. The cow also appeared to hit his head on the post while he was thrashing.
Excessive whistling can cause added excitement in the animals and more tension in the animal from a noisy environment.
This animal hit his head at least 6 or 7 times while still conscious. With a cut of that magnitude, with half the neck cut out, there has to be pain involved given the movement and thrashing of the head.
This animal was hoisted while fully conscious.
This animal could have had an improper cut from the individual applying the bleeding cut judging from the tongue movement and rhythmic breathing.
The restraining device seems to cause added stress because the neck restrainer has to be moved, at least 5 times in this case, in order to finally dislodge the neck.
Incident #7 and #4 (Kicking blood into the animal’s face)
To kick blood into a dying animal’s face is far from allowing the animal to die with dignity. There is no compassion there.
Incident #37 (Face prodding)
To put an electric prod into a cow’s face while he was totally restrained is uncalled for and an act of meanness. When you desensitize yourself to the extent where this is being done, that’s when you need to have regulatory oversight in slaughter areas at all times to ensure that this doesn’t occur. Someone is just getting a cheap thrill at an animal’s expense.
Incident #9 (Chickens stuck in conveyor belt)
All it would take is a little piece of belting to keep these painful incidents from happening, and would only take the maintenance person 10 minutes of time and $5 of material.
It is in my opinion that the line speed was such that it was too fast to accommodate any kind of humaneness. The animals suffered greatly with this process. No conscious animal should be subjected to the trachea being removed, being ejected from a containment, and having numerous falls while trying to mobilize in a last ditch effort for survival. Also, with a cut to the throat of this magnitude, the animal had to endure a lot of pain when it thrashed in the manner that I observed.
If I could ever emphasize anything, I feel that the humane slaughter act laws were totally ignored.
Holly Cheever, D.V.M.
November 30, 2004
I have been asked by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) to review a tape labeled “kosher slaughter” in order to give my professional opinion, as a practicing veterinarian with a food animal production background, as to whether the cattle, turkey, and chickens filmed therein were conscious and suffering during the process of their slaughter. The plant, which is not identified, uses the kosher method.
To introduce myself, my degrees include an A.B. from Harvard University (’71, summa cum laude) and a D.V.M. from the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University (1980), from which I graduated with a class rank of #1. I started my professional career as a dairy practitioner in Cortland County, a leading dairy region in upstate New York, having spent my veterinary school summers milking cattle on a Vermont dairy. Presently, I care for a small herd of cattle on my farm near Albany, NY. I have watched cattle die from a barbiturate overdose, from the use of firearms, from cardiopulmonary failure, from meningitis, and also from stunning and slaughter in a slaughterhouse. Therefore, I am well qualified to discuss the behaviors of the cattle depicted in this distressing film footage, which unequivocally and unarguably indicate that the cattle were conscious and suffering an agonal and inhumane death.
The film is approximately 30 minutes in length, the majority of which focuses on the cattle’s death with a final few scenes of poultry processing. The many “incidents” (as they are called and numbered) show the slaughter process to consist of the following: the cattle are put, one by one, in a restraint device while standing. The restraint is rotated 180 degrees along the horizontal axis so that the animal, still aware and alert and fully conscious, is held upside down on its back. The underside of the neck is hosed down with a jet of water, and the shochet comes with a large knife and saws through the skin, trachea, and great vessels (jugular veins and carotid arteries) in the middle of the neck. Blood spurts forth, indicating the high blood pressure of the terrified and immobilized animal. A second man takes a second knife to cut free the above-named structures, and then grasps them to tear them out of the body from the lower end; they remain attached at the upper throat in the still-conscious and pain-sensing animal. The cow or steer finally is released from the restraint apparatus when the floor and side drop out from underneath them, and they roll onto the floor which is drenched and slick with large volumes of blood. Finally, the animal is shackled with a chain around its hind leg (hock) and is elevated, hind limb first, off the floor.
There is overwhelming and incontrovertible evidence that the majority of the cattle shown in these many incidents are fully conscious as they are dumped from the apparatus. Some actually make conscious, directional attempts to escape (e.g. #21 and #40: #21 actually manages to walk and crawl through a doorway, away from the killing area). Some try to escape through the front of the restraint apparatus after their throats are cut and before they are dumped out (#28, #30, #25). While on the floor, many make very conscious attempts to stand and crawl forward, even with repeated attempts, but can’t due to the slippery bloody floor and their failing strength. Their thrashing is desperate and clearly directed at attempts to rise (#21, 28, 30, 34, 35, 40, 24, 26, 45, 43, etc.), rather than the uncoordinated random neuromuscular firing of a dead animal. Others are too weak and in shock to attempt to stand, but struggle to right themselves and to adopt a sternal (i.e. lying on the chest) position with head thrusts and attempts to roll upright (#28, 26, 27, 25, 43, etc). Some clearly react to stimuli: #42 startles in response to a blow from a worker, #43 resists the repeated attempts of a worker to push him/her over and re-rights himself/herself each time. Even more disturbing than the actual evidence of their consciousness is the length of time it can persist: #21 is still clearly alive after 3 minutes as the shackle is attached to its leg, and #32 who lies immobile for one and a half minutes, then tries to struggle into the sternal position after almost 2 minutes.
The final footage shows a man identified as the shochet idly kicking blood into the faces of the cattle lying conscious on the killing floor (#7, 4) and a worker prodding the face of an animal in the restraint chute. Since there is no purpose in the slaughter process for either the kicking of the blood or the beating on the face, these acts seem like random acts of cruelty. Last, we see a turkey who escaped off the processing line who is lying alive on the floor (#1) and 2 chickens caught in the conveyor belt, crushed but alive (#22, 9).
In conclusion, it is my professional opinion that these animals as cited above showed clear evidence of consciousness and therefore would experience terror, pain, and extreme suffering, some for as long as 3 minutes, after their throats are cut. They would smell and be terrified by the large volumes of blood everywhere—walls, clothing, floors. Those that are still conscious as they are shackled and raised experience the further pain of having their skulls strike the floor as they are jerked upwards. Those that are still conscious on the floor when the apparatus dumps the next victim out next to them feel the terror of seeing a dying and agonal conspecific. This method of slaughter as depicted on this tape is brutal and should be amended to provide for a humane end for these animals.
Dr. Temple Grandin
Consultant to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the American Meat Institute
Removal of the trachea and other internal parts before the animal has become insensible would cause great suffering and pain. Many of the cattle on this tape had this dressing procedure performed when they were still fully sensible. Several cattle were walking around with the trachea and other parts hanging out of them. To provide an acceptable level of welfare, the animals MUST be allowed to become fully insensible after shehita before any dressing procedure is done.
ALL cattle must be completely insensible before trachea removal or any other skinning procedure is conducted. Shehita (religious slaughter) is the ONLY procedure that can be conducted on a sensible animal.
This plant also has some serious cattle handling and restraint problems. About 50 percent of the cattle were vocalizing during handling and restraint. This is due to bad practices such as using an electric prod to position the animal’s head in the head holder. In a well-run kosher plant, the percentage of cattle that would vocalize during handling and restraint would be 5 percent.
In conclusion, many of the cattle that had their trachea removed were fully conscious and fully sensible. The duration of complete sensibility was probably prolonged by the pain of having their inner tissues cut and pulled during this dressing procedure.
Globe Gazette, December 7, 2004
“Temple Grandin, an associate professor of animal science at Colorado State University, consults on slaughter practices with some of the nation’s top meatpackers. Her clients have included Swift, Excel, and IBP/Tyson as well as a number of kosher plants around the world.
“She called the video showing Agriprocessors workers ripping the trachea out of cattle while they were still alive and conscious ‘horrific.’
“‘I thought it was the most disgusting thing I’d ever seen. I couldn’t believe it. I’ve been in at least 30 other kosher slaughter plants, and I had never ever seen that kind of procedure done before,’ Grandin said.
“‘The video also showed rough handling of the cattle and the improper use of electric prods on the cattle’s heads,’ Grandin said.
“‘Most of the country’s meatpacking plants have worked hard to improve animal welfare at their facilities in recent years, said Grandin, who called the Agriprocessors situation a black eye on the industry.’”
“I’ve seen kosher slaughter really done right, so the problem here is not kosher slaughter. The problem here is a plant that is doing everything wrong they can do wrong,” Grandin said.
The Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative Movement
The disturbing video that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) produced of incidents during shehitah (Jewish ritual animal slaughter) at the Agriprocessors’ plant in Postville, Iowa should be regarded as a welcome, though unfortunate service to the Jewish community. It is a service precisely because the scenes recorded are not what shehitah should be, nor does it correspond to the Jewish way of treating animals, even at the time of their slaughter. The uproar within the Jewish community over the videos is proof that those who observe kashrut are serious about the humane treatment of animals. When a company purporting to be kosher violates the prohibition against tza’ar ba’alei hayyim, causing pain to one of God’s living creatures, that company must answer to the Jewish community, and ultimately, to God.
There are a variety of means used to prepare an animal for shehitah, and our Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS) has criticized a number of them. In 2000, the CJLS unanimously approved a teshuvah (response to a question of Jewish law), written by Rabbis Elliot N. Dorff and Joel Roth, in which the shackling and hoisting of animals in preparation for shehitah was ruled a violation of tza’ar ba’alei hayyim. The teshuvah encourages all kosher processing plants to abandon that procedure and upgrade to more humane pens to secure an animal for slaughter. Such humane pens do not include the Facomia [p]en or the Weinberg [p]en, both of which are inconsistent with our understanding of what it means to humanely treat an animal. The AgriProcessor plant of Postville, Iowa uses the Facomia pen and the PETA video captures exactly what the teshuvah of 2000 indicates, that this pen violates the prohibition against tza’ar ba’alei hayyim.
The Rabbinical Assembly applauds the Orthodox Union (OU) for its quick response to the video and its allegations. According to Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, Executive Vice President of the OU, a review of shehitah procedures at AgriProcessors is now taking place and an OU supervisor has been placed on duty to assure that procedures assuring kashrut and the humane treatment of animals are followed. We hope that with this review, the OU will demand that the facilities it supervises install pens that meet modern scientific animal welfare/humane handling requirements such as the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) pen which we regard as a humane animal securing device, but not excluding other equally humane technological options.
Those who are charged with supervising the production of kosher meat are engaged in a sacred task. We are certain that they agree with us that the humane treatment of the animal is key to the Jewish approach toward life. In keeping with our CJLS teshuvah of 2000, we urge all those involved in shehitah to invest in and install those technologies that assure that the animal’s life is terminated speedily and with the humanity that Jewish law demands.
Rabbi Ezra Raful
Israel’s Chief Rabbinate
Jerusalem Post, December 2, 2004
“Israel’s Chief Rabbinate … told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that it would not consider as kosher cows that appear in an undercover video of ritual slaughtering at the AgriProcessors Inc. plant in Postville, Iowa. . . . ‘You see there, it looks like he ripped out the trachea and esophagus. We do not allow the animal to be touched after the shehita until the main part of the bleeding stops …’
“Raful, who has supervised kosher slaughterhouses all over the world, including at AgriProcessors, said he has never seen the ripped throat practice before … ‘Look,’ noted Raful, ‘he did not cut one of the jugular veins, so blood is still flowing. That’s another reason for not accepting that shehita. It looks as though the animal wasn’t slaughtered properly.’ Raful said it normally takes 30 seconds to a minute for the cow to lose consciousness if shehita is done properly.”
The New York Times, December 1, 2004
“[A] spokesman for Shechita U.K., a British lobbying group that defends ritual slaughter against the protests of animal rights advocates, said after watching the tape with a rabbi and a British shochet that he ‘felt queasy,’ and added, ‘I don’t know what that is, but it’s not shechita.’ The spokesman, Shimon Cohen, said that in Britain an animal must be restrained for 30 seconds to bleed, and no second cut is allowed. Done correctly, Mr. Cohen said, a shochet’s cut must produce instantaneous unconsciousness, so AgriProcessors’ meat could not be considered kosher.”
Rabbi David Rosen
Former chief rabbi of Ireland
The New York Times, December 3, 2004
“The manner of the slaughtering of animals as well of animal treatment generally as shown in this video involves flagrant violation of Jewish halachic (religious legal) requirements. I join my greatly respected colleague Chief Rabbi Shear-Yashuv Cohen in declaring that such behaviour desecrates Jewish teaching and values and the meat of the animals abused in this way is rendered totally non-kosher as a result.”
Forward, December 3, 2004
“‘I certainly saw enough evidence of mobility on the part of the animal to conclude that it is not dead,’ said Rabbi David Rosen, former chief rabbi of Ireland and one of the rabbis whose comments are used in PETA’s literature. Also troubling for Rosen was what he saw as the ‘pulling out of the trachea and esophagus by hand’ after the incision had been made. ‘I’ve been in many slaughterhouses in my time,’ he said, ‘and I’ve never seen anything like that.’ On the whole, Rosen concluded, what is shown in the video is a ‘flagrant violation’ of Jewish law, or halacha.”
Dr. Chaim Milikowsky
Talmud scholar, Bar Ilan University
An exemplary mainstay of the lifestyle of halakhically observant Jews is that they are willing to make sacrifices for the observance of Halakah. Thus all halakhically observant Jews keep kosher, though, as is well known, kosher meat is appreciably more expensive than non-kosher meat. Similarly, a sizeable percentage of halakhically observant Jews accept the more stringent requirement of glatt kosher meat—though that meat is even more expensive.
But for a person to insist upon the most stringent requirements with regard to the ritual portion of the slaughtering process and yet at the same time flagrantly not insist upon stringent requirements with regard to the crucial moral aspect of the slaughtering process—the necessity to guarantee beyond the slightest doubt that there is no tza’ar ba’alei hayyim (pain caused to animals) which is not absolutely essential to the slaughtering process—makes the entire kashrut endeavor of that person both suspect and absurd. It very well may be that any plant performing such types of shechita is guilty of hillul hashem—the desecration of God’s name—for to insist that God cares only about his ritual law and not about his moral law is to desecrate His Name.
Rabbi Jonathan Crane
University of Toronto
To so-call slaughter animals and immediately rip out their trachea[s] while they are still conscious is murderous twice over. Once, for the animals whose unnecessary suffering is obvious in this video. Twice, for the system of kashrut which bases itself on transparency and, more importantly, compassion.
Rabbi Barry L. Schwartz
Central Conference of American Rabbis’ Task Force on Kashrut
The suffering of these animals during slaughter is sickening. Death is neither quick nor merciful. If this is kosher, then we have a big problem.
Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb
Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation, Bethesda, Maryland
So much for avoiding tza’ar ba’alei chayim, “causing pain to living creatures,” as mandated in Jewish law. The abuses in this ostensibly “kosher” slaughterhouse are sickening, but perhaps not altogether surprising; the Postville butchers are perhaps different in degree, but not in kind, from their colleagues throughout today’s kosher industry.
Kashrut is a system designed to certify the spiritual, moral, and legal “acceptability” of our food. But that system breaks down in the face of high demand, ready supply, and the profit motive, and factory farming of livestock.
The shechita (ritual slaughter) of a less affluent and less populous era—when animals were infrequently killed, singly, with sensitivity—has nothing to do with today’s kosher marketplace.
What may have once made sense, now can no longer be justified. We know too much about what “kosher” animal commerce (to say nothing of the larger industry) does to the animals, to the bodies and souls and consciences of those who eat them, and to the earth. Let us stop defending a system which normalizes the criminal abuse of animals and criminal waste of resources. And let those who consume its tortured products stop being complicit in that system.
Let us realize that today, in the vast majority of cases, “kosher meat” is an oxymoron.
Rabbi Joel Rembaum
Temple Beth Am, Los Angeles
When Kosher Is Not
There are two principles that stand at the foundation of kosher slaughtering:
1. Removal of blood from the animal as quickly as possible;
2. Minimizing the pain and suffering that the animal experiences.
Done properly, kosher slaughtering, shehitah, accomplishes both of these aims.
The observant Jewish community was shocked last month by the revelation of videotapes shot by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) inside a kosher slaughtering plant in Postville, Iowa. The tapes, selections of which I have viewed, depict animals writhing and squirming for more than a few seconds after shehitah, and, in some instances, actually getting up and walking around and then continuing to flail about for more than a minute. The animals appear to be in agony, and were this to be the case, the meat from such animals would have to be declared unkosher.
The Orthodox Union (OU) kashrut authorities who supervise the plant have stated that such random movement is not evidence of the animals suffering and that the loss of blood to the brain resulting from the shehitah renders the animals insensate. They also state that the USDA supervisors at the plant affirm that the animals do not suffer. They report that the meat prepared at the plant is kosher because the principle of tza’ar ba’alei hayyim, causing pain to a living being, has not been violated. Nevertheless, to add an additional level of caution and to quell the uproar that the tapes have generated, the OU has mandated that any animals that experience abnormal post-shehitah movement will be stunned or shot to ensure that the animal is in a state of total unconsciousness. Such animals would then be used for non-kosher meat. Also, removal of the trachea immediately after shehitah to enhance blood flow, which has been the practice at the plant, will be discontinued. It should be noted that the plant in question uses a pen in which the animal is turned upside down immediately prior to slaughtering, a procedure deemed acceptable by the OU.
In September, 2000, the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS), the Conservative Movement’s most authoritative legal decision-making body, ruled that to avoid tza’ar ba’alei hayyim only pens that keep the animal upright may be used in shehitah. Laboratory tests have determined that the blood of animals killed in the upside down position show a 300% elevation in stress related chemicals. The published CJLS opinion, written by Rabbis Elliot Dorff and Joel Roth and approved by a vote of 21-0, reads: “To be clear, then, in this ruling we intend not only to ban shackling and hoisting animals, but also those pens that turn the animals upside down before slaughtering them. Only moving and killing the animals in an upright pen satisfies the requirements of Jewish law forbidding cruel treatment of animals.” (See: Responsa 1991-2000, The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Conservative Movement, Kassel Abelson and David J. Fine, eds.; p. 96.) In fact, in many facilities in which kosher slaughtering is done, such upright pens that are also PETA approved are in use. The upshot of this last piece of information is that, according to CJLS standards, even with the new policies in force by the OU at the Postville plant, the meat that comes from there is not kosher.
Here are my recommendations to TBA members as to how to resolve this matter:
1. Given the nature of Jewish law, [e]specially in the area of Kashrut, it is not unusual that there are differing points of view. This is clearly the case with regard to the pens used at the Postville plant. The CJLS considers such pens to be unacceptable because they cause undue pain and suffering to the animal; the OU considers them to be acceptable because they do not cause undo pain and suffering. Therefore,
2. TBA members should not use the Aaron’s Best/Rubashkin meats that are produced in that plant.
3. Those who do use such meat would not be “treifing up” their kitchens because they do have a legitimate halakhic authority (the OU) backing them up.
4. I will speak with our caterers and ascertain that Aaron’s Best/Rubashkin meats are not served at the synagogue.
Former Iowa secretary of agriculture
Globe Gazette, December 7, 2004
“Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Patty Judge said Monday if her department had jurisdiction, she would shut down and investigate a kosher meatpacking plant in Postville that critics say makes cattle suffer needlessly . ..
“Judge, who viewed the PETA film last week, said kosher slaughter when done correctly is quick and humane. But she questions whether that is the case at the Postville plant.
“‘It’s disturbing. Certainly it’s nothing I would condone, or any of my meat inspectors or veterinarians would condone,’ Judge said of the slaughter practices inside the plant.
“Judge called on the USDA to take quick action at the Postville facility if inspectors find problems.”
Rabbi Avrom Pollak, Ph.D.
President of Star-K (international kosher certification agency)
Jewish Times, December 10, 2004
“‘None of the practices seen on the video apply in any places Star-K is associated with.’ The animals were restrained in a device called a Weinberg pen, common in Israel and in Europe but almost unknown in the United States. Dr. Pollak said none of Star-K’s plants use that pen. Also, none of the slaughterers at Star-K-certified plants use the second cut to take out the animal’s trachea and esophagus.
“He suggested that what the video showed was a ‘miscut, which sometimes happens.’
. . .
“And while use of the Weinberg pen is permitted by Jewish law, the slaughter actually violated the kashrut standards of the Conservative movement, which is usually more lenient than Orthodoxy but which issued a ruling banning use of the pen as being cruel to animals in 2000.
“Dr. Pollak said that a properly slaughtered animal would not be able to get up as the steers in the video do.
“In plants certified by Star-K, the animals are restrained upright and cannot fall over. This allows them to finish bleeding before they are removed from their restraints.
“‘You don’t see the animals thrashing on the ground like that,’ he said. ‘You might see a leg kicking, that kind of thing, clearly an involuntary reflexive action. It is disturbing that the animal got up and walked away. The only way to explain that is a miscut.’
“The removal of the trachea and esophagus could be to facilitate bleeding, he said. None of the Star-K plants use that cut, which also is banned in Israel, according to the rabbinate.”
Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb
Executive vice president, the Orthodox Union
The New York Times, December 3, 2004
“In the wake of accusations of cruelty from an animal rights group, the world’s largest kosher certification authority announced yesterday that it would ask a major kosher slaughterhouse in Iowa to change the way it kills animals.
“Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, the executive vice president of the Orthodox Union, which certifies more than 600,000 products around the world as kosher, said the video ‘raises all sorts of questions.’
“Rabbi Weinreb said he would ask that the plant stop letting workers tear the trachea and esophagus out of animals. He said he found the procedure ‘especially inhumane’ and ‘generally unacceptable.’”
Rabbi Hanania Elbaz
Rabbinic administrator and president, Sephardic Kashrus Lemehadrin Laboratory, New York
I have expressed my shock that these organizations [the Orthodox Union (OU) and AgriProcessors] have violated the laws of heaven and the laws of our states.
The big organizations such as OU and the others feel so strongly that they don’t have to report to anyone. As a result, they can get away with whatever they do because no one’s going to check up. So this is, again, another travesty that has to do with the kosher organizations.
What is amazing to me is that this violation has been going on for a while. Now, the mashgichim that are on the premises, did they know about it? Obviously, we have to assume that they did not know about it, because if they did, they would have done something about it. Now, if they did know about it, then they are supposed to be removed. If they did not know about it, so what were they doing there? And more than that, where are the OU supervisors that are supposed to come and check once in a blue moon that they are doing everything right? It means that none of the OU supervisors came to check. If they did come and check and they saw it, they overlooked a violation or they just plain and simple wanted to let it go the way it is.
In order to remedy this calamity, I believe that the rest of the rabbinate should summon the people who made these grave mistakes to explain why it happened.
They are violating the halacha of tsa’ar ba’alei chayim. They are inflicting suffering on the animal, which is completely unnecessary. How can you go and chop the animal while the animal is still alive? It doesn’t make any sense. They are giving ammunition to those organizations that are against cruelty to animals: enough arms and weapons to try and demonstrate that Judaism and shechitah are not the best.
We have the pride to say that Jewish shechitah is the best shechitah in the world, and the animals suffer the least. But if this, what they did, is true, then it is the opposite. What we are creating is that these organizations will attack us, and then we might have the problem that happened in England a few years ago. They were trying to prohibit shechitah on the grounds that it did not prevent or decrease tsa’ar ba’alei chayim. That’s also the issue in Albany.
These organizations are putting kashrut in [jeopardy] and endangering its strength by not being careful on the tsa’ar ba’alei chayim issue.
Dr. Hym Ebedes, BVSc
Retired veterinarian, South Africa
I was horrified by what I saw on the video. What I saw was inhumane and unacceptable in a modern country like [the] USA. Shechita is only concerned about the method of cutting the throat to cut the two carotid arteries, two jugular veins and trachea and esophagus. The shochet has to do this in a prescribed way and as quickly as possible. What happens to the animal after the cut should also be his concern as Judaism is supposed to prevent cruelty to animals
Dr. Brenda Forsythe, M.S., Ph.D., D.V.M.
Expert in large-animal behavior
My name is Dr. Brenda Forsythe and I am a veterinary doctor assisting with an investigation into alleged animal cruelty. I am a 1998 graduate of UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and have been in practice for seven years including three years of mixed animal practice primarily involving cattle, pigs, and horses in addition to dogs and cats. In addition to my veterinary medical degree, I hold both masters and doctorate degrees in Animal Science from Cal Poly and Auburn University respectively with large animal behavior as my area of research expertise. I am very experienced with a wide variety of animal welfare issues and have recently accepted appointment as co-chair of the Animal Welfare Task Force for the California Veterinary Medical Association.
After review of the videotape evidence involving Agriprocessors, Inc., of Postville, Iowa, it is my conclusion that there have been numerous violations of generally accepted humane standards at this slaughtering plant. There were repeated incidents involving dissection, transaction and removal of the tracheal structures of conscious struggling animals, chain hoisting and suspending cattle by a single limb while still conscious and prolonged consciousness and struggling prior to death. Additionally, there were a few incidents where negligence resulted in unnecessary suffering, such as when animals were trapped in automated equipment such as the rollers in conveyor belt transport systems.
Specific incidents depicting unnecessary suffering resulting from poor slaughtering techniques included but were not limited to the following:
Incidents #21, 28, 24, 45 – Transection or removal of the trachea and auxiliary cervical musculature in conscious cattle immediately after having their throats cut resulted in severe and unnecessary pain and suffering.
Incidents #40, 27B, 35C – The process of cutting the animal open beyond cutting the throat and trachea was initiated while the animal was still conscious and struggling. This expediency on the part of the slaughter personnel resulted in severe pain and suffering for the cattle involved.
Incidents #21, 40, 24, 26, 43, 33 – Connecting to chain hoist and suspending conscious, struggling dying cattle by one hind limb resulted in a great degree of unnecessary pain, suffering, and fear.
Incident #43 – An obviously suffering, vocalizing, conscious but dying cow endured even more distress when an attempt to chain and hoist it by a hind limb failed and it fell back to the ground.
Incident #22 – The neglect of a chicken trapped in the machinery of a conveyor belt resulted in unnecessary pain and suffering.
In summary, the methods employed at this slaughtering plant result in unnecessary pain and suffering and do not conform to the typical humane requirements for religious slaughter. When conscious animals are slaughtered, it is very important for the initial cut to be quick and clean with a very sharp knife to sever both carotid arteries and jugular veins in one cut, after which the animal should not be moved or disturbed until unconsciousness ensues to result in the most humane and painless death. In my expert opinion, turning frightened animals upside down for the convenience of the slaughterer, cutting body parts out of conscious animals, dumping struggling dying animals out of chutes onto a blood soaked kill floor, using electric cattle prods on immobilized animals, and suspending heavy animals by a single limb prior to unconsciousness all result in unnecessary pain, suffering, or distress and are violations of humane slaughtering practices.
Dr. Peggy Larson, D.V.M., M.S., J.D.
Animal cruelty investigator
For the past 15 years, I have consulted with humane organizations regarding legal and veterinary issues; started the National Spay and Neuter Coalition to help stop pet overpopulation; with the local humane society as a cruelty investigator, taken animals from abusive homes; testified at hearings and trials against animal abusers; worked within the legal profession to increase prosecution of animal abusers; and worked with the American Veterinary Medical Association to improve their animal welfare policies.
In all my years of working with groups advocating humane treatment of animals, this is the most horrendous video I have ever watched. The inhumane treatment of these animals made me physically sick. I have seen a lot of abused animal videos, including bullfighting, but nothing compared with this.
The animals are conscious from the time their throats are cut and the trachea is cut out until they cease to move. Consciousness varies during that time, but the animal is very aware of its condition when it is thrashing around on the floor with its trachea hanging outside of its body and its throat cut. Consciousness diminishes but awareness continues until the animal ceases to move. When the animal is hoisted by its hind leg, it responds even though it is no longer thrashing. At that time, death is imminent.
This is extremely inhumane slaughter. I was shocked to see the trachea removed because this was never part of the kosher kill ritual years ago. Then the animal was allowed to bleed to death from the throat cut. I doubt the ritual has changed because it is based on ancient Jewish law. Therefore, I believe removal of the trachea is not part of Jewish law. Cutting the trachea and esophagus out of a living, conscious animal is inhumane to the point of being obscene. It is unacceptable. The animal is totally conscious and the pain must be extreme.
Adding to the fear and intense pain, the animal is sucking up blood and debris from the kill floor through the trachea which is now outside of his body and being dragged through the blood and manure on the floor. His lungs are filling with his own blood and waste literally choking him to death. I would think this would be unacceptable under the kosher kill ritual because of the contamination. Only the front part of the animal is used for kosher food as the hind quarters are considered contaminated because of the colon and rectum full of feces and urine.
From the time the animals entered the killing chute until they appeared comatose, approximately 4 to 5 minutes passed. I believe the animals began the process of dying when they entered the runway leading to the killing chute and ended when they are finally hoisted into the processing area. Their fear must be enormous. At that point they can smell the blood and hear the noises from the dying animals. Also at this time, they are shocked with the cattle prod to move them forward to the killing chute.
Before the advent of the killing chute, kosher killed animals were hung by one of the hind feet while the ritual was repeated and their throats were being cut. This was very painful because of the weight of the animal and the time it took to complete the ritual. However, the killing chute creates more fear in the animal because it is turned upside down and its head is caught in an extended manner, causing difficulty breathing both from the rumen contents pushing against the diaphragm and the extreme bowing of the head. The animal must be terrified.
In summation, all aspects of slaughter in this plant are unacceptable and must be corrected, from handling of the animals in the runway to the pen/chute that turns them upside down, to ripping out tracheas in a conscious animal, to dumping them, still conscious, onto the ground. This plant requires full scale change in handling and slaughter.
Dr. Holly Cheever, D.V.M., large-animal veterinarian
Dr. Cheever’s degrees include an AB from Harvard University (’71, summa cum laude) and a D.V.M. from the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University (1980). After spending the summers during her veterinary school years milking cows on a Vermont dairy farm, she started her professional career as a dairy practitioner in Cortland County, a leading dairy region in upstate New York. Dr. Cheever is a practicing veterinarian and cares for a small herd of cows on her farm near Albany, New York.
In each of the four [slaughters filmed by PETA], the cattle were fully conscious for a prolonged time …. Furthermore … the assistant cut into the ear while the cattle were fully conscious and suffering in extreme pain. … [I]t is my professional opinion that these animals … showed clear evidence of consciousness and therefore would experience terror, pain, and extreme suffering, some for as long as 2 minutes, after their throats are cut. They would smell and be terrified by the large volumes of blood all around them and by the sight of the dangling carcasses immediately adjacent to them. Each animal evinced the range of behaviors indicating extreme panic in a bovine, including the plunging, struggling, bellowing, eye dilation, flaring of the nostrils, and tongue protrusion. This method of slaughter as depicted on this tape is brutal and should be amended to provide a humane end for these animals.
Dr. Bernard Rollin, Colorado State University
Dr. Rollin is a distinguished professor who received his Ph.D. from Columbia University (1972). He is the author of numerous articles and books, including The Unheeded Cry: Animal Consciousness, Animal Pain and Scientific Change and Farm Animal Welfare. He is one of the leading scholars in the field of animal consciousness, and he has given more than 1,000 lectures around the world.
When I was a boy learning the precepts embodied in the Jewish tradition, I was taught that the suffering of living things—tsaar baallei chaim—is morally and religiously intolerable. … What is depicted in this video is a mockery of these precepts, and a disgrace to Orthodox Judaism. … The drooling, the vocalizing, the manifest distress [depicted in the video] all serve to demonstrate that animal handling procedures at that abattoir are well below the threshold for acceptability. … In this video … the animals suffer while conscious for prolonged periods, in one case over two minutes. … In the same vein, the evident insertion of the meat hook to increase bleeding is both inhumane and a violation of the principles of kashrut. The ripping out of ear tags before the animal is unconscious is equally morally and religiously illegitimate. The vocalization and struggling after the cut is made speak for themselves and evidence suffering and a callous disregard for that suffering that should be abhorrent to and condemned by all observant Jews.
Dr. Brenda Forsythe
Dr. Forsythe is a practicing veterinarian in California. In addition to her veterinary medical degree, she holds master’s and doctoral degrees in animal science, with a special interest in large animal behavior. She has served as cochair of the California Veterinary Medical Association’s (CVMA) Animal Welfare Task Force, and she serves on the CVMA’s Board of Governors.
The [first] cow in this slaughter exhibited marked vocalization distress before, during, and after the initial severing jugular/carotid cut and exhibited prolonged consciousness after the procedure. This animal was sensate and struggling for nearly two minutes after the cut. … [The second] animal exhibited prolonged consciousness and vocalization for between one and a half and two minutes after the initial cut was made. Furthermore, the ear was cut to remove ear tags while the animal was still conscious, resulting in a marked amount of additional pain and suffering for the animal. … [The third] animal exhibited vocalization and struggling during and after the initial jugular/carotid cut indicating prolonged consciousness. An assistant used an instrument that appeared to be a meat hook to tear the carotid arteries/jugular veins and facilitate faster bleeding while the animal was still conscious, resulting in further pain and distress for this animal. … [The fourth] animal exhibited extreme struggling and marked vocalization during and after the initial jugular/carotid cut as well as prolonged consciousness for over a minute following the cut, indicating distress and prolonged suffering.
Lester C. Friedlander, D.V.M.
Dr. Friedlander is a former USDA chief veterinary inspector and worked as a USDA slaughter line inspector for more than 10 years, including in kosher slaughter facilities. He was the USDA’s Veterinary Trainer of the Year in 1987.
More than 2 minutes elapsed after Shechita [in the first slaughter]. … The cow’s eyes were tearing, blinking and not rolled back. The ears were also moving. The cow was not in a Moribund State. … Within 40 seconds after Shechita [in the second slaughter], the Plant employee removes the metal state identification tag. This is unacceptable since the cow was still conscious and you can not remove or cut out parts of the cow. … [In the third slaughter, a] Meat Hook and Knife is used on a conscious cow after Shechita. This is unacceptable since the cow was still alive. … There was prolonged consciousness in the [fourth] cow following Shechita. The knife and hook was being used to tear the tissue apart to facilitate bleeding of the carcass. This is unacceptable since the cow is still conscious and can feel pain.
Statement from Dr. Temple Grandin
August 21, 2008
This is the first time I have seen a gouging circular second cut after the shochet performed the initial [cut]. This gouging second cut would definitely cause the animal pain. I have seen other kosher plants perform a second cut, but it was a small single stab. From an animal welfare standpoint, the deep gouging second cut performed immediately after the cut made by the shochet would cause suffering. When I toured the Agriprocessors Postville plant, there was no second cut. While I was watching, the procedures were acceptable. The tour video, done on July 31, 2008 also had no second cut. The undercover video clearly showed that when they think nobody is looking – they do bad things in this plant. The only way to insure that correct procedures are followed in this plant is to install video cameras that can be audited over the [I]nternet. This will prevent the problem of everybody acting good when visitors are present and reverting to old cruel methods when they think nobody is looking. There are already some plants using this system. At any time, an auditor in a remote location can take a look. I think every plant that has had a history of problems should have remote video auditing by a third party auditor.