Postville, IA – An animal rights organization secretly recorded a video last month in the slaughterhouse of a kosher meatpacking plant in Iowa and presented it to the Department of Agriculture, claiming it showed inhumane practices in the killing of cattle.
The brief video, about four minutes long, was recorded on Aug. 13 without the knowledge of managers in the Postville, Iowa, plant of Agriprocessors, the nation’s largest kosher meatpacker, by a representative of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, according to Hannah Schein, investigations specialist for the group, known as PETA.
She said the video showed three instances in which Agriprocessors workers made unauthorized hacking cuts in the necks of still-conscious animals.
Department of Agriculture officials confirmed today that they had examined the PETA video and said inspectors from the department’s Food Safety Inspection Service based at the plant had subsequently witnessed at least one similar violation.
But the inspectors determined the violations were “not egregious,” said the inspection service spokeswoman, Amanda Eamich. She said the plant was currently in full compliance with humane slaughter regulations.
The new video reprises a confrontation between PETA and Agriprocessors in 2004, when a representative of the animal rights group worked undercover in the plant for seven weeks. A video that PETA released then prompted a six-month investigation by the Department of Agriculture, which reported many violations of animal cruelty laws at the plant.
After that report, Agriprocessors changed its slaughter practices, responding to pressure from agriculture officials and from Orthodox Union kosher certification authorities. More recently the company was once again the center of controversy after nearly 400 illegal immigrants were detained at the Postville plant in a raid in May.
In August, PETA sent a representative to work clandestinely in the Postville plant for one week, Ms. Schein said, after about two dozen Orthodox rabbis and leaders visited the plant in late July and praised its kosher slaughter practices as state-of-the-art.
The new PETA video was recorded in the plant’s beef kill room, which is equipped with a bin that turns the animals upside down and exposes their throats. Following Jewish dietary laws, the animals are killed by rabbis specializing in ritual slaughter who make one long cut across the throat. This type of religious slaughter is allowed under exemptions in federal animal cruelty laws.
Under the regulations, a “second cut” in an animal’s throat can be made only in exceptional cases by rabbis or under their supervision. These cuts are sometimes made to speed blood flow from the animals.
Temple Grandin, a livestock handling expert cited by PETA, said the second cuts shown on the August video, which appeared to have been performed by nonreligious workers without rabbis present, would “definitely cause the animal pain.” She called on the Department of Agriculture to install monitoring videos in the kill rooms.
Ms. Eamich, the spokeswoman for the Food Safety Inspection Service, said Agriprocessors had agreed to suspend any second cuts until it received approval from kosher certifying authorities and the Agriculture Department.
A spokesman for Agriprocessors, Menachem Lubinsky, said kosher slaughter was handled by Orthodox Jewish certifying authorities at the plant and company managers were not directly involved. Kosher authorities are working with food inspectors to clarify when the second cut can be used, Mr. Lubinsky said.