Embattled Kosher Meat Giant Fights Back With P.R. Offensive

By Anthony Weiss

Published June 20, 2008, issue of June 27, 2008.
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Read an updated version of this article here.

Battered by widespread criticism over its labor practices and facing calls for a boycott of its products, the operator of the country’s largest kosher slaughterhouse appears to be gearing up for a major public-relations blitz.

Agriprocessors has hired 5W Public Relations, a New York-based P.R. powerhouse that represents clients ranging from hip-hop stars to Fortune 500 companies, as well as a number of major Jewish organizations and Israeli political figures. The beleaguered kosher-meat company’s representatives have also organized a community meeting in New York City to counter concerns about the firm that have circulated throughout the Jewish community, blogs and the press.

Agriprocessors has faced criticism for the past two years over the labor conditions at its massive Postville, Iowa, plant. Those criticisms have sharpened in the wake of a massive federal raid on the slaughterhouse that last month, in the course of which nearly 400 illegal immigrant employees were arrested.

In the wake of the raid, there has been a growing backlash against Agriprocessors in the Jewish community. This past week, representatives from Agriprocessors met with organizers from Uri L’Tzedek, a liberal Orthodox organization that has called for a boycott of Agriprocessors until the company introduces labor reforms.

Juda Engelmayer, who is handling the Agriprocessors account for 5W, said that Agriprocessors had hired his firm within the past two weeks to deal with marketing, but he declined to go into greater detail about strategy or the types of issues his firm would handle.

Menachem Lubinksy, CEO of the kosher industry consulting firm Lubicom and a spokesman for Agriprocessors, told the Forward that he expected 5W to deal with negative publicity and blogs. Asked to confirm this, Engelmayer said 5W’s role is still undefined.

Meanwhile, Lubinsky’s firm has organized a meeting for June 24 in midtown Manhattan to present Agriprocessors’s case. According to an e-mail publicizing the event, the topics discussed will include the potential for a kosher meat shortage and “What can be done to stop the slander and vilifications against Agriprocessors?” Among those slated to appear, according to the e-mail, are “local community activists from Postville” and “kosher food industry leaders.” Lubinsky declined to reveal the identities of the activists and industry leaders.

Rabbi Morris Allen, leader of the Conservative movement’s effort to reform labor practices in the kosher food industry and one of the most prominent critics of Agriprocessors, said he worried that the public-relations push was a sign that Agriprocessors was more focused on going after its critics than about changing its practices.

“It appears that sometimes people’s best defense is not to look at themselves to make change but rather to attack people who are simply calling for a higher standard to be used in the production of kosher food,” Allen said.

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