Congressmen Take on Agriprocessors in Public Letter

By Marissa Brostoff

Published September 24, 2008, issue of October 03, 2008.

Twelve Jewish members of Congress sent a scathing letter to the owners of what was, until recently, the largest kosher meat packer, Agriprocessors, saying that the “company’s treatment of its workers and the animals raise serious questions about the company’s compliance with U.S. law and the highest standards of Jewish law and tradition concerning kashrut.”

Agriprocessors has been under scrutiny for the past three years, due to allegations of worker abuse and inhumane slaughter at its slaughterhouses in Iowa and Nebraska. The scrutiny has been particularly intense since last May, when the Postville, Iowa, slaughterhouse was the subject of a raid by federal immigration agents. While the company has been defended by many Orthodox rabbis and leaders, the letter from the representatives indicates how deep the distrust of Agriprocessors has grown within the Jewish community.

“We wanted them to know from whence this came — that they have conducted this offense and that we are particularly offended as Jews,” Rep. Gary Ackerman, a New York Democrat who organized the letter, told the Forward. “As my mother used to say, it’s a shande to the goyim.”

Ackerman said that they had deliberately asked only Jewish members of Congress to add their signatures.

Last November, four U.S. representatives wrote to the Department of Agriculture, expressing concerns about food safety at the Postville plant. In May, after 400 undocumented workers at the plant were arrested in an immigration raid three members of Congress wrote to the Department of Labor, urging the department not to let the raid interfere with a pre-existing investigation into labor conditions at the plant.

The new letter, sent on September 23, is the longest, most detailed and most critical of the company. It stems from recent allegations against Agriprocessors from a number of agencies, including charges filed by the Iowa attorney general, that Agriprocessors employed child laborers.

On September 18, Agriprocessors moved to break from its history by hiring a new CEO, Bernard Feldman, who is not a member of the family that has owned and run Agriprocessors since the 1980s. The congressional letter was still addressed to the patriarch of the family, Aaron Rubashkin, who has been, and will continue to be, the president of the company. The members of Congress wrote that they “would appreciate a detailed explanation of the steps Agriprocessors will be taking under the leadership of Mr. Feldman to address the company’s systemic problems.”

Agriprocessors representatives were not available for comment.

Among the signatories to the letter, all of them Democrats, were Robert Wexler of Florida and Rahm Emanuel of Illinois.



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