A video from a kosher slaughterhouse in Nebraska is reigniting concern about the way the nation’s largest kosher meat company handles its animals.
The three-and-a-half minute video shows bloody images of cows being killed at the Local Pride slaughterhouse in Gordon, Neb., which is owned by the Brooklyn-based Rubashkin family. The footage was filmed and released by the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
The Rubashkins, adherents of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic sect, also own the Postville, Iowa-based AgriProcessors, the nation’s largest kosher slaughterhouse. In 2004, AgriProcessors came under sharp criticism from a number of rabbis and animal rights activists after PETA released a separate video from the Postville slaughterhouse that showed gruesome footage of cows walking around after having their necks cut. Since then, AgriProcessors has also come under fire for the treatment of its workers.
The new video shows much less gut-wrenching detail than the one from 2004. A PETA spokesman said that allegations this time around are more limited. Unlike the previous video, which was filmed clandestinely, the new one was made with the knowledge of the workers, according to PETA. The group alleges that the video provides proof of the Rubashkins’ failure to follow through on reforms that they agreed to make after the previous video was released, including a promise to use a gun to immediately kill any animal that is not rendered insensate after the kosher cut is administered.
“It’s extremely disappointing to find that three years later, AgriProcessors still can’t slaughter without horrible abuse of the animals involved,” Bruce Friedrich, PETA’s vice president of international grasssroots campaigns, told the Forward.
PETA has filed complaints with the county attorney in Nebraska and with the United States Department of Agriculture.
Calls to AgriProcessors’ headquarters and to an AgriProcessors’ spokesman were not returned before press time. Nat Lewin, a Washington lawyer who has defended AgriProcessors in the past, said that the video does not show anything illegal or out of the ordinary in slaughterhouses.
“All I can conclude is that it proves that PETA is out to destroy or make unlawful [kosher slaughter] in all its actual implementation,” Lewin said. “The purpose of the video is to have people say, ‘Look, there is a man with a beard and a long knife.’”
The new footage comes from a Nebraska plant that the Rubashkins opened in 2006. It is staffed by residents of a nearby Indian reservation. The Nebraska plant is reported to have 100 employees, an eighth of the number who work at the Iowa facility.
In the new video, the cattle appear be moving their eyes, necks and tongues long after their throats have been slit. In one case, PETA says the movement went on for two minutes. In testimony gathered by PETA, a number of veterinarians hold that cows are still conscious until their eyes roll back. Lewin said that “after [kosher slaughter,] animals may move, but when an animal moves that does not mean it is conscious.”
The video appears to corroborate PETA’s allegation that factory workers cut off the ears of cows while the cows are still moving. Other footage appears to show a worker using a metal device — a hook, according to PETA — to reach into the throats of the animals after the cut but before the animals stopped moving.
The most controversial scenes from the 2004 video showed a worker using a hook to pull out a moving cow’s trachea. AgriProcessors had promised to stop the practice.
Among the critics of the new footage is animal rights expert Temple Grandin, who was also a prominent critic of AgriProcessors after the release of the 2004 video. She visited the Iowa plant last year, after a series of reforms had been implemented, and gave it a clean bill of health. Now, in response to the new footage, she is again criticizing the company.
“They’re not working on fixing the details of their procedure,” Grandin told the Forward. “Now, it’s nowhere near as bad as the other AgriProcessors thing. I would label that atrocious. This I would label poor.”
The kosher slaughter at the Nebraska plant is certified by a number of Orthodox authorities, including the leading kosher certifier, the Orthodox Union. In 2004, the O.U. initially defended AgriProcessors but soon thereafter assumed a more critical stance, demanding that changes be implemented.
The CEO of the O.U.’s kosher division, Menachem Genack, told the Forward that he had not had a chance to watch the new video. He said that after hearing from PETA, he had asked one of his inspectors to go to the plant. Genack said that based on what he had learned, “this is nothing like the same story as Postville.”
A spokesman for a branch of the United States Department of Agriculture, Amanda Eamich, said that her agency had sent a veterinarian to the Nebraska plant after receiving the PETA complaint. Eamich said that her agency is “reviewing the procedures” at the Nebraska plant but has not made any conclusions.
In 2004, PETA made complaints to the local prosecutor in Iowa and to the USDA. A USDA investigation found that the plant had “engaged in acts of inhumane slaughter.”
This story "Video Renews Beefs About Slaughterhouse’s Practices" was written by Nathaniel Popper.