I am not going to post an image. Try to visualize a an impoverished worker from a Latin American country, perhaps with an amputated finger or hand – that’s what I visualized reading the article I’m about which I’m writing.

The Forward is reporting that the AgriProcessors meatpacking plant which is the largest in the country, is treating its workers quite shabbily, with poor pay, poor working conditions and lack of safety training. The Forward reporter seems to have done his research and we have the PETA video about the slaughter there as well as a USDA slap on the wrist as other sources of evidence that suggest the Forward’s story can be trusted. While I cannot be certain the reports are completely accurate because they are second hand, I have to admit that I believe them because of the PETA video. If any person connected with AgriProcessors feels this story is illegitimate, you are welcome to contact us with the relevant information. God, I hope you have something to disprove this story because I am utterly disgusted.

Treating workers poorly is a standard feature of the meatpacking industry. However, according to the Forward article, the Iowa based AgriProcessors owned by Aaron Rubashkin (and I presume his family), a Lubavitcher, fares poorly in comparison to other plants. One person is quoted as saying it is the worst plant she has seen in terms of its treatment of workers. The article tells a shameful story and is especially disheartening because this is the largest kosher meatpacking plant in the US. Essentially, if you buy kosher chicken or beef with the Aaron’s Best label on it, one of their private label brands, or simply from a butcher who gets his product from them, not only are you participating in the cruel slaughter of animals as shown in that infamous PETA video, but you are also participating in the shabby and irresponsible treatment of many workers who cannot fend for themselves.

Anybody who purchases kosher meat is well aware of the premium price of the product. It is often 1.5 to 2 times as expensive as standard, non-kosher meat in the supermarkets and often even exceeds or matches the cost of meat at premium butchers and supermarkets where they sell hormone free, grass fed high-quality meat supplied by small farms with ethical slaughtering standards. So why exactly is there such a premium for kosher meat if none of these criteria are met and the workers are treated poorly on top of everything else?

It is time to speak out. If you have to buy kosher meat, call or send a letter of protest to AgriProcessors for forcing you to participate in these shameful acts. Yes, forcing. While it’s well and good for some adults to become vegetarians, it still seems important to feed children a meat-based diet, at least some of the time. Perhaps you are an adult and don’t want to become a vegetarian but will only eat kosher meat, then you are forced to participate, through your purchase, in these unfortunate practices by AgriProcessors because many stores that carry kosher products will only carry one line and it is Aaron’s Best or one of its no-name lines. Send a letter or make a call. Let them know you want them to act differently! They charge enough and make enough to withstand significant changes in how they do business. It should be a premium price for premium meat grown, killed and arranged for selling in the most ethical, healthy and safe manner, not a premium price for forcing those who buy kosher to participate in indecent acts against animals AND humans.

From the article:

“My totally unexamined assumption was that good Orthodox Jews would probably have a different ethos for treatment of their workers”

Seriously, I intend to boycott them until they change or prove the Forward article wrong. Any store from which I buy, and which carries their products will receive a complaint from me.

I will also be buying far less kosher meat overall because while they represent the bad, I fail to understand why I cannot buy kosher meat at its premium price and receive a premium quality product. If somebody wants my business, pay close attention: treat your workers humanely, pay them well and do your best to provide a truly safe and clean environment; only use animals that have been raised humanely, without hormones; be certain to keep away from any possible carcass byproduct in their food; let the animals roam, for god’s sake, don’t keep them locked up; and please, slaughter them as humanely and painlessly as possible.

Need a mailing address, fax or phone number? Don’t be shy, call these people and make them shape up:

Sholom Rubashkin (plant manager)
Agriprocessors Inc.
220 West St.,
Postville IA 52162
Phone: (563)864-7811 or (563) 864-7539; Fax: (563)864-7890

About the author

themiddle

32 Comments

  • This is a very important issue but why didn’t you contact Agriprocessors first to get their response before publishing these 2nd hand accusations? Couldn’t a blog entry wait a few more days?

    I will be happy not to be shy when both sides get to present their point of view and conclusions can be drawn.

    And I thought Jewlicious was 100% kosher.

  • Why is Kosher meat more expensive? Because the owners of the farms and the Rabbis that oversee the slaughtering have to buy $3000.00 sheitels for their wives, custom kitchens and the finest European baby clothes, strollers and shoes for their kids. The whole system is corrupt and maybe at one time kosher slaughtering was the most humane, but I doubt if it is today. Would anyone like my recipe for Perdue buffalo chicken wings…feather-free and yummy!

  • Shy Guy, I’m not a reporter and I have been careful to give them an out if they want to contact us. The Forward is a very good newspaper with solid reporting, even if I don’t always agree with their views. I trust their reporting. This particular reporter, Nathan Popper, has won an award for his investigative reporting.

    As I wrote above, in combination with the documented USDA and PETA evidence, which AgriProcessors did not deny but merely claimed did not violate the laws of Kashrut, along with the information about previous labor rights violations listed in the article by this family, why is hard to believe that they treat their workers shabbily, don’t worry much about safety and underpay them? There was a sidebar link to this Forward article describing a recorded conversation between the PETA worker who became sick on the job and an HR person refusing to cover his medical expenses.

    Here’s Sholom from the article:
    “The manager of the plant, Sholom Rubashkin, said his industry is not a pleasant one for workers, but he denied that the company mistreats its workers, shorts their pay or condones bribery of any sort. Rubashkin, who is the son of the Brooklyn-based owner, pointed to the failure of the union drive as evidence of the workers’ contentment.

    He said that AgriProcessors offers health insurance if workers are willing to contribute a sum that is close to $50 a week for family coverage. He has set up an emergency fund for employees in trouble. Describing the hard work his father had done on arriving in America from Europe in 1952, Rubashkin said: “America has always been built by people who are coming to try to better their economic position and are willing to do jobs that other people are not willing to do. That’s how this country is growing.”

    Okay, but then get this from the article:
    In the room where chickens are killed, a few rabbis stand at the back, administering the lethal cut. The bulk of the work is done by rows of Hispanic men and women who grab the chickens by their feet and prepare them for death. While the rabbis have their own bathrooms and well-lit cafeterias, which Rubashkin pointed out on a tour, he declined to show the Forward the separate facilities for the workers, which were described to the paper as damp and dirty.

    and this:

    But at AgriProcessors’ biggest competitors, Empire and Hebrew National, there is a union regulating wages and grievances.

    Of course AgriProcessors fought back against a union at their business. They have no union.

    When it comes to outside regulatory agencies, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration have tagged AgriProcessors this year with six violations. That amounts to more than half the violations in all Iowa meatpacking plants during that time, according to OSHA statistics.

    and

    Rubashkin acknowledged that it [EEOC] was responding to complaints that a supervisor in the chicken department was demanding bribes from workers.

    What further evidence do you need that something is rotten here? It’s not that hard to get things right, Shy Guy, you just have to be willing to make less money at the end of the day. What is more egregious is that they do probably make more money than their competitors because they can charge a premium for kosher meat even though the animals are raised in the same way as non-kosher meat animals. In fact, the key difference is in the manner of slaughter and required hashgacha. Let’s say you have to pay 50 rabbis $100,000 each every year. That’s $5 million. Let’s say that monitoring or salting costs another $15 million (sounds high, but let’s just say) This plant sells 100 million pounds of meat per year and based on prices in the store, I have to guess they’re getting at least $2/pound and in some cases much more. That’s at least $200 million dollars a year in revenue with kashrut costs that might be 10% of that. Are you telling me they can’t provide a decent rest area for workers? That they can’t offer serious safety training? That they can’t offer an increase in pay or attempt to avoid not paying for extra hours? Are you saying they can’t get rid of a supervisor who takes bribes from workers? That they can’t offer slightly longer breaks?

    Kashrut should be more than what’s halachically acceptable, don’t you think? Shouldn’t it also be a mark of quality on the food and its production?

  • TM-

    As has been pointed out numerous times, kashrut was never intended to be a mark of quality. It’s just a designation to indicate that the animal has been properly shechted.

    Of course, we could shift this argument to purely halachic grounds. Torah says you have to pay your workers on time, that your scales have to be accurate and that you must treat the stranger in your midst humanely.

  • I’ll trust PETA when Ingrid Newkirk dies, they barbeque her, and make her skin into a purse, as she has requested. Until then, they can squawk about the Chicken Holocaust while I pound chicken wings like they’re going out of style. Trust PETA? Beh!

  • Eric, the video doesn’t lie and its contents were not denied. The link above from the Forward takes you to a transcript of a recording.

    Just so you understand, I love meat, I eat meat and I will continue to do so. It’s just really hard to eat kosher meat with these stories out there. I don’t understand why people can go into Whole Foods and know that the beef they are buying comes from animals that were raised and slaughtered in a certain way, while kosher meat costs at least as much and we hear stories such as this one by the Forward.

  • TM, you may have a great point, though I figure when I’m eating meat that the animal is obviously dead and any way you cut it (pun intended) it’s not pleasant. So as to enjoy my food, I’d rather not know anything about it’s death. I understand that Kosher slaughter should be as painless as possible, but come on, either way, its going to hurt and the end result is death.

    The only issue I have with your post is using PETA as any credible source, especially with their propensity to find the gullible, weak Jew on staff to use as a spokesman for one of their deplorable Animal Holocaust campaigns. PETA is a hypocritical, radical organization and may I add, staffed with insane and malicious nutcases who go the extra mile to offend anyone they don’t agree with. Personally, as a Jew, I want to keep anything to do with Judaism as far from PETA’s dirty paws as possible, so sourcing them, (especially when they murder animals themselves), is something I could not agree with. Other than that, I have no qualms with accountability.

  • The Jewish community is acting like this is a new story. In fact, this has been publicly exposed for years.

    These jerks marched into Iowa and treated the community they moved into like utter crap.

    It didn’t have to be like this.

    The real story is how long the Jewish community has shrugged off their behavior.

  • Shrugged off? Meat-buying Jews actively embraced their behavior! “Give us more meat!” they pleaded. “Please let us mold our reputations around defending and justifying your reprehensible actions!” cried the mainstream Orthodox Rabbis. “Don’t let those horrible animal rights activists tell us how to live our lives!” proclaimed the O-U.

    The Jewish community is responsible for doing more than shrugging!

  • Doesn´t anyone ever get tired of the stink of corruption and hypocrisy that their religious leaders carry and insist that the faithful, pay for?

  • Look if the Jewish farmers don’t get their act together, their are more than enough organizations that would like to make kosher slaughter illegal altogether… then the Jews would really be screaming.

    P.S. Hi Judi…loved your comments, you rock as usual!

  • Must keep up the pressure – by its very nature, this business does not invite intense scrutiny.

    I don’t know if one plant can rise that far above the treatment of workers in the entire industry – it’s pretty unskilled labor, after all, and the price pressure is already intense for kosher meat – but this particular plant is already less-than-savory from several angles.

    judi – you are right on target. Since when did the other halachic obligations of running a business become “nice to have” options?

  • Very disappointing. Of course the problem probably exists everyplace (even Israel), but I would like things to be better. Here in Israel I am willing to pay more in order to get a better Hecsher (which also means better conditions for the shochet – less pressure to do the job quickly).
    There are of course other issues here such as competing with unkosher meat plants (yes, it probably influences some who prefer kosher but can’t afford it) and the general desire to increase availability for lower income Jews. Still no go though (in my opinion) and consumer pressure is needed to improve worker conditions.

    Actually, I heard that you can pay more on for a product and attribute the difference (between the product and its lower priced competitor) to “maaser hachnasot” when to do so provides parnasa to “moral” (?) Jews. Hard concept, but worth thinking about each time you buy anything of matter. Lots of people out there working under poor conditions for little pay.

    As for comments by Chutzpah and others. Shame. You lower the level of the discussion through plain hate filled remarks. Don’t like Yids? (especially Orthodox) Why not accuse them of having big noses and being filthy?

  • ST-

    There would be nothing to discuss if all Jews ran their businesses according to the standards they spent years learning in yeshiva.

    Me? I like Yids. I love Yids, actually. I honestly and passionately want to see them do the right thing- to elevate Torah and to be that “light unto the nations” that everyone talks about. But I find it reprehensible that small but powerful minorities within the vast worldwide Jewish community feel that they can make the rules bend to their advantage. This is not the religion of honest, G-d-fearing, mitsvah-observant Jews; it is a perversion of faith and authority for financial gain. By the way, this statement can apply to any of a number of controversies currently swirling about, not just this one.

    The reason I am so concerned about this particular issue is because I want need to be able to trust in hechsherim, and the rabbinic system, in general. In this particular case, when the shochtim’s cuts are improperly done, the non-Jewish workers and cattle suppliers are dealt with unjustly, the animals are being treated in a way that is prohibited by Torah and the mashgichim sent by the certifying agencies are looking the other way- it’s obvious that the system is broken. (Note: these are not merely allegations).

    We can debate on and on whether publicly airing the “community’s” dirty laundry is a Kiddush Hashem or a Chillul Hashem. But I’ll point out to you that, in the case of several of the key characters in various ongoing scandals (not just this one), the Beis Dinnim have failed and the only approach that has yielded results has been through media attention.

    Incidentally, in Israel, where you pay more for your “better” hechsher (can one kosher item actually be more kosher than another kosher thing? Wouldn’t that simply imply that the less kosher one is… not kosher? I wonder about these things…), the only meat approved for import from the US is, you guessed it, Aaron’s. Shechted, by gosh, in the holy town of Postville.

    People need to see that this problem is holistic and goes way beyond hamburgers and brisket; it affects all Jews, from haredim on down to High Holiday-only seculars.

  • I don’t object to “airing our dirty laundry” nor do I see a particular reason to not to criticize when neccesary. I do object to how it is done though. No reason to be nasty, for example: ” Because the owners of the farms and the Rabbis that oversee the slaughtering have to buy $3000.00 sheitels for their wives, custom kitchens and the finest European baby clothes, strollers and shoes for their kids”. That borders on hatred.

    By the way, yes, there are better hecsharim. If at one place a shochet has to dispatch 6 chickens a minute (!!) or if he has a full minute to make the cut, then that influences on the quality of the hecsher. Reflects on more than that.

  • By the way, yes, there are better hecsharim. If at one place a shochet has to dispatch 6 chickens a minute (!!) or if he has a full minute to make the cut, then that influences on the quality of the hecsher. Reflects on more than that.

    I emphatically agree on that! And this is at the core of the debate. It is in our interest to be sure that the American hechsherim, the ones that claim to be mehadrin, are actually doing their job, and not just caving in to the pressure of the workload.

    Otherwise, they don’t even merit being second-rate kosher hechsherim. They’re simply invalid. Either kosher, or not.

    In Israel, as I understand it, Badatz is an actual Beit Din, with actual halachic weight behind its name. Here in the US, that’s rare- our hashgacha certifying agencies are businesses- in the business of kosher certification, not halacha.

  • appartley the reform movement is now working on making a hechsher for their own community. The hechsher will only be given to animals who are free-range and not treated badly.

  • I am a Jew who loves eating chicken and would like to keep kosher, but am very concerned about how the animal is treated so badly by processors (beaks cut, no room to move, injected with hormones, fed other dead animal scraps, etc.) and I have tried to find out if Kosher chickens are treated in this same manner, and you know, no Rabbis or anyone else I talked to -nor anything I could find on the internet- have the answer, nor seem to care. What is the point of Kosher if an animal is not treated humanely or is fed non-kosher feed? Just because an animal is killed Kashrut, does that make it Kosher? I thought, as Jews we care not just about the letter of the law, but the “spirit” of the law, and Kosher means respecting other living beings and trying to cause as little suffering as possible? Until I get an answer to my questions, I will probably buy Buddy’s Chicken from Texas, which allows its chickens to run completely free and feeds them only vegeterian feed and no hormones.

  • Why is everybody turn on only on Rubashkin?
    What about the rest of Kosher meat Jewish-Italian Mafia, Eh? The problems with quality and price-wise Kosher meat industry issues in USA exist since the end of 19th century. There were big fights between Rabbis and Kosher meat manufaturers since then. But in the end Kosher Butchers always won, because of us-SUCKERS. How can’t you understand this simple truth.
    Besides that it is clear regarding to meat quality that Kosher meat manufacturers are buying cattle from the worst and cheapest places, that why kosher meat is such impossible to enjoy product.
    Shameful butchers found out that the only one product is in real demand is freaking flunken – the most cheapest and unhealthiest part of beef, which because of it such a chip value was used in europe by poorest Jews for Shabbos. And right on spot they brought up prices for this thru away product to sky high. I’ve decided to wage the war against Kosher manufacturing/butcher industry, not only Rubaskin but all of them.
    And the first step in this war I chose to start to educate consumer by any means – what good quality meat/chicken products are, how they look and how to choose and pick up proper quality meat and kosher products. We need something like Kosher Quality Consumer Reports Society. And of course not only for meat industry. And understand me right I’m for free economy and free market but with fair trade for quality products. Sort your production and price it accordingly and I will not have to complain and rich as well as poor, and there are enough poor Jews in USA who keeps kosher life stile, all of us will be satisfied. Straight ahead for quality fair trade kosher market!

  • Gideon, every time I visit the US, I have great tasting Kosher meat and poultry. 5 star kosher restaurants in NYC are packed – and with plenty of non-Jews, too, who seem to be enjoying themselves tremendously. And the 3 star ones ain’t bad, either.

    From the description of the meat you’ve eaten either get a new butcher or mail order it in.

    All this talks makes me think of rolling out the grill for supper this evening. Yum.

    To Judi, the Badatz of Jerusalem has a kashrut division. It’s a profit making enterprise, just like any other Kashrut organization.

    There’s no halacha that says that kashrut and profitting (excluding profiteering) are mutually exclusive.

  • Depends. As I understand it, Rabbi Zeilingold has a long standing relationship with the Rubashkin family. According to failedmessiah.com, this relationship extends to this plant and the workers know this.

    Aren’t you a little suspicious that somebody truly independent says one thing while another somebody who has a relationship says another? What is The Forward’s or Popper’s motive in telling this story? Does Rabbi Zeilingold have a motive in telling us otherwise?

  • I’m not suspicious that reporters are out for a scoop. No.

    For all I know, Popper’s motives are the same as yours: damed be they, without knowing all the facts and hearing directly from both sides.

    I’m all for establishing truths but no one has done so yet. “Innocent until proven guilty” is not a concept that originated from other religions.

    What if Popper’s wrong? What damage will you do to people’s reputations, income, families and for that matter, the workers themselves, if such hasty protests inflict economic damage without any definitive proof of your claims?

  • Shy Guy, don’t ascribe any motives to me without asking me first. I find your accusation to be unfortunate and false.

    Also, as you read my post, you will note that I provided them with an out. They can contact us. I don’t state that the Forward is unequivocally correct, but rather that in tandem with other sources, I tend to believe this story.

    What if Popper’s wrong? Then I might be able to look at Aaron’s Best meat without anger again. I might actually buy it. Right now I’m not buying it and if the company wants to make a good faith effort to show that it treats its workers fairly and its animals without cruelty, it’s not that hard to change things and invite truly independent, unaffiliated individuals to monitor their production. Let’s call them, mashgichim.

    Here is a site that is covering this story and othe related ones much more aggressively. Can somebody verify his claim that this rabbi has a fiduciary relationship with the plant?

  • It is a shame that it took the reports of mistreatment of employees, immigrants and illegals, (from what I have read) to bring attention to the horrific abuse to the animals. In fact, where do these animals come from? is a question one should ask. Answer: They come from abusive Factory Farms in which they are tortured and abnormally and painfully “raised” for Kosher or non-Kosher slaughter.It appears that “Kindness to animals” is forgotten for the profit, regardless of how it is achieved. Is America really this hungry for meat? at any moral expense?

  • HOW CAN WE MAKE A LOCAL AND NATIONAL BOYCOTT??? This is against halacha of kashrut and business ethics!

  • HOW CAN WE MAKE A LOCAL AND NATIONAL BOYCOTT??? This is against halacha of kashrut and business ethics!

    Comment by Leah – 7/15/2006 @ 11:38am

    Does Halacha permit you to believe the information based on heresay, let alone allow for the calling of a boycott based on unsubstantiated accusations?

  • Okay- I live in a very “posh” city in South Florida. The hechsher here is outrageous! I have seen first hand all of the laws of kashrut being ignored. I have been pushed to the side when trying to approach the head rabbis regarding this. Community business owners have been “warned” about me. This organization is feeding non-kosher meat to unsuspecting citizens. This is outrageous and I think we should all be able to do something. In the meantime-if the hechsher you use comes from South Florida–BEWARE!!!!

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