Marcia Horn – KCJT
After a yearlong absence following an immigration-service raid that nearly shut it down, meat from the embattled Agriprocessors plant in Postville, Iowa, is once again for sale in the Kansas City area.
Local rabbis welcome the move as a boon to consumers and say they have no qualms about the ethical practices at the Postville plant, or about its kashrut.
On July 20, a federal bankruptcy court judge approved the sale of Agriprocessors, formerly the largest kosher-meat producer in the United States, to SHF Industries, formed by Canada-based entrepreneur Hershey Friedman and his son-in-law, Daniel Hirsch. According to a report in The Forward, Friedman paid $8.5 million for the business, and intends to maintain kosher slaughter there. On July 27, Iowa labor officials agreed to drop the fines they had sought from Agriprocessors from $10 million to $1 million.
A May 2008 raid on the Postville plant resulted in 389 employees — about half the total number of workers — being deported as illegal aliens, and to a variety of criminal charges against former plant manager Sholom Rubashkin and two other officials. The plant has reportedly since operated with a skeleton staff, producing only chicken.
The raid climaxed a rising chorus of private allegations of cruelty to animals and human workers alike at Postville.
But with new ownership in place, local rabbis say they welcome the return of the Rubashkin brands to the city’s largest kosher meat purveyor, the Hen House at 11751 Roe Ave.
A fresh start
Rabbi Herbert Mandl of Kehilath Israel Synagogue, chairman of the KC Vaad HaKashrut, which handles the supervision and certification of kashrut locally, said he suggested bringing back the Postville product line. SHF will continue to use the same brand names as Agriprocessors: Rubashkin’s, Aaron’s Best and Shor Habor. Aaron Rubashkin was the founder of the business.
“It’s under total new ownership,” Rabbi Mandl said. “… It’s under the (kashrut supervision of the) OU (Orthodox Union), and they have gone in there and scrupulously checked what is going on. The OU itself went through and tightened up standards as far as slaughter is concerned. It’s a total change of operation.”
Rabbi Mandl also noted that Agriprocessors remains in the crosshairs of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, whose supporters have targeted it for any number of critical actions, including surreptitiously videotaping slaughter procedures they allege to have been cruel and then publicizing the results.
PETA spokeswoman Lindsay Rajt said this week her group would seek to work with the new owners and would continue to try to monitor conditions inside the plant.
“We’re sending SHF a letter this week extending an invitation to meet to talk about past issues regarding inhumane slaughtering and handling at the plant and how to ensure that more humane practices and protocols are established and enforced,” she said. “We’re pushing the new owners to make it a priority to adhere to kosher laws and USDA laws regarding slaughter. We’re all the way vigilant about monitoring and follow-up, especially with the history of this facility.”
Rajt said PETA also supports Temple Grandin’s recommendations to have video monitoring cameras installed, as well as third-party, unannounced audits of the plant. Grandin, a professor of animal science at Colorado State University, is the nation’s leading consultant on humane methods of animal slaughter and meat processing.