Friday, December 03, 2004

PETA vs Agriprocessors

Bruce Friedrich from PETA writes:

Watch the video here:

Best Web Log on the issue:

For Immediate Release:
December 3, 2004


PETA Vows to Push for OU Policy Commitment, Prosecution of Iowa Slaughterhouse

Things turned south for AgriProcessors yesterday as the United States Department of Agriculture sent inspectors to the plant to investigate charges of illegal cruelty to animals and top kosher authorities condemned the practices. The world’s largest glatt kosher slaughterhouse and the only one in the U.S. certified to ship to Israel has been, for days, hiding behind the USDA and its kosher certifiers, both of which moved to distance themselves from the plant yesterday.

The USDA, which inspects and approves the plant, announced that it had launched what it said would be a comprehensive investigation, which will include investigation into the actions of its own plant supervisors.

PETA’s investigation found that standard practice at Agriprocessors includes shocking animals in the face with electric prods, ripping their tracheas and esophagi out of the throats within 5 seconds, and dumping them from the restraint, at which point some struggle to stand, bellow in agony, and attempt to flee, with the tracheas and esophagi hanging from their throats, some for as long as three minutes. PETA has arrayed veterinary, academic, rabbinic, and slaughterhouse inspector experts who say that these animals are fully conscious the entire time.

The chief rabbinate of Israel told the Jerusalem Post that meat from the animals in PETA’s video is “not kosher” and said, about animals stumbling and still conscious for minutes after their throats are slit open, that “it normally takes 30 seconds to a minute for the cow to lose consciousness if shechita [the cut] is done properly. . . he did not cut one of the jugular veins, so blood is still flowing… It looks as though the animal wasn't slaughtered properly.”

The Orthodox Union, the world’s largest kosher certifier, which had been defending the practices, reversed course yesterday, telling the New York Times (Friday edition), that “the video ‘raises all sorts of questions.’” Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, the OU’s executive vice president, “said he found the procedure ‘especially inhumane’ and ‘generally unacceptable’ but wanted to investigate how regularly it happened.”

Also yesterday, Iowa Department of Agriculture veterinary supervisor Mike Miller told the Waterloo Courier that kosher slaughter, done properly, is, in direct contrast to what PETA found to be standard at AgriProcessors, “‘fairly quick’… He estimated animals feel pain for 10 to 15 seconds and no more than half a minute.”

“Recognizing that there is a problem is better than denying it, of course,” says PETA President Ingrid Newkirk. “But these animals were treated in ways that would warrant felony cruelty to animals charges if these were dogs or cats, and this was in gross violation of both Federal and kosher laws, as well as basic human decency, and all this happened on the OU's watch. The horrific cruelty that the OU permitted for so long requires serious corrective action and a policy from the OU to make sure these horrors never happen again.”

Part I: What the Experts Say About Animal Consciousness at AgriProcessors, Inc.

PETA’s investigation into an AgriProcessors kosher slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa, revealed egregiously cruel slaughter methods being used—where cattle suffered after having their throats cut and being dismembered while still fully conscious. Many instances of prolonged consciousness were documented after animals had their tracheas and other internal organs gouged out with a hook and knife. Experts from academic, veterinary, meat industry, and religious disciplines had the following comments about the degree of consciousness demonstrated by animals in the footage:

Temple Grandin, Ph.D., Associate Professor
Department of Animal Sciences, Colorado State University
Dr. Grandin is internationally regarded as one of the leading experts on farmed-animal slaughter, handling, and welfare. She has served as a consultant to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the American Meat Institute and has visited 30 kosher slaughterhouses and countless nonkosher plants.

 “This tape shows atrocious procedures that are NOT performed in any other kosher operation. Removal of the trachea and other internal parts before the animal has become insensible would cause great suffering and pain. Many of the cattle on this tape had this dressing procedure performed when they were still fully sensible. Several cattle were walking around with the trachea and other parts hanging out of them.”

 “In conclusion, many of the cattle that had their trachea removed were fully conscious and fully sensible. The duration of complete sensibility was probably prolonged by the pain of having their inner tissues cut and pulled during this dressing procedure.”

Holly Cheever, D.V.M.
Voorheesville, New York
Dr. Cheever received her A.B. from Harvard and D.V.M. from the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University with a class rank of #1. She has worked as a dairy practitioner and has vast experience with cattle, including in a slaughterhouse setting.

 “I have watched cattle die from a barbiturate overdose, from the use of firearms, from cardiopulmonary failure, from meningitis, and also from stunning and slaughter in a slaughterhouse. Therefore, I am well qualified to discuss the behaviors of the cattle depicted in this distressing film footage, which unequivocally and unarguably indicate that the cattle were conscious and suffering an agonal and inhumane death.”

 “There is overwhelming and incontrovertible evidence that the majority of the cattle shown in these many incidents are fully conscious as they are dumped from the apparatus [with their throats cut and tracheas removed]. Some actually make conscious, directional attempts to escape … [one] actually manages to walk and crawl through a doorway, away from the killing area …. Some try to escape through the front of the restraint apparatus after their throats are cut and before they are dumped out …. While on the floor, many make very conscious attempts to stand and crawl forward, even with repeated attempts, but can’t due to the slippery bloody floor and their failing strength. Their thrashing is desperate and clearly directed at attempts to rise …, rather than the uncoordinated random neuromuscular firing of a dead animal. Others are too weak and in shock to attempt to stand, but struggle to right themselves and to adopt a sternal (i.e. lying on the chest) position with head thrusts and attempts to roll upright …. Some clearly react to stimuli: [one] startles in response to a blow from a worker, [another] resists the repeated attempts of a worker to push him/her over and re-rights himself/herself each time. Even more disturbing than the actual evidence of their consciousness is the length of time it can persist: [one animal] is still clearly alive after 3 minutes as the shackle is attached to its leg, and [another] lies immobile for one and a half minutes, then tries to struggle into the sternal position after almost 2 minutes.”

 “In conclusion, it is my professional opinion that these animals as cited above showed clear evidence of consciousness and therefore would experience terror, pain, and extreme suffering, some for as long as 3 minutes, after their throats are cut.”

Gary Dahl, Representative
U.S. Department of Agriculture Federal Meat and Poultry Inspectors Union
(American Federation of Government Employees)
Mr. Dahl has worked as an inspector for the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service for 21 years, including 11 years in slaughter production. Mr. Dahl does not speak for the USDA, but for himself and those he represents.

 “Put it this way, most of the animals shown on the tape were so conscious and aware of what was happening that if the floor wasn’t slippery with blood and the door was open, they would have made a beeline for daylight in order to escape.”

 “I have reviewed the kosher slaughterhouse footage you sent me and the suffering of these animals was obvious, as was their consciousness after they had their tracheas removed. For animals to be allowed to remain mobile and be able to thrash around after this procedure is uncalled for and inhumane.”

 “The amount of time that [one particular] animal is fully conscious on the floor, partly dismembered, causes the animal pain and suffering.”

 “[One particular] animal was dumped from the restraining device totally conscious and aware, with his trachea hanging out. The animal was totally mobile. If an animal comes out of the device totally conscious and walking around in the manner of this one, then that animal should be desensitized through a knocking procedure. To be subjected to this kind of dismemberment while still fully aware and conscious is not fair to this animal.”

 “After being dumped from the [restraining device with his throat cut, one particular] animal then gets up and moves around. The animal is aware and alert to everything that is being done to her.”

Rabbi Shear-Yashuv Cohen
Chief Rabbi of Haifa, Israel
 “I was surprised to see that immediately after the [religious slaughterer] makes the cut, a worker who is probably not Jewish jumps to the animal and tears away its entire throat. Also, I was surprised to see that even after that brutal act, the animal seems to still be alive and walked a few steps, and then it took about four minutes until it fell down and died … This procedure is not only cruel and therefore unacceptable by Jewish religious law. It also cannot be certified as Kosher, as the animal must die as a direct result of the ritual cut.”

Shimon Cohen, Shechita UK
―The New York Times, December 1, 2004
 “[A] spokesman for Shechita U.K., a British lobbying group that defends ritual slaughter against the protests of animal rights advocates, said after watching the tape with a rabbi and a British shochet that he ‘felt queasy,’ and added, ‘I don’t know what that is, but it’s not shechita.’ The spokesman, Shimon Cohen, said that in Britain an animal must be restrained for 30 seconds to bleed, and no second cut is allowed. Done correctly, Mr. Cohen said, a shochet’s cut must produce instantaneous unconsciousness, so AgriProcessors’ meat could not be considered kosher.”

Rabbi Ezra Raful, Israel’s Chief Rabbinate
―Jerusalem Post, December 2, 2004
 “Israel’s Chief Rabbinate … told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that it would not consider as kosher cows that appear in an undercover video of ritual slaughtering at the AgriProcessors Inc. plant in Postville, Iowa. . . .‘You see there, it looks like he ripped out the trachea and esophagus. We do not allow the animal to be touched after the shehita until the main part of the bleeding stops …’”
 “Raful, who has supervised kosher slaughterhouses all over the world, including at AgriProcessors, said he has never seen the ripped throat practice before … ‘Look,’ noted Raful, ‘he did not cut one of the jugular veins, so blood is still flowing. That’s another reason for not accepting that shehita. It looks as though the animal wasn’t slaughtered properly.’ Raful said it normally takes 30 seconds to a minute for the cow to lose consciousness if shehita is done properly.”

Rabbi David Rosen, Former Chief Rabbi of Ireland
―The Forward, December 3, 2004
 “‘I certainly saw enough evidence of mobility on the part of the animal to conclude that it is not dead,’ said Rabbi David Rosen, former chief rabbi of Ireland and one of the rabbis whose comments are used in PETA’s literature. Also troubling for Rosen was what he saw as the ‘pulling out of the trachea and esophagus by hand’ after the incision had been made. ‘I’ve been in many slaughterhouses in my time,’ he said, ‘and I’ve never seen anything like that.’ On the whole, Rosen concluded, what is shown in the video is a ‘flagrant violation’ of Jewish law, or halacha.”

Part II: What Science Says About Signs of Consciousness Demonstrated by Animals at AgriProcessors, Inc.

Science has conclusively established universally recognized signs of consciousness—including righting reflexes, head lifting, rhythmic breathing, blinking, and coordinated movement such as walking and standing. All of these were clearly demonstrated by animals in PETA’s footage from AgriProcessors. Below is just a small sample of the readily available literature from scientists about these indicators:

The European Food Safety Authority’s Scientific Panel on Animal Health and Welfare, made up of eight experts in the field, was asked by the European Commission to prepare a report on the welfare aspects of slaughter. In the document, “Welfare Aspects of Animal Stunning and Killing Methods,” the authors conclude that signs of consciousness include rhythmic breathing, corneal reflex, righting reflex, and attempts to raise the head.

The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations has issued a document, “Guidelines for Humane Handling, Transport and Slaughter of Livestock,” which states that signs of consciousness in stunned animals include regular breathing, a blink reflex, and righting reflexes.

The National Assembly for Wales’ Agriculture Policy Division issued slaughter guidelines stating that if a stun to render an animal unconscious is effective, the animal “will not attempt to stand up” and “[n]ormal rhythmic breathing will stop.” It goes on to state that animals who deviate from this have not been rendered unconscious properly and must be re-stunned.

The Australian Department of Education, Training, and Youth Affairs discusses both ritual slaughter and slaughter with stunning and provides guidelines for operators in its document titled Oversee Humane Handling of Animals. It found that signs of consciousness include “blinking,” “rhythmic breathing,” and “any attempt by the animal to raise its head.”

The New Zealand Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry states in one of its “Code of Recommendations” that ineffective attempts at rendering an animal unconscious through stunning can be recognized if the animal demonstrates “persistent and rhythmic breathing” or attempts “to raise the head.”

The Danish Meat Research Institute found in 2001 that in a slaughterhouse setting, “behavioural and different physiological reflexes” to evaluate degrees of consciousness included “corneal reflex …, regular respiration, excitation …, spontaneous blinking of the eye …, and attempts to stand up” where “regular respiration” was defined as being “deep and having regular intervals, i.e., different from superficial and occasional gasps.”

The Institute of Meat Science and Technology and the Institute of Zoology at Universidad Austral de Chile’s Veterinary Science Faculty published an article in Archivos de Medicina Veterinaria in 2003 examining sensibility in cattle at the slaughterhouse and used the following “sensibility signs” to quantify their findings: “rhythmical breathing, vocalization, corneal reflex and eye movement, [and] attempt to stand up or head elevation.”

An article published in Research in Veterinary Science by D.K. Blackmore (1984) looked at the onset of insensibility during the slaughter of unstunned cattle and used “coordinated body movements” as a criterion in the study.

Dr. Temple Grandin of Colorado State University, advisor to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, wrote that signs of sensibility in all types of stunning and for ritual slaughter include rhythmic breathing, spontaneous natural blinking, righting reflexes, raising of the head, and a tongue that “goes in and out.”

All of the behaviors discussed above (including animals who stand up or walk away) are demonstrated by cattle at AgriProcessors after having their throats cut and tracheas removed. This provides scientific confirmation that these animals were conscious for significant lengths of time, several minutes in some cases, resulting in prolonged agony.