Sunday, May 18, 2008

Would You Like Some Meth with Your Meat?

Have you been getting a buzz from your brisket? This might be why:

By Ben Harris
Published: 05/13/2008

NEW YORK (JTA) -- In laying the legal groundwork for a massive raid of the country's largest kosher slaughterhouse, federal authorities cited claims that
illegal narcotics production took place at the factory and hundreds of illegal
immigrants were employed there, including several of the rabbis responsible
for kosher supervision. The charges were among the most explosive details to emerge following the raid Monday at the Agriprocessors plant in Postville, Iowa.

Agents arrested 390 workers in what Immigration and Customs Enforcement
called the largest raid of its kind in U.S. history. The raid, which required federal
authorities to rent an expansive fairground in nearby Waterloo to house detainees, prompted the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa to temporarily relocate judges and court personnel to the site because the facilities in Cedar Rapids and Sioux City were inadequate...

The raid follows a six-month investigation involving more than a dozen federal agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Internal Revenue Service, and the departments of
labor and agriculture...

Agriprocessors said in a statement Tuesday that it "takes the immigration
laws seriously" and intended to "continue to cooperate with the government in
its investigation." "Agriprocessors will also inquire further into the circumstances that led to these events," the company said. "We extend our heartfelt sympathies to the families whose lives were disrupted and wish them the best. We are deeply committed to meeting the needs of all of our customers and are operating again today."

In the affidavit filed as part of the 60-page application for a search warrant, additional details were revealed of the government's investigation of Agriprocessors, a company that has been beset by numerous allegations of health and safety violations, mistreating workers and using controversial slaughter practices. According to the document, a former supervisor at the plant -- identified only as Source #1 -- told investigators that some 80 percent of the workforce was illegal.
The source also said he believed rabbis responsible for kosher supervision entered the United States from Canada without proper immigration documents. According to the affidavit, the source did not provide evidence for his suspicions about the rabbis.

Source #1 also claimed to have discovered active production of the drug methamphetamine at the plant and reported incidents of weapons being carried there. Methamphetamine, more commonly known as crystal meth, is Illegal in the
United States. The popular nightclub drug gives users a sense of energy and euphoria that can last for hours...

The affidavit says that 697 plant employees are believed to have violated federal laws. With Agriprocessors producing more than half of the nation's kosher meat, the raid has prompted fears of a disruption in supply...

Rabbi Menachem Genack, the head of the Orthodox Union's kosher supervision
department -- the largest outfit certifying the kosher status of Agriprocessors' meat -- told JTA that other companies had assured him that they could make up for any shortfall from the Postville plant. Genack reiterated the O.U.'s policy of leaving matters of immigration and labor standards to the government. "No one else has the resources to do what the federal government can do," he said. If the company turns out to be criminally liable, Genack said, that could be grounds for losing its kosher certification.

The affidavit says the government has probable cause to believe that an Agriprocessors supervisor assisted workers in acquiring fake documents in exchange for a cut of the proceeds. Federal investigators provided documentation for a former Agriprocessors employee, identified in the affidavit as Source #7, for the purpose of gaining employment at the plant. Once hired, the source reported on rabbis who insulted the workers and threw meat at them. In one alleged instance, a "Hasidic Jew" duct-taped a worker's eyes and then hit him with a meat hook, "apparently not causing serious injuries."

Agriprocessors has come under fire before for its labor practices, as well as health and safety violations. In March, authorities fined the company $182,000 for violations at the plant.People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has clandestinely videotaped a controversial slaughter practice used at the plant. In addition, an investigation by the Forward weekly newspaper revealed allegations that employees were underpaid and exploited. Agriprocessors officials denied the allegations.

There are a few obvious questions that arise here:

  1. A group has been calling for a hechsher tzedek, Kashrut supervision that would assure not only that ritual kashrut is maintained, but that the company operates in an ethical (and legal) way ( http://hekhshertzedek.org/ ). Isn't it about time that everyone -- including and especially the Orthodox Union, got on board? By the way, Israel's Bema'aglei Tzedek organization has instituted a similar hechsher project (http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/123055).

  2. Agriprocessors had been under scrutiny for some time, amidst allegations regarding worker conditions and slaughtering practices. One might expect a company that knows it is under investigation to try to clean up its act internally and quickly. What were they thinking by letting conditions get to this point?
  3. OK, so the idea of having a mashgiach (kashrut supervisor) is to make sure that kashrut laws are being followed and to observe anything that would be questionable. If a mashgiach can't spot a crystal meth lab operating under his nose, would that call into question his ability to notice if a pig rather than a cow was coming down the conveyor belt? Hmmm.