POSTVILLE, Iowa – An animal rights group filed a complaint Wednesday against a kosher slaughterhouse for alleged cruelty to cattle. The slaughterhouse called the complaint a veiled attack on religious freedom.
Videotape of animals thrashing about after their throats were slit was shown at a news conference Wednesday in New York. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said the videotape, taken secretly in the summer of 2004, shows the animals were conscious and suffering.
PETA’s complaint, filed with the U.S. Agriculture Department, called for the prosecution of Agriprocessors Inc. and the Orthodox Union, an international kosher certification agency.
“Cows can be heard bellowing in agony and terror as the cut is made, as a metal hook is inserted into the wound, as their tracheas and esophagi are yanked from their bodies,” said Bruce Friedrich, a PETA director.
Slaughterhouse officials said the plant strictly adheres to federal guidelines and is overseen by rabbinic leaders committed to humane treatment.
“This isn’t an attack on Agriprocessors, but an attack on the kosher processing industry,” said Mike Thomas, a company spokesman. “Federal law states how kosher slaughter operates, and by definition it is humane.”
Thomas said the PETA tape is misleading and was obtained under dubious circumstances by someone with a political agenda. He disputed claims that the trachea are yanked from steers, saying to do so would violate kosher laws.
Steve Steiner, spokesman for the Orthodox Union, said his group is reviewing the 30-minute videotape. “We believe shechita, the Hebrew form of slaughter, is a humane form of slaughter,” he said, noting that the video showed only selected moments over a seven-week period in which 18,000 cattle were slaughtered.
Thomas and other kosher advocates say the slaughtering process, which is regulated and carried out by trained rabbis, is designed to make death quick and painless.
“It’s not aesthetically pleasing. There’s an enormous amount of blood loss,” Thomas said. “But just because it’s not pretty does not mean it’s cruel.”
Kosher slaughter requires that the animal’s throat is slit. The sudden and enormous blood loss triggers immediate anemia in the brain, which renders the animal insensible, Thomas said.
Agriprocessors’ plant in Postville, a small town in northeastern Iowa, took over a defunct slaughterhouse in 1987 and today is the world’s largest glatt kosher slaughterhouse. Glatt, under kosher law, means that the animals are free of certain physical defects.