Temple Grandin Interview #3 – Rubashkin’s Spokesperson’s Statement “NOT True!”

I spoke with Dr. Temple Grandin, the noted animal welfare expert who recently went to Postville and inspected AgriProcessors (Rubashkin). What follows is a summary of that interview:

The Good

  1. Dr. Grandin said the plant would now be able to pass audits. Cattle prods were used on fewer than 25% of cattle, and there were few vocalizations.
  2. She saw approximately 50 head of cattle slaughtered. All were allowed to bleed out and become insensate before being hung on the rail and dressed.
  3. She also saw the yard and the new building.

The Bad

  1. Dr. Grandin only reviewed the slaughter. She did not inspect chicken growing facilities and other operations, like the Gordon plant, owned by Rubashkin.
  2. She will only be able to get to the plant once or twice per year, because the travel time (especially air connections) make this a three day trip.

The Truly Outrageous

I asked her about this quote from Rubashkin spokesperson Mike Thomas:

“Dr. Grandin has been to AgriProcessors before; she consulted with AgriProcessors shortly after the plant opened in 1989. We had been asking her to consult with us again for a number of years, and three months ago we were finally able to settle on a date.”

“That’s not true!” Dr. Grandin said forcefully. “That’s ridiculous!” Dr. Grandin said her first post-PETA-revelations contact from Rubashkin was three months ago, about the time subpoenas were issued in the Justice Department’s anti-trust probe and as the Forward was working its worker abuse story. (This confirms what I wrote here.)

I asked her why it took three months for her to go in? She said the problem was the travel time (as noted above). She also confirmed that she and noted kosher and food processing expert Joe Regenstein had offered just after the PETA video broke to go to Postville for free to help Rubashkin get the plant in order. Rubashkin never called her.

The Most Important Message

Dr. Grandin said, “I told the Forward, and this is very important, that they have to learn to keep their process good so they don’t slip back.”

She also told me she believes all of Rubashkin’s customers, from the smallest kosher butcher shop up to the largest chain of supermarkets, should be allowed free, unannounced access to the plant to make sure that standards now achieved are held to.

Subpoenas And Worker Abuse

I asked Dr. Grandin if she was aware of the price fixing and collusion charges and the subpoenas issued by the US Department of Justice before visiting the plant. She said she was not, and was only marginally aware of the allegations of worker abuse. She was clearly troubled by the timing of her visit, and what that implied.

My previous interviews with Dr. Grandin: #1, #2.

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17 Comments

Filed under Kosher Business?, Kosher Meat Scandal

17 responses to “Temple Grandin Interview #3 – Rubashkin’s Spokesperson’s Statement “NOT True!”

  1. Go her! Maybe i’ll be able to start buying Rubashkin’s meat again…

  2. Neo-Conservaguy

    I still wonder how she can say anything positive about this operation considering the continued use of the upside-down mechanical pen. There should still be concern regarding whether the schita will be done effectively with this device. That was a part of the basic problem captured on the PETA video – the cuts were not being made deeply enough to sever the veins, possibly because of fear of nicking the knives on the metal bars.

  3. Although it seems encouraging at first glance, let us keep in mind that Temple Grandin’s inspection of AgriProcessors Plant was planned. She did not arrive unannounced (as a true inspector should).
    Any place, even a house of horrors like AgriProcessors, could clean up their act temporarily and play nice for a day. As much as I respect Dr. Grandin for her very important work, her suggestion of a weekly self-audit is naive. Does she truly believe that any establishment capable of inflicting the kind of torture they have (as evidenced in the 2004 undercover videos), would be honest enough to police itself? In addition, what happened to alleged “ideal” upright and much less brutal killing device that Dr.Grandin designed and was promoting when the original expose took place? Why would she change her position (no pun intended) from first promoting upright slaughter as less stressful and more humane, then giving her blessings for this barbaric contraption (in which they are turned upside down, sliced, and drown in their own blood) that she less than two years ago denounced?

    The Rubashkin camp is trying to put a spin on this issue as if it is an attack on Kashruth. Vice versa, it is an attempt to enforce humane standards which are the very foundation for our kosher laws.
    Also, one must ask why they suddenly agreed to allow Temple Grandin to inspect. With recent allegations of worker abuse and misappropriation of funds (not to mention improper waste disposal in the past), could it have been a strategically positioned move to try to neutralize some of the negative press AgriProcessors/Rubashkin has been getting lately?

    Let’s begin to crack with shell of willful ignorance and realize that the only way to be sure one is not contributing to the suffering of sentient creatures is NOT to eat them. Our lust for flesh is causing the horrific suffering of huge numbers of animals in concrete factory “farms”, in addition to contributing to the decline of human health.

  4. Neo-Conservaguy

    Rina, you had a good post going there but then you screwed it all up by showing your vegetarian colors – no offense intended. No one in the kosher meat industry and few meat-eating kosher consumers are going to listen to messages from non-meat eaters. The battle to fix broken places like Rubashkin’s must be fought and won by those inside the arena, not those watching from the stands.

  5. Shalom,

    It is not just AgriProcessors that needs fixing.

    I know that most people reading this would prefer to focus on AgriProcessors, but
    as president of the Jewish Vegetarians of North America, I believe that the we can do a Kiddush Hashem and help save many lives by also considering the many studies that have conclusively linked the consumption of meat and other animal products to heart disease, several types of cancer, strokes and other chronic degenerative diseases. We are not asking them rabbis completely ban the consumption of meat and other animal products, but that they recommend that Jews seriously consider the health effects of animal based diets, reduce their consumption of animal products, and purchase animal products that are obtained from animals that are raised humanely and in ways that are environmentally sustainable.

    Besides the strong health reasons, which should be dayenu (enough) in themselves, I believe that we should consider the fact that modern overproduction and overconsumption of animal foods is a major contributor to global warming (see http://www-news.uchicago.edu/releases/06/060413.diet.shtml) and other environmental threats. Indeed, the glut of industrially produced animal foods in today’s diets not only seriously violates Jewish mandates to preserve human health and the environment; it violates our religious responsibility to treat animals humanely and (because of its great inefficiency of production) to feed the poor and hungry.*

    A switch toward ethical, healthy and environmentally sustainable Jewish eating in the 21st century would demonstrate the relevance of our traditional values to modern moral challenges and would greatly increase the health of Jews and the sustainability of our precious plant.

  6. John K. Diamond

    Hi Neo

    I want to first thank you for your very thoughtful posts on FM even though we don’t exactly agree on all points and for your use of TRULY Kosher meat from Blackwings Kosher Bison.

    Please respect the views of Rina Deych. I know Rina very well and she was just expressing, ideally, what needs to be done. She and I, as well as the rest of the JVNA know that forbidding the consumption of animal foods is a violation of Torah Law but violations of t’sar ba’alei chayim on factory farms and unrestrained carnivorous gluttony also are. A very careful reading of the “Quail Affair” in the desert in Bamidbar makes the sin of carnivorous gluttony more than abundantly clear.

    Right now there are less than a handful of Kosher Slaughterhouses that meet all of the Torah requirements. Blackwings Kosher Bison and Rosenblatts outside of Dallas are two that I know of. But these handful of operations do not have anywhere near the capacity to satisfy the Kosher market. So if the OU and others would adopt all three of the demands I posted earlier on FM, there would be enough TRULY KOSHER meat for the existing market. There would be less meat available at higher prices but Jews would eat less meat, would not have to significantly suffer financially, would see significant improvement in their health and would avoid the carnivorous gluttony forbidden by the Torah.

    John

  7. hashfanatic

    Who on Earth would be so stupid as to trust those people to “self-audit” anything?

  8. Stephen Mendelsohn

    BS”D

    Richard:

    While I am in agreement with many of your arguments for vegetarianism, your tendency to raise every single point every time you speak, and raising the issue of vegetarianism on every issue from terrorism to Terry Schiavo, when this is irrelevant to the conversation at hand, hurts your cause. Please focus on the topic at hand. Also, as Eric Marcus of Vegan.com notes, the world hunger argument does not wash — hunger in Third World countries is a problem of distribution, not availibility, and is often the result of tyrranical regimes (e.g., North Korea). However, much of the feed corn grown in Rubashkin’s back yard might be able to be turned into ethanol (E85) to power our cars and reduce our dependence on oil from America’s and Israel’s enemies. This possibility has the livestock industry scared, as the price of meat would skyrocket as the cost of feeding factory farmed animals would increase. This might be the one thing that actually does move people, including Jews, toward eating less meat.

    The reason for focusing on tza’ar ba’alei chayim over other reasons for eschewing animal-based diets is simple. It is difficult to argue that health or environmental concerns REQUIRE that Jews abstain from eating meat or other animal products, only that such consumption be limited and prudent within the bounds of these concerns. (The same would hold for eating vegan “junk food” or or pleasure driving.) With tza’ar ba’alei chayim, however, even those Orthodox rabbis such as Moshe Tendler who believe meat eating on Yom Tov is a mitzvah and forbid vegetarianism also forbid factory-farmed veal. It is not a big step to extend this proposition to its logical conclusion and forbid all animal based foods, from Rubashkin’s (and shackle-and-hoist) meat to eggs from battery caged, debeaked, and forced-molted hens, produced in an inhumane manner. Requiring a diet which avoids unneccesary animal suffering is not an undue chumra because sufficient vegan products, occasionally supplemented by combined humane and kosher certified animal products if one wishes, can today provide a healthy and varied diet. And a vegetarian diet is a lot cheaper (and easier, given basar b’chalav) than eating kosher meat. I often shop at Whole Foods, which some refer to as “Whole Paycheck,” and spend a good deal less on food than my carnivorous Jewish friends.

  9. D

    Stephen, just a few comments on your points:

    “much of the feed corn grown in Rubashkin’s back yard might be able to be turned into ethanol (E85) to power our cars and reduce our dependence on oil from America’s and Israel’s enemies.”

    This is wishful thinking on stilts. The energy input required to collect the corn, separate it from the husks, ferment it and fractionate the ethanol makes corn-derived E85 a net energy waster. OTOH, soybean-based biodiesel has a definite energy advantage. In both cases, however, realize that the quantity of grain needed to produce any significant petroleum offsets would pressure food production and prices. That fact alone is going to make these a sufficiently hard sell to the public at large as to keep them on the fringe. The solution to our energy crisis lies elsewhere (and on another thread ;-).

    “I often shop at Whole Foods, which some refer to as “Whole Paycheck,””

    They used to be Bread and Circus near me. AKA, “Bled and Suck Us”. And not without reason. For regular items like produce, expect to pay significantly more than at your local Pathmark.

    At any rate, the $8+/lb. price tag for kosher red meat should be enough incentive for anyone to limit use of those commodities. Of course, you would also think that $3/gallon would make us alter our driving habits too, wouldntcha?

  10. Stephen Mendelsohn

    BS”D

    In essence, both Rubashkin and the OU took advantage of the naievete of an autistic woman. Does Rabbi Genack, who seems to be the one to have come up with the idea of a Grandin visit at this time, know that naievete is a symptom of autism and Asperger’s? At the very time the OU has started to take inclusion of people with disabilities more seriously, declaring October North American Inclusion Month and encouraging synagogues to make themselves fully accessible to people with all disabilities (including autism and Asperger’s) their kashrut side takes anvantage of someone’s disability.

    If Dr. Grandin were NT (neurotypical, or not on the autism spectrum), I am not so sure the OU could have used her in this way.

    P.S. Some of my friends think I may be an Aspie, which is why I am familiar with AS issues.

  11. nachos

    Without getting off topic, there seems to be a common thread coming through. The common thread seems to be that that “factory farming is evil.” Many of the people that make this statement have never visited a factory farm or for that matter a farm.
    My neighbor milks about 50 cows. His son wants to continue the farming tradition. In order to bring his son in my neighbor has to expand his facilities. He is going to expand his facilities to accomodate 300 cows and make a $700,000 investment to do so.
    I guarantee you that now and after the expansion, every single cow is treated like gold.
    Even though he is not a CAFO, he still needs to meet many of the environmental requirements.

    Last year, I wanted to build a manure storage facility for the steers and heifers that I fatten. I was given two choices. Choice #1 Build a manure facility of sufficient size that would force me to double the amount of animals I feed. Getting the permit would require EPA plans etc.

    Choice #2 Build a small system that a permit would not be necessary for. This system would be totally inadequate and not solve the runoff problems.

    Guess which one I picked?
    The moral is big farms are required to follow the environmental rules. Little ones are not.
    The largest danger to agriculture today is the concentration of processors.

  12. nachos

    Without getting off topic, there seems to be a common thread coming through. The common thread seems to be that that “factory farming is evil.” Many of the people that make this statement have never visited a factory farm or for that matter a farm.
    My neighbor milks about 50 cows. His son wants to continue the farming tradition. In order to bring his son in my neighbor has to expand his facilities. He is going to expand his facilities to accomodate 300 cows and make a $700,000 investment to do so.
    I guarantee you that now and after the expansion, every single cow is treated like gold.
    Even though he is not a CAFO, he still needs to meet many of the environmental requirements.

    Last year, I wanted to build a manure storage facility for the steers and heifers that I fatten. I was given two choices. Choice #1 Build a manure facility of sufficient size that would force me to double the amount of animals I feed. Getting the permit would require EPA plans etc.

    Choice #2 Build a small system that a permit would not be necessary for. This system would be totally inadequate and not solve the runoff problems.

    Guess which one I picked?
    The moral is big farms are required to follow the environmental rules. Little ones are not.
    The largest danger to agriculture today is the concentration of processors.

  13. Neo-Conservaguy

    No slander was intended toward Rina Deych, or John or Richard. It’s not an insult to state that I think change will come about in the kosher meat industry only by the force of those within that system: the consumers, the vendors, the producers, and the oversight organizations. Vegetarians as individuals or organizations have little opinion to offer that those within the kosher meat system will consider, because their opinions are weighed against their clearly and honestly stated goals of stopping the consumption of meat – either now or later. That position is largely a ticket to the sidelines in this debate.

    Interestingly enough, John has stated my position on kosher meat clearly: kosher Jews should eat only the highest quality (ethical and medical) kosher meat, and less of it that the average current consumption.

  14. Stephen Mendelsohn

    BS”D

    D-

    You are correct in noting that there are significant problems with E85 from corn (as opposed to sugar cane, which Brazil is increasingly reliant on), but according to a recent article in The New York Times, Archer Daniels Midland and other companies certainly do not think the obstacles are insurmountable. I am not an expert on this, and I am simply citing this article, but according to the NYT, the beef and pork industries are very much afraid that E85 will drive up the cost of feed, and that people would rather pony up for fuel than meat. You can Google “New York Times E85” to find it. I was primarily trying to show Richard that even many of his fellow veg activists do not buy the world hunger argument.

    As for Whole Foods Market, if you are comparing apples to oranges, or more precisely, WFM’s organics with conventional products from regular grocers, than of course the organics will cost more. I do find their produce prices to be on the high side (ditto for Wild Oats), and tend to buy most of my produce elsewhere (although I will try to buy organic when it is affordable). But when one compares the SAME items at WFM to conventional grocers, (or Wild Oats, or even in most cases Trader Joe’s), they are quite competitive. For instance, the WFM near me has OU-certified organic whole-wheat pasta for just $1.29/lb.; a quart of chocolate or vanilla So Delicious (Heart-K parve) is $3.49 (was $2.99 until recently). Except for TJ’s, other stores prices on these items are higher and often significantly so. In fact, one of the complaints about Whole Foods is that they undercut the mom-and-pop health food stores and have put some out of business. My point was that one does not have to spend a lot of money to eat both kosher and ethically.

    Speaking of Whole Foods, JTA has sent out an article which will appear in many local Jewish newspapers this week. It starts off with a woman from the Philadelphia area, Arlene Holtz, who decided because of the Rubashkin kosher meat scandal to stop buying kosher meat and buy her meat from Whole Foods, which will have “Animal Compassionate” standards for all animal-based foods it sells by the end of the year. I think it is sad that someone felt that she had to give up on kosher because of this. One can argue that perhaps if there were more observant Jewish vegetarians, and more knowledge and support for this option among religious Jewry, this woman might not have felt the need to buy and eat non-kosher meat in order to avoid Rubashkin’s cruelty. IMHO, we need both options (Jewish vegetarianism and ethical kosher meat-eating) if we are to best counter the Rubashkin mentality.

  15. nachos

    Stephen:

    Unfortunately, the NYT does not understand the process of making Ethanol. After the corn is put through the process, you are left with Ethanol and either corn glutton or distillers grain. What you are left with depends on wether the plant uses a wet or a dry process. Corn glutton has about 19% protein and 85% of the energy of corn. It is a valuable animal feed. However, you do need to supplement Vitamin B with it, or risk a disease that resembles polio in cattle.

    The whole foods program strikes me as being bunk. They are not giving any specifics out. U.S. Premium Beef does have have a program that is very similar to the whole foods one currently in place. However, the premiums offerred doesn’t come close to covering the record keeping or the lowered efficiencies of not using implants and ionophores.

  16. John K. Diamond

    Dear Readers,

    Recently, the “Jewish Press” attacked PETA with the false charge that it is against Kosher Slaughter. In response, Bruce Friedrich responded with the letter posted below which has been included in the latest JVNA Newsletter.

    In January, 2005, my wife and I, at the request of Dr. Richard Schwartz, President of the JVNA, visited PETA Headquarters in Norforlk, VA and spoke to Bruce personally to thank PETA for the Kiddush Hashem they did in exposing animal cruelty at AgriProcessors.

    Please read this letter carefully, especially his comments about the OU.

    —-
    PETA Letter Responds to Jewish Press Editorial

    Forwarded message from Bruce Friedrich. PETA Vegan Director
    Sent: Friday, July 07, 2006 1:16 PM
    [Since a recent JVNA newsletter had a Jewish Press editorial attacking PETA, their response is included below.]

    To: ‘letters@jewishpress.com’
    Subject: Letter to the Editor:

    Dear Editor,

    Re: “Here we Go,” 7/5/06: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) investigates both kosher and non-kosher slaughterhouses and notifies authorities whenever we witness gross mistreatment of animals and violations of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act.

    Our most popular vegetarian video by far, titled “Meet Your Meat,” documents exclusively non-kosher plants (see http://www.Meat.org), and our late-2004 investigation of Agriprocessors was our very first kosher investigation, in our 24 year history. Had Agriprocessors agreed, when we asked them in 2003, to allow Dr. Grandin to come in, we would never have investigated. Mr. Nathan Lewin’s condescending letter (available at http://www.goveg.com/feat/agriprocessors/) left us no choice but to investigate the whistleblower reports of cruelty in the plant.

    We blew the whistle on AgriProcessors, not because of concerns about the principles of shechitah, but because employees were shocking animals in the face with electric prods, ripping out their tracheas while they were still fully conscious, and dumping them in their own blood to die slow and painful deaths – some animals even struggled to their feet in agony over three minutes after they were dismembered. Dr. Temple Grandin, now recognized by Agriprocessors as an authority, called what we found “The worst thing [she] had ever seen,” declaring that AgriProcessors “is doing everything wrong they can do wrong.”

    It is a black eye for kosher certification that the Orthodox Union continues to declare that the kosher status at AgriProcessors was never in question. As long as that remains the OU’s stance, the kosher public will not be able to feel secure that the OU hechsher has anything at all to do with the strong Jewish tradition of kindness toward G-d’s other animals.

    Jewish law mandates that animals should be treated with compassion and respect. It is this principle that we need to defend, not those companies who so cruelly abuse animals.

    Sincerely,

    Bruce G. Friedrich
    Vice President for International Grassroots Campaigns
    PETA
    501 Front St.
    Norfolk, VA 23510
    —-

  17. D

    Archer Daniels Midland and other companies certainly do not think the obstacles are insurmountable.

    Of course they say that. If they don’t they risk losing $millions in government funding for EtOH research and development. Ethanol is the energy source of the future – and always will be.

    the beef and pork industries are very much afraid that E85 will drive up the cost of feed

    Have you stopped to think what this will do to the cost of all grocery items at your local “Bled and Suck Us”? Increased demand for corn means higher prices for Cornflakes, corn oil, corn sweeteners, etc. Diverting foodstuffs for energy is stupidity on steroids. Now, there is plenty of non-food byproduct in agriculture that could be used instead: husks, stalks, “switchgrass” etc. The methods for converting those are very primitive right now. I’ll reserve judgement until scaleups come online and hard data can be seen on their economics and efficiencies.

    Whole Foods…will have “Animal Compassionate” standards for all animal-based foods

    That is some good, slick marketing. Do we have any idea what that means practically? What specific differences can we expect to see when we walk into such an operation?

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