Kol HaPosel, b’Mumo Posel

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The Talmud says that when Reuven goes around telling you that Shimon is a no-goodnik, that you should look carefully for the alleged defect in Reuven himself. “All who invalidate, invalidate with their own defect.”

This aphorism came to mind reading Shmarya’s screed against Rabbi Avi Shafran, following the distribution of the latter’s “The PETA Principle” which I published earlier. As I said much earlier on, it seems that some people have it out for Rubashkin, in ways that have nothing to do with the facts — and Shmarya’s accusations against Rabbi Shafran (of both lies and distortion) are merely symptomatic of the “take no prisoners” attitude shown in his earlier attack upon yours truly.

Let’s compare what was written about R’ Avi with what Rabbi Shafran actually wrote.

First claim: R’ Avi distorted the paper by Dr. Stuart Rosen, which says that shechita renders the animal unconscious within a few seconds. Shmarya asserts that the paper discusses an animal in an upright pen rather than inverted as done by Rubashkin. In an earlier comment here on Cross-Currents, Shmarya put it more bluntly: “I represented it correctly. Shafran lied.”

Now that I also have a copy of the paper, it’s clear that it’s about shechita as done in England — which explains why it discusses an upright pen. However, at no point does Dr. Rosen suggest that the upright pen is better for causing unconsciousness — actually, the opposite is true. Rosen refers to a “chin lift,” which is useful for “the prevention of re-occlusion of the carotid arteries.” When the head of an animal is released after shechita to hang forward onto the chest, it is possible for the severed carotid arteries to close up again (re-occlusion). When, however, the head of an inverted animal (as done at Rubashkin) is released, the head swings down towards the back of the animal, putting further distance between the sections of the carotid arteries — so re-occlusion is impossible.

My father is a noted neurologist whose version of light reading is a recent medical journal, so terms like “carotid arteries” were part of daily conversation before I got to college. But ignorance of these words (and the vessels to which they refer) is a sorry excuse for calling Avi Shafran a liar.

Second, Shmarya writes, “the paper in question specifically deals with shechita that severs the carotids and jugulars. Much of Rubashkin shechita clearly did not do that.” Actually, there is only one animal on the video that rises and walks, indicating that one of the carotid arteries was missed. Regarding every other animal on the video, Dr. Rosen describes exactly what we saw: “after about 30 seconds, strong muscular spasms frequently cause the limbs to thrash violently.” He then explains, “These movements are in no respect at all a conscious reaction to pain; they are reflexes due to hypoxia of the spinal cord causing abnormal efferent signals to the muscles… This phase can last for up to four minutes.” In simpler English, the brain and spinal cord are not getting the oxygen they need, and the latter fires off random signals to the muscles. The animal is already unconscious for half a minute before this sort of jerking around even starts to happen.

ASI Food Safety Consultants, of St. Louis, did an unannounced “Humane Slaughter Audit” of the plant back in February. This was an outside audit mandated by US law, with the results submitted to the USDA. The unannounced audit found the plant was entirely in compliance with humane slaughter regulations at that time — they observed 100 slaughters, and not once did they see a violation of humane treatment requirements. Note that if they had seen what we see on the video — an animal getting up and walking — that would have been a violation. USDA standards requires only that 95 of every 100 animals be successfully disabled on the first attempt — five violations would have been ok. Instead, the consultants observed 100% success in disabling 100 animals on the first go.

So if the folks at Rubashkin were putting on a show for the auditor, they suddenly and without notice put on a truly command performance. The length of time the PETA operative spent at Rubashkin is, of course, further proof that what happened with that one animal was exceedingly rare. If this was happening every day, every hour, why did PETA’s observer hang around for seven weeks?!

When an organization with a side agenda — like PETA, whose ultimate interest is to stop consumption of meat — finds procedural errors at a meat plant, one must attempt to separate the meat from the chaff. There were mistakes made. I wrote that, Dr. Schick wrote that, and even the OU admits that. It is impossible for every shechita to go perfectly, and it would be silly to claim otherwise. But there is no evidence whatsoever that this sort of event was anything more than a simple — and rare — mistake.

Third, Shmarya writes that “Shafran also claims that PETA went after kosher slaughter first, something that is absolutely untrue.” Actually, what’s absolutely untrue is the statement that R’ Avi made such a claim. He never did.

To borrow from Shakespeare, methinks Shmarya doth protest too much. He asserts that Rabbi Shafran made this claim, because the claim is so eminently reasonable and justifiable. It was Nathan Lewin who asked whether PETA had a similar video from a non-kosher plant. As I offered up to Shmarya in earlier comments, if there is such a PETA video, let’s please have a link to it, along with easy directions to reach it from the PETA home page. But note again that even if there is such a video, Shmarya’s statement as it relates to Rabbi Shafran is entirely devoid of factual basis.

I am not aware of the facts concerning Rabbi Shafran’s claim that “A high-level USDA official, for that matter, visited the plant after PETA released its video to personally observe the allegedly inhumane practices and take appropriate action; what he saw apparently persuaded him that there was no need to shut down the plant or alter its basic practices.” However, one thing is obvious: the lack of a complete written report hardly contradicts the assertion that conclusions were made and stated orally.

Rabbi Shafran says that “USDA inspectors are typically present on the killing floor during animal slaughter, to ensure that the process complies with federal standards.” Shmarya says “This is false… They are rarely present at shechita.” Oh, so it’s not typical, but rare? Does anyone imagine that “typical” in this case is every time, as if the USDA watched every shechita like a mashgiach temidi (constant supervisor, as compared to one who comes and goes)? If he wants to accuse Rabbi Shafran of imprecise language, I’d say that was fair. But he himself admits that the USDA observers are there every day, and watch the slaughter every once in a while.

And finally, Shmarya states adamantly that “Iowa’s Secretary of Agriculture did not change her mind.” True, before she visited the plant, “Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Patty Judge said that if her department had jurisdiction, she would shut down and investigate a kosher meatpacking plant in Postville that critics say makes cattle suffer needlessly,” while afterwards she said “I was glad to see how it works… Slaughter is never pleasant, but it was humane, quick, and I have no problem with the way those animals were being treated.” True, the DesMoines Register (a presumably more neutral source) said that Judge changes opinion on alleged abuse at kosher plant, but if you are out to get Rubashkin, then she “did not change her mind,” just her opinion.

So what’s the story about these six claims? Four are simply wrong, one is certainly no less of an exaggeration than his original statement, and one I simply don’t know enough about to judge.

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9 Responses

  1. Shmarya says:

    Dr. Grandin was referring to more than that. She also spoke specifically about animal handling before shechita, the incorrect operation of the Focomia pen, the fact that the animals were conscious after being dumped on the floor, and more.

  2. Yaakov Menken says:

    Please don’t forget that I wrote in my first post on this topic that “a more significant error is shown when someone approaches the animal immediately after the shochet (kosher slaughterer) steps back, and uses a hook to pull out the trachea. While this helps the animal bleed out faster, it is inappropriate because the cow could still be conscious for a few seconds. That practice needs to be changed immediately.”

    It is to that, and that alone, that Prof. Grandin refers. And that procedure has already been abolished. So outside of PETA fundraising, I don’t see the purpose of ongoing bashing of Rubashkin.

  3. Shmarya says:

    Dr. Grandin writing in the Jerusalem Post on shechita in a standing ASPC pen and shechita at Rubashkin:

    … NOW THAT I was able to hold the animal gently, it was possible to observe its reaction to shehita. When shehita was performed on each steer, I was amazed that the animal did not move. To find out if shehita was really painless, I started holding the head of each animal with less and less pressure to see if it would move during shehita. Even big bulls stayed still when the head holder was so loose they could have easily pulled their heads out.

    I also observed that some shohets were better than others in their ability to cause rapid unconsciousness. All of the cuts were correct from a religious standpoint, but some shohets were more biologically effective. A swift cut was more effective than a slower one. In the hands of the best shohets, the animal does not make a sound or flinch, and drops unconscious in eight to 10 seconds.

    My experiences in seeing how humane shehita can be could not have prepared me for the video taken at the kosher meat plant AgriProcessors, which recently became the center of considerable controversy. The video showed cattle that were clearly conscious after their throats had been cut and their trachea had been ripped out and was hanging from their necks.

    I have been in over 30 kosher plants, and I had never seen such a dreadful procedure. Obviously, yanking on the trachea would cause great pain and may have delayed the onset of unconsciousness.

  4. Shmarya says:

    1. I interviewed Dr. Grandin twice. I stand by what I wrote, including the FACT that Rabbi Belsky also believes that bleed-out is faster standing.

    2. Dr. Grandin was horrified by what she saw on the PETA video and has been very clear about that.

    3. She rates shackling and hoisting as 1 (on a scale of 1 to 10 with being the best and 1 the worst), PROPERLY DONE upside-down shechita in a PROPERLY MAINTAINED and OPERATED Facomia pen as a 4 or 5 and standing in a properly operated ASPC pen as a 10.

    4. As for ASI, all I can tell you is what I told you before: They are not taken seriously in the Food Science community or the Animal Welfare community and their audit at Rubashkin was not unannounced and was of a very limited scope.

    5. You have not shown anything that I have written to be false.

  5. Yaakov Menken says:

    Temple Grandin is indeed an expert at the humane care of animals. See her comments at http://www.grandin.com/ritual/qa.cattle.insensibility.html . She specifically does not make Shmarya’s assertion that upright shechita leads to faster death. Regarding “The rotating box at Agriprocessors”, she says that it “is probably more stressful than the best upright box, but it is much better than shackling and hoisting” — hardly an indictment. Her concern with the rotating box is limited to this as one of the possible “restraining methods that the method used to hold the animal in position;” nowhere in her discussion of the time to unconsciousness or the handling methods does she so much as hint that either method results in faster loss.

    She — like the experts I consulted originally — states that the throat pull should not be done seconds after shechita. She says “Most cattle will become unconscious and insensible within 5 to 10 seconds after a biologically effective cut. However, sensibility can last for over a minute in a small percentage of cattle.” This completely reconciles Dr. Rosen with the Israeli rabbinate, with no reference to the animal’s position.

    ASI performs animal welfare audits week-in, week-out, and has been doing so for years. Strange that ASI would only “recently” start Animal Welfare Audits, yet manage to jump to the top of the heap so quickly on a Google search.

    Strange that you would mention Safeway, since they were a recent target of a PETA boycott. Now that they’ve been forced to modify their policies to be animal-friendly (unlike any other grocery chain), they are marketing themselves as animal-friendly… and trying to mollify PETA at every turn, given that PETA still has http://www.shameway.com on-line.

    Give it up, Shmarya, you’re just digging deeper.

  6. Shmarya says:

    I find your comment that I “take on Sholom Rubashkin merely because his family has been Lubavitcher Chassidim for generations” to a) Ungrounded in fact and b) To be another example of the depths to which you will descend to defend the indefensible.

    I take on Rubashkin because I have seen shechita done correctly. What took place at Rubashkin was horrific.

    Now, for your other points:

    1. Oh, I’m so sorry. Did I make a typo? Well, I suppose that means that my facts are wrong. If I could only type more effectively …

    2. Your science is incorrect. This is because you do not understand the facomia pen and how shechita using it works. The FACT is that EVERY scientist that has commented on the PETA video to date supports PETA’s contentions.

    3. “An agitated animal will have more adrenaline in the system, which increases the pulse, increases the blood pressure, and diverts blood to priority areas (which is basically irrelevant, because the brain consistently receives about 20-25% of blood supply at all times). Shmarya, you don’t need to go to med school to figure out that this means faster bleeding.”

    Dr. Grandin and other experts, along with Rabbi Belsky disagree with you.

    4. “The only thing that could possibly be blocked, hanging back, is the vertebral arteries.”

    Nope. You are wrong. The head itself retains blood longer and the animal therefore is conscious longer. That is one reason why Israeli rabbis cited times of 20 to 30 seconds for unconsciousness, while Dr. Rosen and Shechita UK, etc., cited much faster times. Israel does upside-down shechita. The UK does standing.

    5. Again, as I documented earlier, Patty Judge’s office was absolutely clear – she did NOT change her mind. Further, her job is primarily one of an Ag booster, not a regulator. Ag is Iowa’s #1 business. Yet her reaction on seeing the PETA video was loud and clear – the shechita was NOT humane. To argue as you and R. Shafran, etc., do, that because she saw three animals properly shechted in a controlled slaughter while on a personal guided tour of AgriProcessors led by Sholom M. Rubashkin is foolish.

    6. ASI only recently began doing Animal Welfare Audits. Every source I’ve spoken to in the Food Science community made it clear that ASI is not highly regarded in this area. Further, their audit was of a short duration and was not unannounced. That is one reason why Albertson’s and Safeway are now DEMANDING that Rubashkin submit to unannounced surprise audits on an ongoing basis from a company of their – not Rubashkin’s – choosing.

    7. As for my readers distinguishing “the meat from the chaff,” I’m sure they are able to apply their skills of discernment to Torah.org and Agudath Israel as well.

  7. Yaakov Menken says:

    Shmarya really doesn’t seem to be anti-Agudah, so much as anti-Lubavitch (consider a blog called failedmessiah.com, with a picture of the Rebbe, a hint). If he were to critique the Messianic movement within Lubavitch he would probably find me in agreement more often than not, but not when he takes it out on Sholom Rubashkin merely because his family has been Lubavitcher Chassidim for generations.

    1. In this context, I hope people will understand that I intend to be neither snide nor to belittle Shmarya when I point out that he hasn’t yet so much as understood the proper spelling of “occlusion.” It’s merely indicative of how little actual knowledge he is presenting. In upside-down shechita, with everything gaping wide open, occlusion (blockage) is absolutely impossible — as you see on the video, in which the blood literally spurts out of the stumps of the carotid arteries onto the shochet’s coat.

    The only thing that could possibly be blocked, hanging back, is the vertebral arteries. As Dr. Rosen points out, the fact that the vertebral arteries are unblocked when standing is not a problem, because the blood first comes up to the brain via a common channel, and then chooses the path of least resistance — and thus goes out the carotid stumps rather than travelling down the vertebral arteries (this is why blocking the carotid arteries, as could happen when the animal is standing, could conceivably prolong death). But the head swinging back and possibly compressing the vertebral arteries would only further reduce blood travelling to the brain.

    An agitated animal will have more adrenaline in the system, which increases the pulse, increases the blood pressure, and diverts blood to priority areas (which is basically irrelevant, because the brain consistently receives about 20-25% of blood supply at all times). Shmarya, you don’t need to go to med school to figure out that this means faster bleeding.

    Ordinarily, of course, the head down would mean more blood travelling to the brain. Indeed it is all rushing to the brain — where it exits the stump of the carotid arteries and deposits itself all over the shochet’s coat, hastening the animal’s speedy and painless death.

    2. Can you see when a baby has an ear infection? Probably not, but any experienced mother can identify the signs. You certainly don’t need an expert scientist to identify the typical signs of a successfully slaughtered animal, which any slaughterer (kosher or not) has seen multiple times every work day. Every “expert” who has visited the plant has been impressed with the humane-ness of the operation — some, like Patty Judge, replacing her initial, uninformed criticism with praise. There’s a reason why every reputed Kashrus agency with supervision of slaughtering, such as the CRC, the Star-K and others, recognized that only one animal on the video was conscious.

    3. ASI has been in the food supervision / auditing business for 70 years, spanning three generations in the same family. They now provide “computerized e-mail reports, instant on-line audit results, [and] in-plant microbiological testing and training.” They know exactly what they are doing.

    4. I’m sure Patty Judge was very, very clear. It’s sheer coincidence that the DesMoines Register got it so wrong. Maybe they were paid off by Rubashkin, right?

    Shmarya, you obviously have far more free time on your hands than I do, and have devoted your entire blog to this issue. We have other topics to cover, and I’m sure the readers can distinguish, as I said, the meat from the chaff.

  8. M. Hillson says:

    Shmarya closes every one of his comments:

    You Agudah-nicks should be ashamed of yourselves.

    Regardless of who’s right on the issue, it seems that Shmarya has an axe to grind –
    the axe of hatred of “Ultra-Otrthodox” Jews.

    Shame on Shmarya for his hatred of fellow Jews.

  9. Shmarya says:

    1. “When, however, the head of an inverted animal (as done at Rubashkin) is released, the head swings down towards the back of the animal, putting further distance between the sections of the carotid arteries – so re-occlusion is impossible.”

    That is false. All scientists I’ve interviewed, and several rabbis including Rabbi Belsky, have noted that occulsion happens in upside-down shechita. In fact, both Dr. Grandin and Rabbi Belsky attributed some of the conscious animals on the PETA video to occulusion.

    But that does not matter. Standing shechita is very different from upside-down shechita, Because the animal is always agitated upside-down, its bleed-out rate is slower. Further, if the head does flop backward when the animal is upside-down, brain anemia is DELAYED, not hastened.

    Your father may be a noted neurologist. You clearly are not.

    2. “Regarding every other animal on the video, Dr. Rosen describes exactly what we saw: “after about 30 seconds, strong muscular spasms frequently cause the limbs to thrash violently.” He then explains, ‘These movements are in no respect at all a conscious reaction to pain; they are reflexes due to hypoxia of the spinal cord causing abnormal efferent signals to the muscles… This phase can last for up to four minutes.’”

    You are misusing Dr. Rosen. As of today, NO scientist – including Dr. Rosen – has said that the animals on the PETA video were reflex motions. In fact, all leading scientists (and several leading rabbis) have stated clearly that those animals were conscious and their movements purposeful.

    3. “ASI Food Safety Consultants, of St. Louis, did an unannounced “Humane Slaughter Audit” of the plant back in February.” a) According to the animal welfare and food science professionals I’ve spoken with, ASI is not considered to be expert in this area. b) The audit was not unannounced, it was scheduled. c) Rubashkin wrote that anyone ewho wanted a copy of the audit could get one from his spokesperson or himself. He then refused to give a copy to me, to PETA, and to several others.

    4. The spokeswoman for Iowa’s Agriculture Secretary was quite clear: Secretary Judge did not change her mind. She spoke only about the three animals she saw killed on a guided tour arranged and led by Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin. She again noted that it was the USDA’s jurisdiction to deal with legal violations, if any. She did NOT change her opinion of the slaughter she saw on the PETA video.

    You Agudah-nicks should be ashamed of yourselves.