Culture, Global, Justice, Religion

Rubashkin's: will it never end?

The latest from the Forward: United Food and Commercial Workers are now entering the fray over Rubashkin’s skeezy practices in their plants. As the Forward reported, “Activists with United Food and Commercial Workers stood outside kosher supermarkets and Trader Joe’s stores around the country last Wednesday, distributing fliers that purported to be a ‘Kosher Food Safety Alert.’ The fliers cited controversial reports — many of them published in the Forward — about food-safety issues at the Postville, Iowa, slaughterhouse.” They also made automated phone calls to households in Orthodox neighborhoods and placed full-page advertisements in Jewish newspapers.
Most of these will be violations that if you read Jewschool or Failed Messiah’s excellent coverage, you will already know about – the bribery, the unsafe food handling practices, and of course the mistreatment of non-Jewish workers, prompting the Conservative Movement’s creation (at least in theory) of the Hechsher Tzedek. I want to emphasize a citation from Failed Messiah’s post on the topic which comes from the USDA’s inspector:

There were also at least five instances in which AgriProcessors was cited for not taking the required measures to fend off Mad Cow disease. In one instance, an inspector says he asked for a suspicious cow to be taken off the line and later discovered that the cow had been slaughtered with the rest of the animals. The inspector says he informed someone at the company of the “very serious noncompliance that had occurred.”

I emphasize these words because, of course, Agriprocessor’s response, published on its Web site and in Yeshiva World News, was simply to deny, deny deny. “Concerns about Mad Cow disease are simply wrong,” the letter said. “We have never had product from any suspect animals leave our plant.” they claim.
Astonishingly, according to KosherToday,a trade publication that has defended AgriProcessors, none of this has hurt Agriprocessor sales. In fact, they claim that to the contrary, “The net effect of the onslaught against Agri was that sales of its products in some stores have risen by as much as 30% and it has opened an unprecedented number of new accounts.”
Agriprocessors, of course, claim that all of this noise from UFCW is because workers have not unionized at their plant saying that UFCW is trying to “force a company into submission to unionize a plant even when it is against the wishes of the workers.” Oh, yes, certainly the workers at a plant in which the violations of workers’ rights were so egregious that it got even the notoriously and incredibly lethargic Conservative movement to go and check the situation out and create a program entirely in response wouldn’t be suppressing workers and interfering with their desire to unionize so that there might be some organization to help safeguard their rights. Seriously, why would the Agriprocessor workers be interested in a union? I’m sure they’re all happy as clams (treyf intended). Nor did they mention that the Jewish Labor Committee is working with UFCW on the matter.
The Forward noted,

A spokeswoman for the UFCW, Jill Cashen, told the Forward that AgriProcessors had never asked employees if they wanted to unionize. “The [AgriProcessors] plant isn’t a free and open environment,” Cashen said. “We don’t speak for the workers, and neither does AgriProcessors. Workers there have never had a chance to vote one way or another.”

However half a bright note may be on the horizon. On the Orthodox Emes Ve-Emunah blog, author Harry Maryles posts,

Yeshivaworld has received dozens of emails in the last 12 hours telling us that they have received anonymous, automated phone calls telling them that Rubashkin Meat has Mad Cow Disease – amongst other things. Yeshivaworld has learned that these phone calls have been made to thousands & thousands of homes.
This was followed by a reader who took offense at the fact that an outside organization whose motives were not pure would use scare tactics as a means of putting pressure on Rubashkin for their own purposes.
This in turn generated a defensive response from Sholom Rubashkin, a vice president of the company that is both true… and misleading. He claimed they have never had a recall of their raw meat. True. But they did have a recall of some of their processed meat. One that the USDA termed a high health risk!
Now I seriously doubt that Rubashkin’s products have been tainted by Mad Cow desease, although it’s possible. But to defend oneself by misleading statements calls into question the integrity of their entire enterprise.
It is also unfair for Yeshivaworld to present a one sided view of this issue. They should have given the union an opportunity to present theirs.
Here is the way my source put it:
To imply that the USDA has never found reason for a recall is IMNSHO far below the level of honesty I would expect from a kosher food supplier.

Okay, so maybe the message is starting to sink in – after the arrests of members of the Rubashkin family (on unrelated charges), several outside – disinterested- reports of various misdeeds in the plant, the Orthodox community is just beginning to perhaps think about maybe suspecting that all is not perfectly cricket. Well, maybe in another decade or so something will happen. Just maybe. Or maybe it will just increase their sales more.
*sigh*
For a history see:
See: öÄéÌåÉï áÌÀîÄùÑÀôÌÈè úÌÄôÌÈãÆä åÀùÑÈáÆéäÈ áÌÄöÀãÈ÷Èä, Where’s the beef now? Kashrut update on Rubashkin’s, Another beef with kashrut in the news, and Kashrut Brouhaha Has Legs; Agriprocessors: Still trayfin’ it up,
and Failed Messiah
Oh, and I hereby initiate the new “Rubashkin’s” category which I threatened in my last post on these shysters, since this seems to be nowhere close to an end…
HT Arieh Lebowitz of the JLC
xp Kol Ra’ash Gadol

10 thoughts on “Rubashkin's: will it never end?

  1. There were indeed folks outside the local koshermart where I live last week, handing out those flyers. I’m awfully skeptical of that as a tactic, since these stores tend to have a close sense of community, and people can get protective of their own.
    I’m guessing any significant progress in terms of getting (omnivorous) kosher consumers to stop buying Rubashkin’s will have to come from inside the communities, i.e. getting rabbis to speak out against it, etc.

  2. Libelous claims that Kosher is Cruel have dogged us in one way or another for over a thousand years. In most cases they have been simple anti-semitism, designed to make it impossible for Jews to keep kosher.
    What Rubashkin’s is doing, therefore, is real Chillul HaShem – between its health violations and labor violations, and even its carelessness with the animals, it gives creedence to the “Kosher is Cruel” charge. I would contend that the plant’s very existence and methodology runs counter to the intent of the laws of Sh’chita, because I cannot see a way that an assembly-line shochet can bring any Kavannah to the act.
    Now the problem with what outside organizations are doing is that it triggers the Jewish community’s almost reflexive response to view as anti-semitic any criticism that comes from outside the community, regardless of its truth or value. Seems to me, though, that the kinds of criticism leveled against Rubashkin’s is no different than that leveled against any of the larger abattoirs since Fast Food Nation raised people’s awareness about the diffidence big-meat shows toward the safety of its product.
    All in all, I regard Rubashkin’s as a significant evil, because it’s goal is to destroy local shechting, and build a kosher meat monopoly. I guess I would like to see Shochets working with local organic growers to produce meat for local communities.

  3. I refuse to buy Rubashkins…almost. But they have a monopoly on the markets I go to. I have brought this up to a few of my very religious friends and they avoid the evil tongue even for this. Their reply usually is “That is PETA propaganda”.
    I buy Meal Mart, A and H ( or is it M) and another “hod something”. I can’t recall brands good, but I know it is not Rubashkins. If you even compare the Beef Fry…Rubashkins is 2 bucks cheaper but it is all fat, no meat at all. My son likes to eat this like the bacon he no longer can have…
    PLEASE some other company make the Beef Pepperoni and litle smokie links so I can really stop buying rubes.

  4. Rich, you are absolutely 100% correct. I’m not a big PETA fan, but I’d have to be blind and utterly stupid to ignore the preponderance of evidence that things are (still) not right with Agriprocessors.
    I need to quickly add, though, that it’s not only Rubashkins that’s creating image problems for us. Here’s a link to an article from the JPost (2004) by Temple Grandin:
    http://www.rrrina.com/temple_grandin.htm
    For reasons made clear in this article, my family has, for several years, refused to buy or to eat out (in restaurants or in other people’s homes) any meat from Agriprocessors, of course, but also from many other producers- Alles and MealMart included. I just cannot justify a need to eat something that is the product of such unnecessary brutality. Sure, it’s hard to find meat from places that only shecht a few animals at a time and are careful about their treatment and shechita. And, to be honest, I’m wavering back and forth considering going vegetarian (I’ve seen much more than, literally, I can stomach).
    But in the meantime, we eat meat sparingly, buy from small boutique outfits- and always keep in mind that meat is a luxury, not a necessity. No one, as far as I know, ever died from not having their favorite kind of sausage.

  5. A&H is Abeles & Heymann from the Bronx. They use Rubashkin as raw material since they cannot shecht enough on their own. The same thing goes for other labels like International & HGI.

  6. I like Meal Mart sausages and hot dogs. I also like 999 which uses Meal Mart/Alle meat only as far as I know.
    I bought a 30$ sausage stuffer on Ebay, it is heavy duty stainless commercial quality. It holds 5 lbs of meat at a time. I bought kosher collagen casings online for $15 to stuff 45 lbs. Now I make my own hot Moroccan sausages which we are enjoying very much. My kids can do it too, it is so easy.For them it is like Play doh. They freeze well too.
    The total cost is less than $5/lb. I also cut the meat with Cream of Rice. Making Sausage is easier than I would have thought and I make salami too.

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