Slaughterhouse Raid Shows Price of Cheap Meat

You’d think the 290 Guatemalans, 93 Mexicans, 2 Israelis and 4 Ukrainians arrested and detained in Postville, Iowa on May 12 were working at a call center.

Instead of knockers, stickers, bleeders, tail rippers, flankers, gutters, sawers, and plate boners at the nation’s largest supplier of kosher beef, Agriprocessors, you’d think they were wearing demure headsets and taking overnight 800-number orders in particle board cubicles.

Reports describe the shock and awe raid–the choppers and hundreds of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents–and the 306 workers charged with possession of a counterfeit identification document, aggravated identity theft and misuse of a Social Security number.

They mention the harsh 5-month prison sentences detainees face, lack of due process and families torn apart–especially “unfair” says Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza, the nation’s largest Hispanic advocacy in the Des Moines Register, because plant officials haven’t been charged.

Some reports even list Agriprocessors’ rich and varied history of environmental, humane, food safety and worker safety abuses which includes five employee amputations according to OSHA records.

But nowhere do reports mention the reason behind the raid: the only “meat” work Americans are willing to do is tending the barbecue.

This is not the first time Agriprocessors has been in the news.

Four years ago undercover investigators for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animal (PETA) videotaped workers ripping tracheas out of conscious cattle and leaving them to thrash in their own blood on the floor at the same plant.

The investigation moved the Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative Movement to condemn Agriprocessors and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to launch its own investigation which found “acts of inhumane slaughter.”

Afterwards investigators Hannah and Philip Schein went public with their identity and the fact that they themselves keep kosher–though 70 percent of Agriprocessors meat is not kosher and sold as Iowa Best Beef Brand in Albertson’s Kroger, Shop Rite, Wal-Mart, Trader Joe’s, Ralph’s, Pathmark and H.E. Butt, probably right next to the dairy case.

Nor is this the first ICE raid at a meat plant in Iowa.

Agents raided a Swift & Co. plant in Marshalltown, Iowa in December 2006 along with Swift plants in five other states, arresting over 1,200 workers.

Agriprocessors’ choice of Postville as headquarters in 1987, which doubled the population of 1,400, reflects the national trend to “move slaughterhouses closer to the corn-fed, rich Midwestern beef,” says Stephen G. Bloom, author of Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America, and a journalism teacher at the University of Iowa, in a Nieman Watchdog interview this month. “Fewer unions, cheaper land, less transportation costs, less government oversight,” are some of the advantages he says.

But even as the system of cheap meat fails and the balance of Postville’s work force heads toward Club Fed for doing the work Americans won’t, no one questions that the nation can’t afford its own meat habit if it enforces its own laws.

So while Iowa Governor Chet Culver says, “I believe it is important that we crack down on illegal immigration. “Illegal means illegal” and Postville bloggers submit that illegals “raise our health care costs” and “should go home and come back legally,” the real message comes from Marshalltown Mayor Gene Beach.

A year and a half after the raid, he can’t say for sure if Swift–which is back to full production–has hired more undocumented workers reports KCRG-TV. But in the surrounding community from which it would hire Mayor Beach says, “I’m certain there are undocumented workers.”

Martha Rosenberg is a columnist/cartoonist who writes about public health. Her latest book is Big Food, Big Pharma, Big Lies (2023). Her first book was Born with a Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp the Public Health. She can be reached at: Read other articles by Martha.

8 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Paul Wheeler said on May 30th, 2008 at 9:04am #

    It is total garbage that “they do the jobs that we won’t do”!!! When I was a teenager, the local slaughterhouse was one of the higher paying jobs in town. My adult children would LOVE to start a Lawn business, but illegals charge far less than they could afford to. Same thing for construction, I know quite a few construction workers who can’t make a living at it anymore because they can’t live on the lower wages that bosses can pay illegals. They aren’t asking for enough money to buy a new corvette, but enough to make the mortgage without taking a second job would be nice. It’s time to tell the truth: the illegal workers get jailed or deported, but the companies pay a fine smaller than the money they save by paying their next illegal work crew minimal wages. Jail the owners of the companies that hire them and see what happens! Why do you think there’s no serious effort to close our borders? Because if the borders were closed then companies would start having to pay living wages again! Please note I didn’t say any specific ethnic group, just people in our country ILLEGALLY!

  2. BRS said on May 30th, 2008 at 10:46am #

    Both of my grandfathers, one uncle and many friends worked packing house jobs in Iowa prior to the 1980’s. In 1980 packing house wages were over ten dollars per hour. Today they are far less than that. Yet meat prices have risen all that time and continue to rise. The cost of labor in the packing houses has nothing to do with the cost of meat. It only enables higher profits and salaries for the executives. The raids at Postville and Swift were long overdue. All of the Iowa communities which have packing houses today have large numbers of illegal workers. They also have high crime as these people do what they think they have to to live and send money to their families. People who break immigration laws break other laws as well. This has been hard for me to accept but it is a fact. The only problem with the raids is that they were fifteen years too late and have not extended to the executives of Swift, Tysons, Smithfield, Agri Processors and other companies who knowingly ignore the law. These companies do not employ 60 percent or more illegal workers without the executives being aware or wilfully ignorant. Just because I do not look at my speedometer does not make me innocent of speeding nor should it make the CEO’s of these companies innocent of employing illegal workers. They need to face long prison terms and the companies face huge fines. The have sold out this country for profit and are just as much traitors as the Rosenberg’s who sold the atomic bomb for money. The Rosenberg’s were punished appropriately. These executives have not been. The illegal immigrants should be sent back where they came from and fair and honest wages paid to people from this country.

  3. Frank Bubo said on May 30th, 2008 at 1:40pm #

    Illegal immigration helps business increase profits, but those profits are not passed down to the consumer. You can buy a pair of Nike sports shoes made for pennies per pair, but the retail cost puts a fabulous profit into the account of Mr. Knight.

    Latin American immigrants lower wages for others. White people do not want to room with six strangers to a bedroom and split the rent. They want good wages to support families in an American lifestyle. The immigrants make it impossible because they put downward pressure on salaries and benefits for everyone. They bring their poverty with them and happily share it with the American public by lowering the lifestyle of the working class. And then they exploit the stupid provision of the U.S. Constitution by having babies who are automatically US citizens and then they REALLY clamor to stay with their citizen children. It is getting more and more difficult to even remove them from the country! Americans better look across the border at Mexico and understand that that is what we are becoming, and fast.

  4. duaner said on May 30th, 2008 at 2:04pm #

    BRS: geez, you seem awfully convinced that justice was done in the Rosenberg case. Her brother recanted, did you know that? Mind you, he was kind of old when he did, so maybe it was just senility.

    However, the larger question of treason is one that I’d like to address. What is treason, anyway? In this case, these people allegedly sold information to another country that allowed it to develop the atom bomb much quicker than it otherwise might have. Is it treason to undermine your country if you are convinced that your country is doing wrong?

    I don’t know for sure what the motivation was for the Rosenbergs: it might have been simply cash, or it might have also included the dreaded “communist sympathies”. If they seriously believed that Communism was the way to go, and that by helping the USSR to get the atom bomb they were keeping the hopes of world communism alive, then their act was more a political one than a military one.

    Execution should never be an option for political crimes like treason, as one man’s treason is another man’s daring response to the perceived villainy of one’s own country. To say that the Rosenbergs were punished appropriately is a gross overstatement. Killing is rarely ever the appropriate response, especially to a political act.

    If someone sabotaged the war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, would that be a case of treason? Considering that both of these wars are basically illegal wars of agression, wouldn’t “treason” of the sort that could lead to the end of these wars be the “appropriate” resonse? Should the perpetrators of such treason be executed for it?

  5. Tim M said on May 31st, 2008 at 4:35am #

    The sad fact is that businesses and government, both ours and foreign governments, are conspiring to destroy the American middle class.

    Make no mistake: they know that there will be a backlash against these immigrants. In fact, they’re counting on it. It’s the same control technique that has been used for thousands of years by the elite: keep people focused on an external threat so that they don’t lay the blame on the internal threat, that being the elites.

    Working class people from other countries come here because they are desperate. Mexico is a failed modern state. The government is a kleptocracy that stifles legitimate business and encourages crime and corruption.

    People must realize that our common enemy is the rich bankers and the powerful investment houses in New York, London, and Brussels. The only way for the people to regain power is to decentralize, remove themselves from dependence on bankers, develop barter systems, localize agriculture and return to heirloom seeds for biodiversity.

    Guerrilla gardening, energy self-sufficiency, promotion of mass transit, creation of community-based currency, like the Ithaca work-hours system, and other means of decentralization offer hope that we can divorce ourselves from this tragic, abusive system.

    Think globally, act locally. Start working within your community. The banker’s grand system is coming to a rapid halt very shortly. The housing bust and the derivatives crisis are going to explode the world economy. In the wake of this fiasco, the elites plan a massive, homicidal depopulation program and a martial law police state to sweep away the last vestiges of the U.S. constitutional republic.

    Be prepared!

  6. anthony innes said on May 31st, 2008 at 5:08pm #

    Illegals .IMPEACH shrub and those in congress who take the corporate $ . Follow the money , IMPEACH the criminal management class if you want to eat and get your jobs back . The Corporation / Banksta filth are leading all of us to the slaughter house .Are you a nation of sheep being herded by the dogs of war . Defend your Constitution . IMPEACH .

  7. Bea Elliott said on June 23rd, 2008 at 12:07pm #

    Here’s the cherry on the vegan cake regarding Agri-processor:

    They are currently recruiting replacement workers from the homeless population in Amerillo, Texas.

    Of course they will be offered the standard min wage of $6.00 an hour to do the most horrific of jobs that has a record of employee alcholism, depression, suicide and time spent in prisons. I understand offering a hand up….. but with Agri-processor’s past history of human and animal rights violations, it’s exploitation and abuses – this whole “hiring of the homeless” leaves a very bad taste in my mouth.

  8. Bea Elliott said on November 6th, 2008 at 9:35pm #

    Just a look back at how Agriprocessor’s abuses began and where they’ve ended now… bankrupt, convicted and jailed… For the abuses to workers. I’m longing for the punishments of the crimes against the animals as well.

    Iit’s all so distasteful. It’s an unforgiving cycle of victims – that the “meat” product puts us in. Man would do himself (and the animals) a world of good to evaluate the losses – and to go Vegan.