The US federal government is investigating kosher slaughterhouses and suppliers for possible antitrust practices, according to a lawyer for one of the firms.
AgriProcessors Inc., the world's largest kosher slaughterhouse, received a grand jury subpoena requesting documents and was cooperating with the investigation, attorney Nathan Lewin said Friday.
"It has been told that neither the corporation, nor any corporate officer or employee is presently a target of the investigation," Lewin said in a statement.
It was not immediately clear exactly how many slaughterhouses and suppliers were involved in the probe. Lewin said a number of meatpackers had received subpoenas.
The U.S. Department of Justice did not immediately return a phone call for comment from The Associated Press late Friday. A telephone number listed for AgriProcessors Inc. was out of service Saturday.
The investigation was first reported Thursday in The Jewish Week newspaper.
'Substandard working conditions'
The Forward weekly reported earlier last week that the slaughterhouse is being probed by Jewish organizations in response to its article regarding substandard working condition at the slaughterhouse.
The Forward's first article about conditions at Agriprocessors appeared in late May, and came out of interviews with dozens of Hispanic immigrant workers at the plant. It is estimated that some 90 percent of the plant's workers are Hispanic immigrants, many of them undocumented.
Industry experts told the Forward that wages paid to workers at AgriProcessors are among the lowest in the slaughterhouse industry, despite the premium price at which AgriProcessors sells its kosher meat. Several workers at the plant also told the Forward they received virtually no safety training, which they said contributed to accidental amputations and other health problems.
The plant accounts for more than half of all violations handed out to Iowa slaughterhouses by the Occupational Safety Health Administration this year.
Based in Iowa, AgriProcessors employs about 700 people. Trained rabbis at the plant slaughter cows at a rate of about one every three minutes. The meat is sold under the brands Iowa's Best Beef, Rubashkin's and Aaron's Best.
The slaughterhouse became the focus of controversy two years ago when People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, made public an undercover videotape showing steers walking or bellowing up to three minutes after their throats were slit.
The group claimed the video proved the animals were conscious and victims of cruel and inhumane treatment.
Company officials have said that PETA's claims were misguided and that the video depicted only the involuntary movements animals make after death.