Tnuva Spared Animal-cruelty Charges in Meat-plant Case

Four workers at Tnuva's Beit She'an slaughterhouse face charges following television expose, but veterinarians and managers are off the hook.

The allegedly widespread cruelty to animals at Tnuva’s Adom Adom slaughterhouse in Beit She’an shocked the country when it was revealed over a year ago, but four months ago the only charges filed were against the slaughtering manager and his deputy, and two contract workers on the slaughtering line. No charges were brought against Tnuva, any of its executives, senior managers at the plant or the veterinarians who supervised it.

But lawyer Yossi Wolfson of the Let the Animals Live organization doesn’t think Tnuva or the senior managers should get off scot-free. He plans to file an appeal with Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, on behalf of the aforementioned organization and Anonymous for Animal Rights, against the decision not to charge those whom he says were ultimately responsible for the cruelty.

“We can’t accept that those who bear the primary responsibility for these actions evade criminal responsibility,” Wolfson said. “They are the ones who had the tools for instituting procedures, training, implementing, supervising and enforcing, and instead they either issued cruel instructions or watched silently as this abuse was taking place.”

The animal abuse at Adom Adom was exposed in December 2012 after Ronen Bar, a researcher for the investigative consumer affairs television show “Kolbotek" and an Anonymous activist, went undercover at the plant, working there for a month and documenting severe and ongoing cruelty to the animals designated for slaughter. The alleged abuse included repeated electric shocks to get the animals to move, including shocks to the animals’ genitals and eyes; beatings of calves and lambs with sticks and pipes; dragging lambs by the legs and various incidents of kicking, pushing, ear-pulling and other abuse.

Indictments were filed against slaughtering manager Eli Sheetrit, his deputy, Baha Darbashi, and contract workers Fadi Hadiri and Salah Foudi. Animal rights activists want the veterinarians charged, as well as Moshe Ben Shoshan, Adom Adom’s operations manager who resigned after the “Kolbotek” expose, and Zion Dayan, the plant’s safety manager.

Material from the police investigation obtained by Haaretz raises questions about why the prosecution filed only four indictments, since under questioning one of the supervising veterinarians and Dayan told police that the shocking and beating of animals was routine.

“Electric shockers were used on the calves as a first resort, and the minute the shockers stopped working, they would hit the calves with plastic pipes and that made noise,” veterinarian Dr. Yvgeny Borshtzevsky told police. “They also used broomsticks and rakes to push the calves along. The broomsticks and rakes were used to push them and to hit them on their bodies. I didn’t approve these actions but I didn’t try to stop them either, because I didn’t see any other way to get the calves to move.”

Borshtzevsky said all the plant’s veterinarians were aware that sticks, pipes and electric prods were being used. Another veterinarian questioned, Dr. Khaled Assaf, denied knowledge of their widespread use, though he admitted knowing that sticks and shockers were occasionally used, while chief veterinarian Dr. Wassem Jarisi claimed he didn’t know anything about animal abuse and complained that a lack of manpower made it impossible to supervise the plant properly.

“The abuse I saw on the program shocked me, too, and never took place in my presence,” said Jarisi. “I’m sure that if I’d been able, from a manpower perspective, to be present there the entire day this wouldn’t have happened. I would never have let it happen and I would have intervened immediately,” he told police.

When Dayan, the safety manager, was asked by police how often he had seen animals beaten or shocked at the plant, he responded, “All the time.” Nevertheless he told investigators that the “Kolbotek” exposé had been edited tendentiously and did not reflect the reality. “The incidents that were filmed are isolated ones,” he said, adding that things he had told the program’s reporter were taken out of context. For example, he said he had told the reporter that in exceptional cases, when it was required to move a calf without touching him, “you can use the shocker, but only on his rear.”

The operations manager, Ben Shoshan, told police “You won’t find evidence of instructions to hit animals. I personally never saw, wasn’t present at, nor was I made aware of abuse and cruelty of the type seen in the [Kolbotek] report.” Nevertheless, Ben Shoshan admitted that shockers were used routinely on cattle to hurry them onto the scales. He also admitted to being aware that electric prods and sticks were used on injured cattle.

But the testimony of other workers contradicts Ben Shoshan and Dayan. Sheetrit, the slaughtering manager, told police that dragging a lamb off a truck by its front leg so that the other lambs will follow it “isn’t abuse. It’s part of how to get the lambs off the truck more quickly. Everyone at the plant knew this was the method… no one ever told us that this or that method used in the pens was forbidden.”

Foudi, one of the contract workers charged, said Ben Shoshan knew about the sticks, the dragging of lambs and the use of electric prods. “Moshiko would come to the place, look at us from above, and would see what I was doing and what the other workers were doing.”

Foudi added that because many of their animals came from Australia, the plant was subject to periodic visits by Australian inspectors. When the Australians were at the plant, he said, Sheetrit told him not to use the electric prods or sticks, “and to be nice to the calves and lambs. So I asked, if it’s forbidden to act in front of the Australians the way we do all the time, why do we continue to treat the calves and lambs that way when the Australians aren’t at the plant? That means that what we are doing is forbidden, it’s a mistake, and everyone knows,” said Foudi.

Despite these testimonies, and although the Agriculture Ministry’s prosecutors believed that more indictments should be filed, state prosecutors decided not to charge any senior Tnuva or plant officials, or the veterinarians. Wolfson of Let the Animals Live insists that the available evidence points to the criminal culpability of all of them, and that the Penal Code, the Cruelty to Animals Law and case law all make it possible and even mandatory to bring them to trial.

The Northern District prosecutors’ office said, “After a careful examination of the evidentiary material and the legal issues arising from it, an exceptional and precedent-setting indictment was filed not just against low-level employees, but also against the slaughtering line manager and his deputy, including for issuing instructions (and not just for committing actual abuse).”

The prosecution added, “After hearings conducted for all the suspects that wanted them, including executives of the plant and of Tnuva, there wasn’t sufficient evidence establishing criminal culpability for the crimes of cruelty and abuse of animals among suspects other than those charged, such as the plant managers and veterinarians whose names are mentioned in the inquiry. It was also decided that given the lack of evidence pointing to the plant manager and Tnuva executives’ involvement in or knowledge of the violations ... or that those charged were acting as an ‘organ’ of the Tnuva company, it was not possible to sustain criminal charges against Tnuva as a corporation.”

Yaron Kaminsky