Fight over kosher slaughterhouse in Iowa takes a salty turn.
AMIR EF RATI
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
or more than a decade, tension has
been a way of life in Postville, Iowa,
where a group of Chasidic Jews are the
small town's power brokers, owning the
top industry and employer, Agriprocessors Inc.,
the world's largest glatt-kosher slaughterhouse.
In the saltiest chapter yet, a group of farmers is
fighting the company's new, $10.7 million
mechanical wastewater treatment plant, which
when complete will discharge more than 14.5
tons of salt used by the slaughterhouse into local
streams every day.
Construction of the plant began last month
with $7.5 million in federal grants and loans. But
on April 28, Northeast Iowa Citizens for Clean
Water filed an appeal with the Iowa Supreme
Court to stop construction of the plant until a
trial — slated for February — decides the legality
of the proposed level of salt discharge.
The litigation will focus on an August 2003
permit issued by Iowa's Department of Natural
Resources, or DNR, authorizing the salt dis-
charge. The state's supreme court will review the
appeal for a stay later this month.
The citizens group and environmen-
talists in Iowa claim the proposed dis-
charge — more than twice the amount
the slaughterhouse currently releases
into the town's lagoon system —
would violate state and federal water
quality standards. They also say it
would damage the ecosystem of the
scenic Yellow River, a rare and valu-
able cold-water trout stream that con-
nects to aquifers tapped by the farm-
ers' drinking wells, which they say would be con-
"I'm definitely in favor of the new plant," said
Jerry Anderson, an environmental lawyer and law
professor at Drake University in Des Moines who
is representing the citizens group, which has 15
core members. "But the plant will not take one
molecule of salt out of the water. It's just going to
dilute it. This doesn't comply with the law."
Anderson's clients are asking Agriprocessors to
add technology to the new plant that would
remove salt from outgoing wastewater. On two
separate occasions this year, the citizens group
failed at the district court level to get a stay on
the plant's construction.
Sholom Rubashkin, vice president of
Agriprocessors, said his company is being targeted
by farmers who are purposely ignoring other
sources of pollution in the area. "If people are so
permit after hearing from
scientific experts who sup-
ported the plan, and he
played a key role in negotiat-
ing a settlement between the
city, the DNR and
Agriprocessors over the specifics
Concern Or Bias?
the plant's operations.
"Which contaminant are they
said the citizens
attacking? Salt — which
belongs to the Jewish people."
of cooperation" that made the
Salt is used to leach blood
G, et 0 OM
plant possible and was jeopardizing
from the meat, an essential part
funds for the project from the U.S.
of making meat kosher. Rubashkin added
Department of Agriculture and the
that Agriprocessors, which will pay back $4.5 mil-
lion in federal loans for the plant, is making a
"They're breaking the backs of the town. For
tremendous improvement" to the environment
those who want to see the Jews leave, this is a great
because the plant will reduce pollutants such as
opportunity," he said. "And by holding the project
ammonia, which kills fish.
up, they're polluting the Yellow River worse."
"This is all done with the blessing of the DNR,"
As for the argument that Agriprocessors should
Rubashkin said. "This is the most researched per-
technology at the plant to remove salt,
_ mit ever given in the state of Iowa."
said there was "no known cost-effective
The Lubavitch Chasidim came to Iowa from
removal of chloride."
Brooklyn in the late 1980s to take over a defunct
meat processing plant. Chasidic Jews now make up
about 10 percent of Postville's 2,200 residents, and
the slaughterhouse employs more than 600 people.
In the 1990s, the City of Postville annexed the
Since they arrived, the Chasidim often have been
land on which the slaughterhouse is located. There
at odds with local farmers — and much of the rest
have since been many lawsuits involv-
ing the slaughterhouse that are pend-
ing, settled or already adjudicated.
In 2001, for example, Postville filed
a lawsuit to recover $2 million that it
said Agriprocessors owed in unpaid
wastewater-related fines, penalties and
user fees dating to 1990. That and
—Aaron Goldsmith, Chasidic Jew other, similar cases were settled out of
court in mid-2002.
Agriprocessors plans to expand pro-
duction from 760,000 pounds to 1.1
million pounds of meat per day once the waste-
of Postville, says Stephen Bloom, author of
plant is up and running in mid-2005. The
Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America.
Postville, which is doing the actual con-
When they opened the slaughterhouse, "there
struction of the wastewater plant on land owned by
were farmers who pleaded with the Lubavitchers
Agriprocessors, supports the project.
not to dump the tonnage of salt," said Bloom, a
"Many, many hours were spent by Department
journalism professor at the University of Iowa.
of Natural Resources engineers looking into the
"Their response was consistent: 'This is how we go
question of whether this permit was a good idea
about our religion. If you disagree with us, you're
and whether it was protective of the environment,"
an anti-Semite.' There seemed to be little concern
said Steven Pace, an attorney for the city. "The
by the Lubavitchers about the environment."
conclusion was that it was."
But Aaron Goldsmith — the only Chasidic Jew
But Anderson said the DNR never conducted a
to serve on Postville's City Council, until his term
formal environmental study of possible effects on
ended in January — said there was "no science
the Yellow River ecosystem, even after 1,300
whatsoever to support that there will be any nega-
Postville residents signed a petition in March ask-
tive effect" on the environment from the plant's
ing for such a review.
DNR lawyers said they could not comment on
During his three-year term, Goldsmith served on
pending litigation. ❑
a 10-person city committee that unanimously
approved the Department of Natural Resources
concerned about the environment,
let's talk about all the other pollu-
tants, like those from the hog
farms. Why are they not con-
cerned about that?" he said.
"For those who want to see the Jews
leave, this is a great opportunity."