In December US prosecutors accused the Iowa-based firm of supplying more than US$5m of non-Halal meat to the UAE, Kuwait, and a number of countries in Asia. In total the firm and its executives are facing more than 100 charges, including money laundering, mail and wire fraud, and conspiracy to make and use false statements and documents.
Last week former Midamar operations manager Philip Payne agreed to a deal with prosecutors and pleaded guilty to a number of charges in exchange for a reduced sentence of up to one year in prison and a fine of US$20,000. Payne has also agreed to co-operate with the prosecution’s case against Midamar owners Yahya Nasser Aossey, Jalel Farris Aossey and William B. Aossey Jr., who have denied the charges.
Owners approved deception
The most striking admission from Payne was that Midamar would sometimes supplement its supposedly Halal exports with Kosher beef, without any involvement from Muslim personnel. This was done to cope with rising demand for Midamar’s beef products, according to Payne.
“[B]etween about April 2007 and December 2009, employees of Midamar Corporation of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, knowingly and without authorisation, removed USDA marks of inspection from meat products and replaced them with marks of inspection from facilities other than where the meat was slaughtered. This was done at the direction, and with the knowledge and approval, of Midamar’s owners and managers,” said a statement from the US Attorney’s office.
“Further, false USDA export documents, health certificates, and Halal export certificates were generated for at least 22 shipments of beef during the same period. These and other actions were taken with the intent to make the beef eligible for import into countries that would otherwise not have accepted the beef shipments,” the statement continued.
First amendment violations
Midamar and the Aossey family have denied all the government’s allegations, and accused authorities of meddling in a religious matter, thus violating the US constitution’s first amendment guaranteeing the separation of church and state. In a statement issued last month, the firm said the charges had arisen from “administrative infractions involving facility numbers” in 2010, which, it said, were not related to its products’ Halal status.
“Midamar’s supply of quality USDA approved food products to international and domestic consumers will continue without interruption. All operations and functions of the company will continue as normal. As a supplier of Halal foods the products are certified by reputable certification agencies. Midamar slaughter methods have been vetted by domestic and international Halal auditors over 40 years and the company continues to maintain its high level of Halal integrity,” said the company’s statement.
On 25 December, Christmas day, the firm also extended an invitation to Halal auditors to inspect its facilities. It said it would be “irrational and counterproductive” for the firm to sell non-Halal food to Halal consumers.
“The Halal consumer is concerned about the permissibility of the food they eat. Midamar wants to assure all consumers that while the Halal food industry and scholars may not agree on all aspects of Halal definitions, Midamar is among the minority in the USA that remains clear about its Halal practices and thus seeks to dispel the suspicions and rumours that have surfaced over the past week,” said the company in its 25 December statement.
Trials for Yaha and Jalel Aossey are due to start on 17 February, while the trial for their father, William Aossey, is scheduled for 9 March.