An animal rights group has captured videotape that it says shows cattle at a kosher slaughterhouse enduring an "absolutely outrageous" level of cruelty.

PETA (search) claims the video, posted on its Web site Tuesday afternoon, shows repeated acts of animal cruelty at AgriProcessors Inc. (search) in northeastern Iowa. The organization filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (search) on Monday that alleged improper slaughtering practices.

"They're ripping the tracheas and esophagi out of fully conscious animals, dumping them out of pens into pools of their own blood. The animals stand and bellow and attempt to escape for up to three and even four minutes in some cases," Bruce Friedrich, a spokesman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said late Tuesday.

But Rabbi Chaim Kohn, the plant's supervising rabbi, told The New York Times in Wednesday's editions that the tapes were "testimony that this is being done right." In kosher slaughter, the animals' throats are sliced with a razor-sharp blade, intended to cause instant and painless death. Jewish law forbids stunning them first.

Federal law considers properly conducted religious slaughter as humane, and allows Jewish and Muslim slaughterhouses to forgo stunning. But the rules outlaw leaving animals killed that way conscious for an extended period of time.

The PETA Web site describes the videos as showing AgriProcessors workers ignoring "the suffering of cows who are still sensible to pain after having their throats slit by the ritual slaughterer."

In it's complaint, PETA said its investigator filmed the slaughter of 278 animals, 25 percent which remained conscious "for a significant period of time."

"I think we should attempt to ponder how we would feel in similar situations. The level of cruelty is absolutely outrageous," Friedrich said.

PETA told the Times that a volunteer was hired at the plant last summer and used a hidden camera to obtain the footage.

A man who answered a phone call from The Associated Press at AgriProcessors late Tuesday night said media questions would be answered the following morning and hung up. The plant is the world's largest glatt kosher slaughterhouse and the producer of Rubashkin's and Aaron's Best meats. Glatt, under kosher law, means that the animals are free of certain physical defects.

A telephone message left after business hours for the Orthodox Union, a major supervisor of kosher food in the United States, was not immediately returned.

In May 2003, PETA wrote to officials at AgriProcessors and asked them to investigate and take steps to make certain that cruelty was not occurring there.

According to the PETA Web site, AgriProcessors attorneys wrote back saying "Kosher slaughter is being conducted in accordance with the letter and spirit of Jewish law, which prescribes the most humane treatment of animals that has been known throughout human history."

Friedrich said kosher slaughter is more than twice as well regulated as conventional slaughter, being overseen by both the USDA and the Orthodox Union, and is widely believed to be more humane. "What this case indicates is that anybody who is eating meat is supporting horrific cruelty to animals," Friedrich said.