The Latest News From the Kosher Meat Industry
Yeshiva University Panel Discussion
On December 9, four Orthodox machers participated in a panel discussion titled "The Kosher Quandary: Ethics and Kashrut" at Yeshiva University. Video footage of the speakers' presentations can be seen here. Kudos to the event's organizers for putting together such an important meeting of the minds for the benefit of Yeshiva University students and the general public.
Rabbi Avi Shafran (of Agudath Israel of America) and Rabbi Menachem Genack (of the Orthodox Union) argued very clearly the Orthodox position that the ethics of a kosher meat company's conduct do not invalidate the kashrut of the meat produced, a very specific and independent consideration. Rabbi Genack suggested that affairs (e.g., environmental, labor) should be overseen by the government, not kosher authorities.
Shmuly Yanklowitz of the Orthodox social justice group Uri L'Tzdek was the lone anti-establishment voice. Yanklowitz stressed that kosher consumers must be concerned about ethical matters, particularly labor conditions, in addition to whether food is kosher. “Social justice is not some abstract concept. … People’s lives are at stake,” said Yanklowitz. "Are we really willing to argue that it’s only anti-Semitism when others look to [Jews] to be moral exemplars?"
Noticeably absent were any non-Orthodox spokespeople (Rabbi Morris Allen of the Conservative movement's Hekhsher Tzedek initiative said he would have loved to speak at the event) and anyone discussing vegetarianism as an option for ethical eating. Click here to read The Jew & The Carrot's account of the event.
The Apparent Kosher Meat Shortage
In the wake of the apparent kosher meat shortage, more companies are increasing their production. On December 1, the Associated Press reported that Wise Kosher Natural Poultry Inc. was "turning out more" and that A.D. Rosenblatt Kosher Meats hired more rabbis for kosher inspection and was shechting animals five days per week instead of three.
Is there really a kosher meat shortage? While there is a shortage in many stores and restaurants, Failed Messiah notes that AgriProcessors kept more than $11 million worth of frozen meat. The reason why is unclear, but Failed Messiah does shed some light on the subject.
Ethical Seals for Kosher Restaurants
Kosher restaurants in New York and Los Angeles will now be eligible for ethical seals if they treat their workers fairly. Click here for the full story from the JTA. The article explains, "The New York and Los Angeles efforts are modeled closely after the Tav Chevrati, or social seal, a similar initiative run by the 4-year-old Israeli nonprofit Bema’aglei Tzedek, or Circles of Justice. The Bema'aglei Tzedek seal is granted free to restaurants that are seen as respecting workers' rights and being accessible to those with disabilities. More than 300 restaurants in Israel, including 130 in Jerusalem, display the seal in their windows."
Another Environmental Scandal for People Tired of the Labor and Animal Welfare Ones
The former owner and operator of a kosher poultry plant in Pennsylvania were charged "by agents from the [Pennsylvania] Attorney General's Environmental Crimes Section with discharging industrial waste including poultry blood, feathers, hearts and gizzards into a Schuylkill River tributary," according to a news release from Pennsylvania's attorney general. The defendants "face a maximum penalty of 255 years in prison and $527,000 fine."
Another Gem in the Forward
Nathaniel Popper had an in-depth article in the Forward titled "How the Rubashkins Changed the Way Jews Eat in America." Popper wrote, "In the 1980s, before [AgriProcessors] had opened, almost all fresh kosher meat had been sold through local butchers. It came in raw quarters from slaughterhouses that were rented out by rabbis, and it rarely made it beyond major cities on the coasts. . . . The Rubashkins created a world in which it was possible to buy fresh kosher beef and poultry in ordinary supermarkets across the country, even in places that had few Jews."
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach on Animal Welfare
I've read two Shmuley Boteach books this year, so I couldn't help but share his thoughts on AgriProcessors from a Jerusalem Post article. "To be sure, Judaism commands the highest ethical treatment of animals, including the commandment to feed one's livestock and pets before oneself," wrote Boteach. "Indeed, the whole purpose of shechita is the severing of an animal's carotid arteries leading to death by asphyxiation so that an animal dies without suffering. I for one applaud many of PETA's goals of ensuring humane treatment of animals, even as I decry some of its more radical means …."