Kosher Industry Lacks Contingency Plan

By Marissa Brostoff

Published June 05, 2008, issue of June 13, 2008.

In the wake of a massive raid at the country’s largest kosher slaughterhouse, kosher authorities acknowledge that they have no contingency plan that could replace the company’s kosher meat production.

Since the raid at Agriprocessors slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa, the company has struggled to ramp up production in a factory that has supplied more than half of the country’s kosher meat production. The supply was put into further doubt when the Orthodox Union, the country’s largest kosher certifying agency, announced that it would stop providing kosher certification to Agriprocessors products if the company is convicted of criminal charges.

When asked how the void might be filled if Agriprocessors lost its certification, the head of the O.U.’s kosher division, Rabbi Menachem Genack, said, “They don’t exist.”

According to Genack, none of the country’s smaller kosher slaughterhouses has the facilities to increase production enough to offset the loss of Agriprocessors, at least in terms of red meat. Unlike Agriprocessors, most kosher meat companies do not own their slaughterhouses. Instead, Genack said, they rent out small spaces from large nonkosher plants.

Yosef Wikler, editor of Kashrus Magazine, suggested that kosher slaughterhouses in South America — some of which are managed by United States-based companies, including Agriprocessors — would become more important to America’s kosher meat market if Agriprocessors were to be indicted.

Genack disagreed, saying that American consumers dislike South American beef, which is leaner than its North American counterpart. Additionally, the O.U. is reluctant to provide certification to plants in South America, because of a controversial slaughter technique commonly employed there called shackle-and-hoist.

“They’re not going to drop Agriprocessors. They can’t drop them,” said Menachem Lubinsky, editor of the online news service Kosher Today and a consultant to Agriprocessors. “I don’t see how they could have a contingency plan.”

While the O.U. initially expressed a willingness to drop its certification of Agriprocessors, the kosher certifying agency has sounded more reluctant to do so as time has gone on. After Aaron Rubashkin, founder and owner of Agriprocessors, said that he would replace his son, Sholom, as CEO, Genack said that due to the management change, the O.U. would not be compelled to drop its certification even in the case of a criminal indictment.

A new Agriprocessors CEO has yet to be appointed. According to Avi Lyon, a consultant for United Food and Commercial Workers, the union that represents slaughterhouse employees, people inside the company have said that Sholom Rubashkin would remain at the helm of the plant regardless of his official title.

“Basically what we’re hearing is that any changes that occur will be cosmetic,” Lyon said.



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