After Scandal, Slow Start for Ethical Certification

Magen Tzedek Yet to Put Stamp on Any Kosher Products

By Seth Berkman

Published October 03, 2012, issue of October 05, 2012.

Magen Tzedek, the kosher ethics certification program launched four years ago, has yet to certify its first food producer.

In fact, Rabbi Morris Allen, the group’s program director, told the Forward that independent auditors only completed their initial audit of the project’s first potential candidate to receive the Magen Tzedek seal in August. And even that process is now stalled.

The program, which requires those who would receive its seal to fill out a long form covering their policies on everything from worker salaries to animal welfare, had promised its supporters it would be operating by spring of 2011. But that hasn’t happened, and Allen, the program’s founder, pleads patience.

“It’s slower than we had imagined at this point,” Allen said. “But given the fact we live in a world where people are always looking to cut corners, often at the expense of workers or animals, we remain convinced that our product is the right product and our message is the right message.”

Allen’s admits he was not fully prepared for the minute details and lethargic pace that has come with launching an organization that represents, as he sees it, “the ethical conscience of Torah.”

“I’m a pulpit rabbi, not a businessperson,” he told the Forward in an August 30 interview — some four years after he and other Conservative rabbis introduced the concept of certifying the ethical standing of kosher food. His initiative, known as Magen Tzedek, still has no products carrying its seal.

Numerous delays have hindered the project, chief among them a rigorous approval process unlike any other certification in kashrut. All the while in the background, an emotional debate continues with the Orthodox Jewish community over the validity of such a seal. The Magen Tzedek Commission is disappointed by the postponements, but remains committed to its goal. Its members say they will not sacrifice their strict standards for speed, and they expect to see products carrying their seal by the end of 2012.

Joe Regenstein, a Cornell University professor of food science who has reviewed the standards at various stages, wrote in an e-mail, “Once we realized that this was a much bigger project than originally anticipated, the effort to generate publicity was ratcheted down.”



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