Disease Threatens U.S. Kosher Chicken Supply at Empire Kosher and Other Plants

Vaccine Available, But Outbreaks Persist

Courtesy of Empire

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published March 01, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

A large percentage of the chickens killed at kosher slaughterhouses in recent months were unfit for kosher consumption due to a mutated chicken virus that has threatened the entire kosher poultry industry.

Industry officials say that the virus has been brought under control, yet the country’s biggest poultry producer was battling a major outbreak as recently as six weeks ago, just as the high-volume Passover holiday season neared.

The disease, a new strain of a common poultry malady called the avian reovirus, cannot harm humans. But the damage it causes to the tendons of infected birds makes those birds unkosher under Jewish law.

Up to a quarter of the birds slaughtered at some kosher plants were rendered unkosher by the virus at the height of the outbreak, according to the Orthodox Union, a major kosher certification agency.

“For a few weeks, there was a concern about a shortage and also prices going up,” said Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO of the Orthodox Union Kosher Division, a major kosher certification agency. “But that’s been resolved.”

The outbreak has particularly affected chickens bred in Pennsylvania, a state that supplies a large proportion of the kosher poultry in North America. A vaccine has been available to treat the mutated virus since October 2012, according to Patricia Dunn, a professor and avian veterinarian at Pennsylvania State University. Birds bred in flocks treated with the vaccine were available for slaughter in January.

The virus hit Empire Kosher, the state’s largest chicken producer, in late January and early February. A representative of the company said that 10% of chickens slaughtered at its Pennsylvania plant were found to be unkosher at the outbreak’s peak.

The plant’s production was halted for the day on February 28. Empire spokesman Elie Rosenfeld said that the holdup was due not to the reovirus, but rather to underweight chickens being delivered to the plant. In a March 1 report, Haaretz cited unnamed sources claiming that the plant was closed because of high rates of reovirus-afflicted birds. Rosenfeld explicitly denied this in conversations with the Forward on February 28.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.