Magen Tzedek, Ethical Kosher Seal, Stalled Amid Orthodox Opposition

Four Years After Launch, Little Visible Progress Made

Little Change: The raid on the Agriprocessors kosher meat plant spurred the launch of Magen Tzadek. But four years later, what is there to show for it?
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Little Change: The raid on the Agriprocessors kosher meat plant spurred the launch of Magen Tzadek. But four years later, what is there to show for it?

By Seth Berkman

Published May 20, 2013, issue of May 31, 2013.
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But Allen insisted that Magen Tzedek hears “all too often” from smaller companies it approaches that their hekhsher agencies tell them, “You don’t need this,” or, “Why pay for this?”

“The powers against us are pretty unbelievable, he said. “There are attacks on us just because we come from a different part of the Jewish people, and that should be of great concern.”

But that alone may not explain why Magen Tzedek has yet to gain any traction. The current standards include a plethora of specific requirements a company must fulfill to be certified as ethically kosher: categories and subcategories of labor practices, animal welfare conditions, consumer issues, and issues of corporate integrity, environmental impact, traceability of food supplies and record keeping.

Hanau said he has talked to representatives from Magen Tzedek “a number of times” but has serious reservations. His small business faces difficulties meeting all of Magen Tzedek’s requirements.

“We have about six full-time employees, and there’s only so much money I can spend on compliance,” he said.

As an example, Hanau noted that Grow and Behold doesn’t own its own slaughterhouses. “We work with plants to slaughter and package our special animals,” he said, “so how do Magen Tzedek’s rules apply to a business I can’t fully control?” His chicken orders may be 1% of another plant’s workload, Hanau said. “Realistically, how can I ask a plant I’m a small part of to make these kinds of changes?”

Allen admitted that concerns like these are issues that will have to be addressed and have caused problems he did not expect.

“Our standards are fixed,” he said. “How we work with companies to get to them is not fixed.”

Aaron Gross, founder and CEO of Farm Forward, an advocacy group that looks to transform American eating habits, said Magen Tzedek could gain traction if it focused on the ethical side and didn’t try to combine its policies with kashrut, a combination that has been known to anger Orthodox authorities.

Meanwhile, the company’s delays mean that donors have yet to see a return on their donations. The Nathan Cummings Foundation, a family foundation with a focus on social justice, has given grants totaling at least $245,000 to Magen Tzedek since 2008. In its most recent publicly available tax returns for 2011 the group reported contributions, gifts and grants of $109,261.

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