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Third Kosher Slaughterhouse Halts Production, Heightening Worries About Meat Shortage

POSTVILLE, Iowa — In developments that are likely to cripple the availability of kosher beef in large parts of America, three of the five largest slaughterhouses producing kosher beef have halted production this week.

All eyes have been on the nation’s largest kosher slaughterhouse, in Postville, Iowa, which stopped producing beef last week due to a series of legal problems and arrests at its parent company, Agriprocessors. That company also owns a slaughterhouse in Gordon, Neb., which is thought to be the nation’s fifth-largest plant producing kosher meat. While little attention has been paid to the Gordon plant, local officials told the Forward that it stopped operating in October.

Now, in unrelated developments, executives at America’s third-largest kosher beef slaughterhouse, located in Minnesota, told the Forward that production there has been brought to a complete halt due to a fire.

“We’re not killing anything right now,” said Bill Gilger, CEO of North Star Beef, which is located in Buffalo Lake, Minn. “We’re adding to the shortage of kosher beef, having nothing to do with what is going on Postville, but just to do with our own situation here.”

“Whatever it is, there’s going to be a tremendous void in the market,” said Rabbi Menachem Genack, head of O.U. Kosher, the largest certifying agency for kosher meat.

The largest player in the kosher beef industry has been Agriprocessors. Last week, the company’s former CEO was arrested on the same day that a bank initiated foreclosure proceedings against the meat producer. The company had been killing more than 500 head of cattle each day in kosher production, but that number has grown smaller and smaller since an immigration raid in May took away nearly 400 of the company’s workers.

Last week, the plant stopped all production of beef, and on Monday the company’s new CEO said that the company would not be producing meat again anytime soon. In Postville this weekend, operations at the plant were being shut down, and employees were making plans to leave the city.

In Gordon, Neb., Agriprocessors had been producing nearly 150 cattle each day, according to the Gordon city manager, Fred Hlava. Hlava said that production ceased before the Jewish High Holy Days in October and has not started again. Hlava said he has had trouble getting any good information from Agriprocessors.

“I’m not sure what’s transpiring,” Hlava told the Forward.

Before the raid, Agriprocessors did a significant amount of beef slaughtering at a plant in South America. Those operations have also stopped.

Beef production at the North Star Beef facility in Minnesota had been sold under the label of Alle, a kosher meat company based in the New York City borough of Queens. Alle slaughters its kosher beef at two slaughterhouses owned by other companies. The largest slaughterhouse that Alle uses, Aurora Packing Company in Illinois, is still operating. Marvin Fagel, Aurora’s CEO, told the Forward that he is aware of the shortages.

“We can’t just make more products,” Fagle said. “We can’t work longer.”

North Star was Alle’s second-largest slaughter facility, where 330 cattle a day were in kosher production as recently as last week, according to Gilger, the North Star Beef CEO. Alle representatives at the Queens headquarters on Monday could not be reached for comment.

Gilger said that a contractor had started a fire in the slaughterhouse in June that affected the area where kosher meat was soaked and salted. Slaughtering had stopped for two weeks immediately after the fire in June but had begun again. Recently, though, Gilger said the insurance company had failed to cover the costs of the fire.

“We’ve got a $3 million business interruption claim, and they haven’t paid a dime,” Gilger said.

Gilger said that production will be down on Monday and Tuesday but that the company is hoping to begin slaughtering again on Wednesday.

“There’s a definite shortage of kosher beef right now,” Gilger said.

For complete Forward coverage of Agriprocessors and the kosher meat industry, click here.

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