Thursday, May 22, 2008

Reconsidering AgriProcessors Products

Published: 05/22/2008

The leadership of the U.S. Conservative movement is urging Jews to consider not patronizing AgriProcessors, the nation's largest kosher slaughterhouse.

In a joint statement released Thursday evening, the movement's Rabbinical Association and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism declared themselves "shocked and appalled" at working conditions at AgriProcessors, which is under federal investigation for employing illegal aliens. The groups asked their members "to evaluate whether it is appropriate to consume Rubashkin products until this situation is addressed."

The advisory extends not only to products bought retail but also to meat and poultry bought at restaurants and for private functions such as weddings and bar mitzvahs. The statement falls short of the boycott hoped for by the more activist wing of the Conservative rabbinate, and leaves the decision in the hands of the individual consumer.

Still, Rabbi Morris Allen, head of the movement's hekhsher tzedek commission, said that "it is the first statement from the organized Jewish community that reminds people they need to evaluate the food they purchase and eat" from an ethical perspective.

No other Jewish movement has issued a statement on the issue.

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, head of the Union of Reform Judaism, said it was appropriate that the Conservative movement take the lead because unlike the Reform movement, the Conservative movement calls on its members to keep kosher. Noting his own "deep distress" at the news coming out of Postville, Iowa, where AgriProcessors is located, Yoffie said it is "absolutely" time for the Jewish community to demand similar investigations into all kosher slaughterhouses, because the case "has raised suspicions about all kosher food."

Rabbi Menachem Genack, head of the Orthodox Union's kosher department, the largest kosher certifier of AgriProcessors, said the O.U. is awaiting the outcome of legal proceedings against the company before coming to any decision. If AgriProcessors is found guilty of criminal charges, he said, the O.U. will withdraw its kosher certification. Meat and poultry produced by AgriProcessors is sold under the following kosher and non-kosher labels: Aaron's Best, Aaron's Choice, David's, European Glatt, Iowa Best Beef, Nevel, Rubashkin's, Shor Habor, and Supreme Kosher.