Monday, December 20, 2010

The Rise of Ethical Kashrut

Baltimore Jewish Times
December 20, 2010

I like my meat – even though I don’t eat it often due to kosher meat’s insanely high prices in this country. But when I do buy it, I’d like to know that child labor laws, environmental standards, communal responsibility and general decent human behavior has not been violated in its preparation. (Knowing of such things does govern where I shop, which is why I don’t care to step in a Walmart or a certain kosher market in Baltimore, which are stories I’d be happy to share…).

Now, thanks to the Conservative movement – in which I was raised and remain – I and so many others are poised to actually feel good about the kosher meat available.

Many remember how scandal rocked the kashrut industry three years ago. That’s when the behemoth (pun intended) Agriprocessors was cited for hundreds of labor violations, some involving children, and so much more. No longer could one believe the label “kosher” automatically denoted “better”. Rather, at best it meant that the food preparation hit a baseline standard of Jewish law.

Now, in good news for all kosher consumers and certainly the Jewish people’s image, what for some is an unlikely player is about to bring an ethical seal of approval into the marketplace.

The Conservative movement’s Hekhsher Tzedek Commission will in early January 2011 begin testing select companies’ domestic food production standards on five levels –labor practices, animal welfare practices, consumer protection, corporate integrity and environmental impact. After a three-month trial, the Commission will decide if the company deserves the designation of a “Magen Tzedek,” or “seal of justice,” reports “The Forward.” (See: Even better, the results will be made public in March.

Rabbi Morris Allen, director of the project, would not identify the companies, but called them “significant players in the food industry — and in the kosher food industry.”

How big could this get? Approximately 40 percent of food manufactured in the country carrying a kashrut certification, according to “The Forward.” Thus, the potential for ethical stewardship of so much more than ingredients is massive.

We may not quite be what we eat, but how that food arrives on our plate matters to many of us. And as discerning consumers, shouldn’t we care about what Judaism instructs, our role in our planet’s health and how those two efforts intersect?

Posted by Neil Rubin on 12/20/10 at 03:56 PM