Can a firm whose employment practices aren’t kosher produce food that is?


That’s the question raised by the controversy swirling around the largest kosher meatpacking plant in the U.S., run by Agriprocessors, Inc., in Postville, Iowa. According to an article in Friday’s New York Times (“Rabbis Debate Kosher Ethics at Meat Plant”), the plant “lost about half its work force when 389 illegal immigrants were detained there in May, causing shortages of kosher meat and poultry in butcher shops and supermarkets across the country.” There were also reports “of unpaid overtime, lax safety measures and under-age workers at the plant.”

The incident has sparked an intense debate among Orthodox Jewish leaders, some of whom believe kosher plants should also be awarded an additional certification when they meet certain ethical standards for their working conditions. Other Orthodox leaders don’t view social and business ethics as falling within the ambit of their authority and responsibility for ensuring compliance with dietary practices. They point out that civil authorities exist for that purpose an predict that the additional certification will lead to a backlash within the Orthodox community, at least when the additional scrutiny leads to higher prices for kosher food.

Additional coverage of this story can be found at National Public Radio’s All Things Considered (Aug. 20) and Tell Me More (Aug. 8).

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