Why does kosher meat cost so much?

Ask The Expert: Why does kosher meat cost so much?

By The Expert · October 30, 2009

Question: Why is kosher meat more expensive than non-kosher meat? Is it all a scam or is there actually justification for the prices?

— James, Montreal

Answer: I feel your pain, James. Kosher meat is not cheap. So what accounts for the hefty price tag on your steak?

I spoke with Alan Kaufman, owner of the Kosher Marketplace on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Alan explained that there are a number of factors that drive the price of kosher meat higher than its non-kosher counterparts.

The first thing Alan mentioned is supervision. Kosher meat is supervised from the time the animal is slaughtered until it is packaged and sold. Kosher slaughterhouses must employ shochtim — those trained in the laws of shechita, ritual slaughter — as well as supervisors who can be consulted on unusual or contentious circumstances.

Jewish law also requires that kosher meat be soaked in water for half an hour, salted, and then washed thoroughly three times. In non-kosher meat plants where these extra steps aren’t taken, much more meat can be processed and shipped out. The more meat a company sells, the lower it can afford to set its prices. Because the nature of kosher processing requires more inefficient time for soaking and salting, kosher plants produce less meat and cannot set their prices as low as their non-kosher competitors.

Finally, Alan reminded me that kosher meat isn’t so easy to come by. To be kosher, an animal must be healthy, and must have no broken bones, no diseases, and no scarred or punctured organs. Downer cattle, or cows that are unable to stand on their own, are never used.

Alan estimated that only 20 percent of the cows in any given slaughterhouse pass the inspection that is required for them to be kosher. I’ve seen other estimates from 30 percent to 40 percent. Either way, it’s much lower than at facilities where every cow that comes in gets slaughtered and sold. Screening the kosher from the treif also takes time and money.

So there are some reasons why the consumer is charged top dollar for your kosher hamburger. Ensuring that something is done in a kosher way is a pricey endeavor, and this means that the base price for kosher meat is going to be higher than non-kosher meat.

Does it mean that the meat is cleaner or better quality? It might, but as we learned from the Postville scandal last year, kosher meat can still be produced under very problematic circumstances.

Still, a major advantage of eating kosher meat in this day and age is the ability to easily trace its whereabouts and origins. As we learn more about the dangers of contemporary meat distribution, including a real risk of E. coli contamination, it becomes increasingly important to know where our food comes from and what’s in it. E. coli is a bacteria found in the feces of both humans and animals. In America, kosher slaughterhouses do not deal with the hindquarters of cows — they’re usually sold to non-kosher plants, which decreases but does not completely eliminate — the likelihood of kosher meat coming in contact with cow feces and thus E. coli.

Source: JTA


The cost of keeping kosher

The cost of keeping kosher

Although it is understandable that kosher food necessitates additional, costly supervision, and kosher businesses seek to maximize process, the exorbitant price of kosher products has reached an inexcusable extreme.

By | Oct.10, 2011 | 4:47 PM | 14
Supermarket, August 11, 2010

Photo by Getty

Sukkot is almost upon us, and as a people, we are reminded to give thanks for the harvest we receive. Sadly, however, this season may not be as thankful for many Jews.

The internet is replete with posts from exasperated Yidden who simply can’t afford what has become a luxury. Although it is understandable that kosher food necessitates additional, costly supervision, and kosher businesses – like all businesses – seek to maximize process, the exorbitant price of kosher products has reached an inexcusable extreme.

The cost of food is on the rise all over the world, and kosher food is no exception. Many Jews simply cannot afford a kosher celebration of the Feast of the Tabernacles.

Controversies about kosher facilities, coupled with an overall economic downturn, have made keeping Jewish dietary laws a growing challenge, and action must be taken to enable Jews to keep kosher without breaking the bank.

In most U.S. grocery stores, the kosher section is small, providing basic staples and traditional foods needed for Jewish holidays. But these items are often too pricey for many Diaspora Jews, who , like many other Americans, are struggling during these difficult economic times.

The cost of food is rising at an alarming rate worldwide. Wholesale food prices have jumped by approximately 3.9%, and kosher food is even pricier; by Passover 2010, kosher meat cost some 20 percent more than non-kosher meat, according to Slate.

The cost of maintaining a kosher facility is significant, and obtaining the Orthodox Union’s kosher certification is expensive as well, further inflating the price.

Is there justification for soaring kosher food prices? How is it ethical to charge so much for kosher products, that many Jewish families simply cannot afford to keep the dietary laws?

This above-and-beyond competitive pricing is a cheap way to gouge Jews committed to upholding Jewish traditions, while depriving many from doing so. It often seems like the price isn’t worth the product, and oftentimes, the quality is poorer than the less costly non-kosher equivalent.

Why buy kosher if it is both more expensive and inferior?

There may be hope yet for hard-on-their luck Jews who want to keep kosher. Hazon, a leading Jewish food organization, sponsors Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) in the U.S., Canada, and Israel. These programs provide access to healthy, local produce, connecting recipients with their Jewish community. Jewish food banks provide sustenance for hungry families.

Although these programs are a great start, more initiatives are needed to keep the kosher food movement alive. Community food banks that provide kosher products, kosher food stamps, or discount savings programs would make buying kosher food easier and more viable option for people who don’t have the means to purchase kosher foods at retail price.

In addition to making kosher food more affordable, facilities must be made more sustainable, environmentally sound, and labor-friendly to ensure the quality of its products and its practices. Online programs can be used to promote healthy and budget-friendly kosher food.

Sukkot is meant to be a celebration of bountiful harvest and health, and there is no reason for Jews to go without kosher food on this joyous holiday. We must take action to sustain not only ethical business practices and fair pricing, but our cultural heritage as well.

Yael Miller is a graduate student at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.


Kosher foods, atheism dominate immigrant hearings in Quebec

Source: CBC

Last Updated: Tuesday, September 25, 2007 | 4:30 PM ET

Atheism could resolve tensions between cultural and religious groups in Quebec, said a witness who spoke Tuesday at the Bouchard-Taylor Commission hearings on immigrants.

The provincial commission, which is looking into the so-called reasonable accommodation of immigrants, is meeting with Quebecers in the Laurentians region this week to hear people’s thoughts on cultural and religious traditions.

Mirabel resident Jocelyn Parent told the hearings that atheism — a philosophical view based on the non-existence of gods — is the only set of values that can make a pluralistic society function harmoniously.

“Faith, God and dogma are inventions that have no concrete tie to reality,” he said Tuesday morning.

Rather than accommodate religions, it would be easier to get rid of them, including Catholicism, Quebec’s dominant religion, Parent said.

“Monotheistic religions say God is everywhere, but I don’t see him here,” he argued.

A community group that helps foreigners settle in Quebec said a provincial constitution would help immigrants better integrate into the French-speaking province.

The constitution could spell out terms for gender equality and secularism, guidelines that would temper tensions that arise when there is a question about accommodating the different religious and cultural traditions that immigrants bring to Quebec, said Line Chaloux, who works with Le Coffret, a community organization.

More pressing is provincial funding for community groups that pair newly arrived families with Quebecers, Chaloux said. The Liberal government has cut funding for the program at a time when that kind of support is urgently needed. “We need that for integration. It’s very important to us,” she said.

Immigrants in Quebec have a hard time finding meaningful employment even if they are professionals, because the province often doesn’t recognize credentials from foreign universities and the government doesn’t offer training courses to help immigrants upgrade their skills, Chaloux said.

That’s why so many engineers, teachers and doctors who immigrate to Quebec end up driving cabs and washing dishes in restaurants, she concluded.

The best kind of accommodation the province could make for new immigrants is to make it easier for them to work in their fields of expertise when they move to Quebec, she said.

Premier Jean Charest created the commission last winter after a protracted public debate about immigrant integration into Quebec society.

Philosopher Charles Taylor and sociologist Gérard Bouchard are co-chairing the commission.

On Monday, the commission heard from several Quebecers who are upset about kosher foods. Many mass-produced packaged foods available in supermarkets are kosher, which means a rabbi supervised their preparation to ensure the products meet Jewish dietary laws.

Laurentians resident Émile Dion said that makes him angry because he believes the cost of getting a rabbi’s blessing raises food prices by as much as 10 per cent. “Why should I pay 10 per cent more for the Jews?” he asked during his comments, which went on for several minutes. “It forces us to eat kosher, and I don’t want to,” he said in French.

Midway through Monday’s hearings, commission co-chair Bouchard interrupted the comments to remind the audience that only about two per cent of Quebec’s population is made up of Muslim and Jews.

“Do you see a certain disproportion there, between your concerns and the cause?” he asked in French.

Laurentians resident Jonathan Drouin said Quebecers need to look in the mirror to resolve their discomfort. “We aren’t capable of perpetuating our own customs, and then we go complaining and blame other people for taking them away from us,” he said.

His view was echoed by François Rochon, another local resident. “If you are proud of your home, you are happy to welcome others,” he said.