Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Kosher meat shortage

Forward reports [sent by RaP]
Buffalo Lake, MN- 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. [...]


  1. Yes this is a big news item but please explain to me: how is this a crisis?

    When did beef become an essential part of people's diets so that its absence is a crisis in their lives?

    Have we forgotten that the majority of the world's population lives off scraps they grab from their local garbage heaps? That there are more microbes in their drinking water than our colons?

    A little perspective please. This is bad for some but a crisis it's not.

  2. Empire under KAJ recently began producing glatt kosher beef. This should hopefully ease the market.

    Solomon's Glatt Kosher Beef and lamb which is grass fed, hormone free etc is now in my local supermarkets. We had some Solomon's lamb over Yom Tov. It was absolutely delicious and much less expensive than Rubashkins over the holidays.

    Meanwhile, all of the supermarkets in my area have Vineland chicken. It has a really good taste and sells for the same $1.69 lb here which is less than Rubashkins was at 1.99.

    I am seeing a lot more Alle meat in the stores. I bought whole brisket for Yom Tov for $5.99lb (double sealed or else I would not have believed it). I haven't seen that price since I am married.

    It was tender and delicious. (Marinate in the refrigerator overnight and then slow cook on a low heat).

    Maybe there will be temporary shortages of kosher meat. But the Rubashkin meltdown has been predictably coming for four years. Other suppliers have stepped up their production facilities in anticipation.

    In the end the kosher consumer will benefit from the increased kosher production and the breakdown of the Agri monopoly.

  3. I have to agree with the misnamed Ironheart (he sounds to me like a softy)...

    The Gerrer Rebbe told his followers that the financial crisis was Hashem's call to learn a little histapkus (feeling sufficient with what you have). On the heals of that, our beef supply is constrained, and the price of chickens goes up?

    And look how machined this shortage is. Rubashkin's woes have nothing to do with a contractor torching one of Alle's slaughterhouses. It's not like the Almighty hid His work on this one...


  4. "A little perspective please. This is bad for some but a crisis it's not."

    This is a big part of the kosher economy. Many Yidden's parnasa are potentially effected.

    But at least you don't have to worry...

  5. The Gerrer Rebbe told his followers that the financial crisis was Hashem's call to learn a little histapkus
    I always wonder about statements like this - imvho we'd be better served by saying perhaps we can learn something from the situation rather than presuming to understand how hashem operates.
    Joel Rich

  6. To Jersey girl, yeah, America is still the land of plenty and the "dream of the seven fat cows" still rules -- but maybe, just maybe, we have been given a good look at "the seven skinny cows who ate up the seven fat cows" with the recent fincial meltdown (the skinny taking over the fat) and with the closing down of kosher slaughterhouses as if they were banks on Wall Street going belly up (good pun, no?)

    If your friend Hussein Obama and his PETA supportes ever take over, then you will have to switch to an all vegetarian diet sooner than you think and get into "skinny cow" mode. Obama after all, is from the seed of Ham (pun?) and Canaan (pro blood-thirsty PLO too) and that's where Pharaoh came from once upon a time.

    This may be what chazal teach that the ge'ula achrona (the final [Messianic] redemption) will be mei'ein (similar too/based upon) the ge'ula rishona (the Exodus from Egypt) and just maybe the Jews of America, religious and non-religious alike, will soon be sent packing to Eretz Yisroel, to take up with those nasty Zionists you so dislike. El Al may have to be sent over and take peoeple to Israel like they did the Jewish Yemenites, Russians, Ethiopians, etc.

    By the way Dr. Eidensohn, what's ben happening with the meat market in Israel? Are the enough chickens to put in every pot regularly and meat for cholent and Yom tov and simchas? Is it only a question of being able to afford it, while the supplies are coming in from within Israel's farms and from other countries? (which is what it seems).

  7. RJR,

    I generally assume one means the other.

    Kind of like when you hear a speaker say "the halakhah is telling us" when you really mean "the IMHO obvious conclusion one can draw from the halakhah". (Systems of law don't speak, they have no mouths.)


  8. Recipients and Publicity said...

    By the way Dr. Eidensohn, what's ben happening with the meat market in Israel?
    no problems that I have heard about here.

  9. > This may be what chazal teach that the ge'ula achrona (the final [Messianic] redemption) will be mei'ein (similar too/based upon) the ge'ula rishona (the Exodus from Egypt)

    Oh, oh! I'd always heard that but never saw it anywhere. What's the soure, please?

  10. "you will have to switch to an all vegetarian diet "

    My husband has a good friend locally who is a Shochet; we live near lots of farmland. Chickens, lambs and even beef cattle are readily available.

    When I was growing up, there was no Rubashkins and Empire did not come to our Shoprite until I was about 10.

    There was a local shochet/butcher who was also the Baal Koreh in the shul. When the Rabbi was away, the shochet answered shaalot.

    Every week, the shochetim went down to the stockyards at the depot and shechted for the community.

    Every Thurs we got a delivery and my mother soaked and salted the meat every Thurs afternoon and cooked most of it for Shabbat and froze the rest.

    When I got married, meat was still being shechted locally and I soaked and salted every week too.

    I objected when the Bais Yaakov elected not to teach the girls how to soak and salt meat because "no one needs this anymore". I taught my daughters and now it might be a good thing.

    Jews kept kosher for 3000 years before Chabad, before Rubashkin and before "ready to cook, kosher made" prepacks. And, Jews will continue to keep kosher in the Diaspora as we have for 2000 years.

    Thanks to Sarah Palin, "dressing" an animal is now considered sexy. I have a great antique butcher's knife (pre 1987 steel is better for knives, because its not recycled). Actually the knife is my husband's. His grandfather was a shochet and butcher in Brooklyn and my father in law and husband are both pretty good at it too.

  11. (adapted from Hank Williams Jr.)

    Some might say it’s the end of time
    And the kosher distributors are high and dry
    The interest is up and the Stock Markets down
    And you only get mugged
    If you go down town

    I live outta town, you see
    Where I live there are a few like me.
    We have our own shochet, chickens and some lambs you see.
    Outta town folks can survive
    Outta town folks can survive

    I could work my garden all day long.
    I could catch fresh fish from dusk till dawn.
    We make our own bread and our own cheese too.
    Ain’t too many things we haven't learned to do
    We grow our own tomatoes and make our wine
    Out of town, folks can survive
    Out of town, folks can survive.

  12. Garnel Ironheart quotes "This may be what chazal teach that the ge'ula achrona (the final [Messianic] redemption) will be mei'ein (similar too/based upon) the ge'ula rishona (the Exodus from Egypt) [and asks] Oh, oh! I'd always heard that but never saw it anywhere. What's the soure, please?"

    It comes up in the works of the MAHARAL od Prague (maybe Rabbi Eidensohn can add to this with more specificity in the Maharl or in additional sources) but in the Maharal's sefer Netzach Yisroel, perek 53 he describes the roles of Aron (the unifier), Moshe (the leader and "tzura"/face/symbol) and Miriam (the "feminine symbol" representative of Bnai Yisroel who are like a "bride") where he explains that in the future the geulah will also be by 2: The melech hamashiach (who will be like Moshe) and Eliyah hanavi (who will be like Aron gathering up Bnai Yisroel who Miraim had symbolized. In the next perek 54 he says:
    בארנו לך בפרק הקודם ענין השווי וההתדמות אשר יש בין
    הגאולה הראשונה ובין גאולה אחרונה בגואלים

    and similar points that the Maharal makes. It is definitely a very strong principle in his works, and as requested above maybe Rabbi Eidensohn can up with some more on it.

  13. From The De Moines Register of 11/4/08 at http://www.desmoinesregister.com/article/20081104/NEWS/811040375/-1/NEWS04

    "Agriprocessors in talks with outside investors

    ([Photo: Caption reads:] "Worker traffic at the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant in Postville was slow Monday, with only about 35 cars in the main parking lot, compared with hundreds on a normal day. The beef kill department remains closed; the poultry processing lines have slowed.")

    A top executive at Agriprocessors Inc. acknowledged Monday that the kosher meat plant was struggling to survive and said he was in "full-blown discussions" with investors who were interested in buying at least a share of the company.

    Bernard Feldman, the chief executive officer, said he was optimistic that the talks could save the embattled plant from a permanent shutdown. The plant faces a spate of demands from outside businesses seeking payment of overdue bills. Plant managers continue to grapple with financial issues that have slowed production.

    "I don't believe we're going to have substantial production of any kind in the near future," Feldman said.

    Agriprocessors has limped through the last several months. In May, federal immigration agents raided the plant and detained 389 illegal workers in one of the largest raids of its kind in the United States.

    Feldman said he had spoken with outside investors and companies interested in buying a stake in Agriprocessors, but he declined to elaborate because he did not want to jeopardize the talks. The New York lawyer was named to the chief executive job after the nation's largest kosher-certifying agency said it would revoke certification unless a new leader was hired.

    Sholom Rubashkin, a plant executive, was arrested last week by federal agents and charged with harboring illegal immigrants, among other crimes. The plant also faces tens of millions of dollars in proposed government fines and a bank lawsuit over an alleged default on a $35 million loan. Last week, the company lost 450 employees when the company that provides immigrant workers pulled them.

  14. Chabad rabbi's plea on behalf of the Rubashkins.

    On November 3, 2008, Yeshiva World at http://www.theyeshivaworld.com/article.php?p=25320 reports:

    "The Rubashkins & You; An Open Letter to The Community

    November 3, 2008

    By: Rabbi Hirshy Minkowicz
    Chabad of Alpharetta, Georgia

    A moment of truth has descended on the Jewish community in which we stand to define to the world, to our children, and to our selves whether we are a people of real action or just empty words.

    Whether we are able to put into practice the lofty things we learn and talk about or we simply know how to “talk the talk” but not very good at “walking the walk”

    A prestigious Jewish family, known throughout the world for tremendous acts of kindness, care, and love for fellow Jews, in ways that are unparalleled, has fallen on hard times and now faces the loss of their entire company and enterprise to the banks that are foreclosing on them.

    Will we – as a community - stand by idly and watch the destruction or will we stand up and do something about it.

    As a relative of the Rubashkin family I have come to see first-hand their ways of Tzedakah and it is extraordinary and mind-boggling.

    A Rubashkin home is one where giving up your bed to a stranger and underprivileged person is a way of life and almost a daily occurrence, not just an occasional act for a friend who visits for Shabbos.

    The Rubashkin restaurant in Brooklyn is a place where more meals are given free to poor people than to paying customers. The family actually refers to the restaurant as “Mom’s Tzedakah Box”

    The Rubashkin way of spending a financial windfall is by helping a complete stranger that is about to lose their home to foreclosure, by paying off the bank so the family can keep their home.

    The Rubashkin idea of a care package for a struggling family that has just given birth includes not just food but clothing, strollers, cribs, and more.

    A Rubashkin Yom Tov Chesed package includes food, and new outfits and shoes for the entire family.

    And the Rubashkin idea of a summer vacation at the family property in the Catskills includes rounding up families of orphans and widows and inviting them to live with them in their homes for free for an entire summer including full room and board.

    And all this is done discreetly and without PR, dinners, and Chinese auctions, and funded out of their own pocket.

    An entire bookcase would be filled If all the stories of people that were helped by the Rubashkins were compiled into books.

    The Jewish community is blessed with many very charitable people but few are willing to commit not just money but everything they have including their time, home, vacation, and more to help another.

    And now this great family is about to lose it all unless some very good people are able to come forward and save their company so that the Rubashkins can continue saving other Jews.

    To be sure this is not an easy task as millions of dollars are needed and time is very short. But the way the Jewish world responds to this moment of truth will help identify who we really are.

    Sadly there are many in the frum world that have used this story to show the dark side of our community. There are frum people that run websites (some sadly even run by fellow Chasidim) that spew hatred and Loshon Hora about the Rubashkins, and there are Kosher and frum run companies dancing at the Rubashkin sorrows and praying for their demise. There are even some frum vultures lining up and egging on the banks to foreclose on the Rubashkins so they can steal the company from them.

    The world is watching us now and we have an opportunity to make a unique and tremendous Kiddush Hashem.

    If ever there was a need for true leadership in the frum community this is the time.

    Will the true askanim and leaders rise to the occasion? "

  15. RaP: Thanks, I'll look it up tonight.

    And for the rest of you (except the well-fed Jerseygirl), we still have lots o' kosher beef up here in Canada. Come visit, eh?

  16. I saw a lot of Vineland Chicken in the market, yesterday. Their chickens are Amish raised, free range etc. A lot of health food stores buy Vineland chicken because it is free range and antibiotic free.

    I also saw a lot of Empire chicken and when I placed my weekly meat order, the butcher told me he had plenty of Alle beef and lamb too.

    I am glad, I would rather go to the park Sunday, than dress and butcher a freshly shechted lamb.

    I won't be wearing my Sarah Palin wig (aka Condi FT) either now (after Rav Elyashiv's statement).

  17. Yeshiva World on November 5, 2008 reports at http://www.theyeshivaworld.com/news/General+News/25511/UPDATED:+Agriprocessors+Declares+Bankruptcy;+Closes+Nebraska+Slaughterhouse.html

    "UPDATED: Agriprocessors Declares Bankruptcy; Closes Nebraska Slaughterhouse

    November 5, 2008

    10:15AM EST: [UPDATE POSTED BELOW] Agriprocessors, Inc., has filed for bankruptcy, blaming the May immigration raid for its financial problems, the Associated Press reports.

    The move to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Tuesday came a day before Agriprocessors was to meet in court with its biggest lender, First Bank of St. Louis.

    The bank is seeking to foreclose on the plant in Postville and appoint a third party to oversee Agriprocessors’ assets.

    The bankruptcy filing says Agriprocessors owes $50 million to $100 million to creditors.

    UPDATE 5:15PM EST: A Gordon (Nebraska) slaughterhouse run by Agriprocessors has closed because of the financial problems the kosher meat company is having, the AP now reports.

    Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO of the Orthodox Union, told an Associated Press reporter that the Local Pride plant in Gordon closed several days ago when Agriprocessors lost its line of credit because the company couldn’t afford any new cattle.

    Agriprocessors filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Tuesday, but company officials have said they are seeking investors and hope to restructure the company.

    (Source: Chicago Tribune / LipaS)"

  18. "NEW YORK, NY — Faced with mounting debts, civil and criminal charges and insufficient cash, Agriprocessors, one of the nation’s largest kosher meat producers, has suspended operations, causing shortages here and fears of soaring prices.

    “New York has begun to see shortages and it’s going to get really bad later this week,” said Rabbi Seth Mandel, rabbinic coordinator in charge of meat for the Orthodox Union. “You will see shortages everywhere.”

    Concern is already evident at some area kosher restaurants.

    “People are getting nervous about whether I will have product,” said Jeremy Lebewohl, an owner of the Second Avenue Deli in Manhattan.

    Steven Traube, the managing partner of two other city restaurants, predicted: “Meat prices could easily go up 20 or 30 percent.”

    Rabbi Israel Steinberg, who provides kosher supervision at several area restaurants and stores, said that “chicken prices will also probably go up” because Agriprocessors slaughters chickens as well.

    Should Agriprocessors go out of business, “it would be devastating for everybody,” observed Rabbi Luzer Weiss, director of the kosher law enforcement in New York.

    “I hope for the sake of the kosher consumer that they straighten out their problems or go into receivership so someone else can come in and not have the place go under,” he added.

    Rabbi Mandel said the meat shortage would be particularly acute for those seeking glatt kosher meat.

    Agriprocessors, which was founded in 1987 by Aaron Rubashkin, produced both kosher and glatt kosher meat and had captured a little less than half of the kosher meat market in the U.S., Rabbi Mandel said.

    He said the nation’s other major glatt kosher meat producer, Alle Processing in Maspeth, Queens, cannot possibly fill the void left by Agriprocessors, which has not slaughtered or processed steer at either its Postville, Iowa, or Nebraska plants since Oct. 17. Its products were sold under such brand names as Aaron’s Best, Rubashkin and Supreme Kosher.

  19. We are an amazing people.

    If you talk with a person of the opposite sex on your cell phone, that's grounds for divorce.

    But cheat and oppress illegal workers, and torture animals as you kill them? You're a tzadik we'll go to the wall defending!

    Is it any wonder Moshaich stays up there in Shamayim?


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