Saturday, May 24, 2008

no there will not be a kosher meat shortage

no I'm not an economist. Nor am I in the kosher meat business.

But I do think we have some pretty dispositive facts on the issue-enough to calm fears of shortage I think.

Unless you've been in a cave for the past few weeks-you know that the Federal government has raided a mega huge kosher meat slaughterhouse in Iowa. The company is known officially as Agriprocessors. However, as reported by the Cleavland Jewish News, its products are sold under the brand names Aaron’s Best, Aaron’s Choice, Rubashkin’s, European Glatt, Nevel, Shor Habor, Supreme Kosher and David’s.

Mostly, it was an Immigration raid, but there may be some drug issues as well. Depressingly, it was also the largest immigration raid in US history to date.

After the raid, there was talk of the horrible effect and possible shortages, since Agriprocessrs, according to the Cleavland Jewish News, the Jerusalem Post, and the Washington Jewish Week, is responsible for 55-60% of American kosher meat.

Moreover, according to other reports, here and here about85% of the meat from Agriprocessors is from the plant that was raided.

However, Cleavland Jewish News, also reported that the raided plant itself opened the very next day-albeit at 40% capacity.

In theory, we would be left with a total nationwide production reduction of 60%of85%of60% of the meat-or 30% of the meat-which would mean 70% of what it was before the raid is now being produced.

Also, when it comes to the most ubiquitous kosher 'meat' product-chicken-Agriprocessors is reported to be only responsible for 40% of that market. If thats the case-then the reduction in nationwide kosher chicken production alone would only be about 20%-leaving us with 80% of the chicken production form before the raid.

However, this estimate would assume that
a) the plant continues to run at 40% for a while
b) Agriprocessors is unable to shift any production to other plants
c) other kosher companies are unable to step up any production at all

And, in fact, these things are likely to be false. In this article, an official at the plant says he expects the raided plant to be up at full capacity soon. Further, other producers are likely to capitalize as much as they can from any market fluctuations.

So while I would think that there would be some adjustment, and some possible price shocks-I don't think anyone who wants to buy kosher meat-and is willing to pay-will be out of luck-at least for now.

In the long term, the OU has talked about removing its stamp of kosher supervision to the compnay-provided a felony conviction against the company. However, felony convictions are usually against people, not companies, and this may be a way of the OU responding without having to respond.

Furthermore, the calls for boycott from the conservative movement seem to have subsided after the federal raid, probably with the thought that the federal enforcement/prosecution itself is enough pressure to comply with the human rights concerns that boycotters are concerned with.

I can't end this post without repeating what goes without saying-that the practices the plant is being accused of are incredibly despicable-and that anyone with sense should understand the need to pay higher prices to eradicate this kind of smut-particularly from kosher business.

What's even more sick, perhaps, is the fact that there has been little surprise from the jewish community regarding the incident. Sure, people are outraged. But few people, at least in my circles, are surprised. In other words, everyone knew that this kind of thing goes on. (caveat-I myself was a little surprised, not by the immigration allegations, but by the meth lab-I guess the fact that it was the largest immigration raid in history also makes me a little surprised-but not really). That, perhaps, is an even greater tragedy.

Finally, while I personally think many if not all of the allegations against the plant/people working at the plant, are true-it is important to remember that not all the people who have been accused of the various things have had adequate time to respond. It may be that some of the allegations are false or exaggerated. Indeed, while I think we need not presume them innocent, it may be appropriate to not take the government at face value either.

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