Empire Kosher and Other Plants
Vaccine Available, But Outbreaks Persist- By Josh Nathan-Kazis Published March 01, 2013.
A mutated chicken virus has threatened the kosher poultry industry. Due to the virus, large proportions of the chickens killed at kosher slaughterhouses in recent months were found to be unfit for kosher consumption.
Industry officials say that the virus has been brought under control. Yet the country’s biggest poultry producer was battling a major outbreak as recently as six weeks ago, on the brink of the Passover holiday.
The disease, a new strain of a common poultry malady called the avian reovirus, cannot harm humans. But the damage it causes to the tendons of infected birds makes those birds unkosher under Jewish law.
Up to a quarter of the birds slaughtered at some kosher plants were rendered unkosher by the virus at the height of the outbreak, according to the Orthodox Union, a major kosher certification agency.
“For a few weeks, there was a concern about a shortage and also prices going up,” said Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO of the Orthodox Union Kosher Division, a major kosher certification agency. “But that’s been resolved.”
The outbreak has particularly impacted chickens bred in Pennsylvania, which supplies a large proportion of the kosher poultry in North America. A vaccine has been available to treat the mutated virus since October, according to Patricia Dunn, a professor and avian veterinarian at Pennsylvania State University. Birds bred in flocks treated with the vaccine were available for slaughter in January.
Empire Kosher, the state’s largest chicken producer, was hit by the virus in late January and early February. A spokesman for the company said that 10% of slaughtered chickens at its Pennsylvania plant were unkosher at the virus’s peak.
The plant’s production was halted for the day on February 28. But Empire spokesman Elie Rosenfeld said that the holdup was not due to the reovirus. Rather, underweight chickens being delivered to the plant, he said. In a March 1 report, Haaretz cited unnamed sources claiming that the plant was closed because of high rates of unkosher birds. Rosenfeld explicitly denied this in conversations with the Forward on Feburary 28.
“The peak of this problem was the end of January, beginning of February,” Rosenfeld said.
The virus hit Empire later than other plants because the massive, vertically integrated kosher poultry firm gets its chickens from its own farms. Unlike the farms serving other slaughterhouse, Empire’s farms apparently remained disease-free until early 2013.
Read more: http://forward.com/articles/172143/disease-threatens-us-kosher-chicken-supply-at-empi/#ixzz2MKBaJiGs