Friday, March 01, 2013

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Breaking News Disease Threatens U.S. Kosher Chicken Supply at 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.

The prohibition against eating birds with broken tendons is deeply rooted in Jewish law. Yet broken tendons are not often a problem in North American birds, so kosher slaughterhouses traditionally don’t check to ensure that the tendons are intact.

That changed in 2012, when Kosher monitors at KJ Poultry Plant in Monroe, N.Y., began to notice a high number of broken tendons. At the worst point in the outbreak the plant found that 6% of its slaughtered birds were unkosher, according to a spokesman.

KJ Poultry officials informed the Orthodox Union of the growing problem. The Orthodox Union instructed other plants to inspect the first 200 birds in each delivered flock and then to inspect every single slaughtered bird if that sample showed more than a 2% rate of broken tendons.

Industry insiders say this caused significant stress in the industry. Naftali Hanau, owner of the boutique kosher meat firm Grow and Behold, said that the slaughterhouses he dealt with during the summer of 2012 were panicked. “I would be calling to try and schedule my processing…and they would say to me we had 15% or 20% of our chickens today go treyf, I cant talk to you right now.”

Chickens with broken tendons can be sold as non-kosher, but they fetch lower prices and present other logistical challenges to meat sellers.

With the advent of the vaccine, most chicken plants seem to have returned to normal. The spokesman for KJ Poultry said that the proportion of chickens with broken tendons discovered after slaughter was now less than 0.5%.

Empire, which apparently has not yet been able to vaccinate its flocks, is now checking the birds for the virus before shipping them to the slaughterhouse.

“Instead of bringing in flocks of chickens that had the problem and testing them, [we are] finding out in the field,” Rosenfeld said. The plant’s yields of kosher birds are now back to normal, he told the Forward.

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Anonymous said...

Naftali Hanau, owner of the boutique kosher meat firm Grow and Behold

The Forward seeks out the shochet under the wing of Dr. Seth Mandel who once admitted befarhesya in an interview to eating treif beshita. The newspaper later removed the article, seemingly at Hanau's request when a stink was made against Hanau, Mandel & the OU.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
Pi Haaretz Korach Vadosoi
A reminder about maccloikes.

Anonymous said...

KCL says Lakewood Residents Not To worry Gavriel Finkel Has a Nephew who has a Fresh Supply of Non Tainted Chicken

Anonymous said...

Gavriel Finkel will render all chickens kosher as long as his nephew is the Shochet