July 9, 2012

Embracing Technology, Kashrus Agencies have their Exceptions

CHICAGO, IL -- Kashrus agencies have as a rule warmly embraced technological advances and have generally viewed it as an additional tool in their efforts to constantly upgrade kashrus standards. At a recent two-week seminar for advanced rabbinical students at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary of Yeshiva University, sponsored by the Orthodox Union (OU), technology was a central theme. 

Newly trained mashgichim (rabbinical supervisors) are nowadays routinely trained in food technology. Leading kashrus agencies around the world have significantly upgraded their computer systems to track some 300,000 ingredient items and some 200,000 consumer goods. But technology that is difficult to administer and has only a slight chance of improvement over current systems are viewed with suspicion especially if at the end of the day it adds to the spiraling cost of kosher. 

One example is new DNA-Traceable technology that is being proposed for all glatt kosher slaughter (schechita). One company Aurora Packing Company, a 70-year-old premium meat packer located in Aurora, ILL is already introducing the technology into its plant, including its kosher (non-glatt) products. Aurora Kosher Choice Beef is overseen by DSJ Global and verified by the DNA TraceBack process developed by IdentiGEN North America of Lawrence, Kan. 

Kashrus sources say that the technology would only be beneficial to glatt kosher if administered by mashgichim and universally accepted by all kashrus agencies and glatt kosher plants. Given the cost involved, the sources were extremely skeptical, especially since they doubted if the cost could be passed on to consumers. But most rabbis felt that tracking every piece of meat might occasionally “catch” a questionable product and while being extremely rare would throw the whole market into an unnecessary panic. 

One rabbi said plainly: “Not every technology that is good for certain categories of consumer goods is an automatic for kosher.”