December 20, 2010

Removing the Teeth from the Kosher Food Laws in New York

It wasn’t that long ago that New York State had one of the toughest laws protecting kosher consumers but then a challenge by a Commack LI butcher resulted in the 100-year old law being ruled unconstitutional, setting the stage for a new generation of laws that were known as the “disclosure” model. These laws required anyone claiming that an establishment was kosher to disclose the nature of the certification and so forth. At a minimum it required that the New York State Kosher Law Enforcement Bureau would monitor compliance with the law in a state that produced nearly 40% of all kosher food products and as many as 1 million consumers. Indeed, inspectors crisscrossing the state frequently find abuses that potentially can mislead thousands of consumers.

Now even the disclosure law is being threatened, not by a legal challenge, but by the budget ax of New York’s Governor David Paterson, which according to such activists as Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum, noted Jewish Press columnist and head of the Rabbinical Alliance of America, will eliminate 95% of the inspections. This ominous development would leave not only New York’s large kosher consumer base vulnerable to a regular onslaught of mislabeling and misrepresentation but would in effect send a message that even this minimum method of protecting kosher consumers is also not worthy of protecting. Some naysayers have advocated self-policing by the kosher community but that would be tantamount to leaving all consumers at the mercy of consumer advocacy groups without the benefit of truth in advertising or marketing laws or even a government sponsored consumer protection agency. New York’s thriving and dynamic kosher consumers deserve much better from the governor of a state considered one of the world’s leaders in kosher foods.