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Kosher Meat Harder to Find after Slaughterhouse Shutdown

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Kosher Meat Harder to Find after Slaughterhouse Shutdown

AP/Seth Wenig

It’s getting harder and harder to find a good kosher brisket. Agriprocessors Inc, in Postville, Iowa, was the largest kosher meat producer in the country. For months now, it’s been in all sorts of legal and financial trouble. And last week, the company declared bankruptcy. And it recently shut down its beef slaughtering facilities—making kosher meat for some, much harder to find.

I’m here in a Jewish grocery store on the north side of Chicago, standing in front of a meat cooler, there’s chicken, cold cuts but no beef.

KNOBLOCH: There is a shortage of kosher beef in America for sure. I feel it, but it’s not the crux of my business thank god so

That’s Chayim Knobloch. He owns the small grocery store, Kol Tuv which means “All the Best”. He says he’s not usually sold out of beef he has another supplier now, but says he’s dealing with a smaller selection then he’s used to.

HILL: And are your customers considering chicken or fish or meat substitute when they might have eaten beef before?
KNOBLOCH: Yeah, for sure, especially with the economy being what it is. Whatever’s cheaper is better especially if you can get the kids to eat it.

While the economy has reduced demand for kosher beef—production capacity has been decimated. 3 of the 5 largest kosher meat producers are shut down right now, two of those are Agriprocessors facilities.

GENACK: Those plants represented more than half of the kosher meat slaughtered in the United States. Rabbi Menachem Genack is the head of Orthodox Union Kosher, a group that certifies food as meeting certain strict Jewish dietary laws. He doesn’t expect Agriprocessors plants to start producing meat any time soon.

GENACK: There are other people looking at this plant, as a facility. They are going to have to make a determination as a bank and bankruptcy court if it’s something they are interested in buying so it’s really up in the air at this point.

SHAINWALD: Who knows what the future will bring. All things are relative. I mean you know I have to have meat, I have to have lean meat, but it’s getting harder and harder to find.

Mark Shainwald knows his kosher meat.

SHAINWALD: I’m a sausage maker.

Shainwald makes the hard and soft salamis that hang from the back wall of Romainian Kosher Sausage Company in Chicago. He says he has been able to get the beef he needs, the supplier he works with is still operating. But, he says, he has another concern about Agriprocessors shut down and that is what the limited supply will do to prices.

SHAINWALD: They were the finger in the dike. They were what held prices down. You know, they kept all the rest of the prices in line with what people could afford.

If kosher meat is harder to find or dramatically more expensive, it may also mean that observant Jews like Esther Yehudis Morgan who keep kosher need to reconsider their traditions. She says meat is an important part of her Friday night Shabbat meal.

MORGAN: I have a big freezer, thank god. But I don’t have a cow in the backyard.

Jews who keep kosher in smaller communities around the country may be the hardest hit by the shortage. The Iowa-based Agriprocessors was the only supplier of kosher beef to many small towns and cities, places that might have had a kosher butcher in the past, but don’t anymore. And so, while kosher beef is still available in big cities like Chicago, its absence is already being felt on some kosher dinner tables in other places.

I’m Adriene Hill, Chicago Public Radio.

This piece originally aired on NPR.

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