Is kosher meat and poultry as good quality as non-kosher meat?
Why is there a difference between the price of kosher and non-kosher meat?
1. Is kosher meat and poultry as good quality as non-kosher meat?
No, it is far superior! Consumers buy Kosher meat or poultry for a variety of different reasons. Aside from reasons of religious observance, quality is often a major factor.
In terms of quality of product one simply cannot compare e.g. a very cheap frozen non-kosher supermarket chicken with the carefully reared high quality fresh kosher poultry sold under the London Board’s supervision.
Please click on the following link to view a flow chart which describes some of the steps the LBS use to control its high standards of Kashrut and quality: Integrity of supply chain
2. Why is there a difference between the price of kosher and non-kosher meat?
The LBS neither buys nor sells livestock or meat and poultry but it has considerable knowledge of the operations of the trade through its operations at abattoirs and its supervision of factories and shops.
All licensed kosher butchers are operated by their individual or family owners, none are part of supermarket chains. Their prices should therefore be compared with local independent treif butchers offering a bespoke personal service not with those of multi-national operations focusing on price or market share.
The LBS provides a shechita service at beef (and lamb) abattoirs that are willing to work with the kosher trade for a part of the week. They have to cope with a shechita process that because of the careful and expert processes of shechita and bedika means that their cutting lines (which are very machinery and labour intensive for them) operate at a slower speed than for treif. They need to source animals which are likely to have a lower treifa rate so that they can meet their kosher customers’ orders without being left with excess stocks. The abattoirs sell only the kosher beef forequarters, livers, tongues etc to the kosher trade.
Butchery takes up space and uses staff. This has led some butchers to concentrate those activities at premises where they can better control those costs and secure economies of scale. Having a butcher serve you personally costs the shop significantly more than you taking a pre packed product from a fridge or freezer. But it is your choice.
There are other consumer preferences which impact on retail prices for kosher meat.As the years have gone by and some households have become wealthier and time scarcer, there has been a movement away from the cheaper cuts which take longer to prepare and cook at home. At the same time, there has been a growth in the demand for the prime cuts from caterers and the phenomenal growth in the number of kosher restaurants in the past 30 years. All this has meant that the trade has struggled to sell the cheaper cuts and so have had to focus on recovering their costs and making their profits on a smaller range of cuts. This imbalance has been compounded by customer tastes for, say, tongues. In the treif market, there is very little demand for tongue but the traditional Jewish palate seems keen to buy tongue and pay a higher retail price due to its scarcity value.
Similarly, the kosher market seems to prefer leaner meat and hence younger animals. Younger animals have a lower meat to bone ratio so the actual net cost of the meat is necessarily higher. This is especially true for lamb. It is also the case that the forequarter has less useable meat than the hindquarter so further reducing the useable meat per kilo that the butcher can seek.
LBS kosher butchers buy their product from broadly the same sources. But as indicated above there can be a big difference between them in their own premises and staff costs. Further, the way they cut, prepare and package their product varies greatly and so there is much to differentiate between shops other than price. So do not presume that the shop with the lowest prices per kilo offers the best value or that the one with the highest prices is the most exorbitant. Our advice is if you are not happy with the “basket” that you buy from your butcher, try another. You may be surprised by the differences.
Bedikah – Halachic examination or inspection.
Chalaf – The instrument of surgical sharpness used to perform shechita.
Shechita – The Jewish religious humane method of slaughtering animals and poultry for food.
Shochet (plural Shochtim) – The person who performs shechita, qualified with a thorough knowledge of Jewish law, animal anatomy and pathology and licensed by both religious and civic authorities.
Treifa (plural treifos) – Literally ‘torn’, generally used to denote non-kosher food.
3. What about the Shechita Fees paid by the Butchers to the LBS?
On top of the cost of the meat, its butchers pay the LBS a fee that attempts to cover the costs of shechita, bedikah (checking the carcass for blemish and especially the lungs), sealing at the abattoir (we typically send a team of 4 or 5 men) and supervision of koshering and porging at their own premises so that the customer no longer needs to spend time at home on koshering. The LBS has been successful in recent years in keeping its fees almost constant as it has brought in new licensees, increased its production and so improved the productivity of its staff by increasing daily output.
Bedikah – Halachic examination or inspection
Shechita – The Jewish religious humane method of slaughtering animals and poultry for food
4. What about kosher poultry – is there much of a difference in price to treif poultry?
As previously mentioned, a quality kosher chicken cannot be compared to a cheap chicken sold in the supermarkets. However, there are some very good reasons why kosher poultry costs slightly more than treif poultry.
Kosher production takes place at purpose built facilities dedicated to the kosher market and all slaughter is carried out is by way of shechita. These premises are licensed by the Board and also carry out the process of koshering so that the product typically leaves the premises as whole birds ready for supply to the retail customer. The LBS fee covers not only the cost of the shechita but also the process of bedikah (once used to be carried out at the shop) and koshering (once used to be carried out by the retail customer). It is very much an added value process.
For these operators, minimising the number of birds which are treif is essential as they are not able to get full market prices for their treif sales. Thus they want to source poultry which is less likely to be treif. This essentially means birds raised at a far lower density than acceptable to the supermarkets so that there is less risk of not only disease but also limb damage from being so closely packed in. In the Channel 4 series “Hugh’s Chicken Run”, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall demonstrated how cheap chickens are produced for the general trade and contrasted that with the less intensive production which the kosher trade uses (http://www.channel4.com/programmes/hughs-chicken-run/episode-guide)
So the live birds purchased by the kosher abattoirs are raised at lower density and with far high standards of animal welfare than those of the general trade and so do cost more.
The kosher abattoirs use the same purpose built equipment to defeather, eviscerate and prepare the birds as the general trade. But this equipment works fastest with scalding water whereas the kosher product cannot be exposed to hot water as the koshering and rinsing process must take place with cold water. Typically a kosher abattoir only operates with one shift a day for no more than 5 days a week unlike the 24 hour working of the most intensive treif plants. A highly experienced shochet should be able to shecht at up to 600 birds an hour (with breaks). In contrast a treif plant using automated processing can operate at up to 12,000 birds an hour. Indeed a treif plant can typically produce in under 3 hours what a kosher plant produces a week. This means that the machinery and premises costs must be recovered over far fewer birds per week.
Treif production lines typically specialise in single species but kosher plants do not have those economies of scale and have to also allow time to switch to production from chicken to other species. This all slows down the production process and so further reduces the productivity of the operator’s own staff.
So it is clearly the case that the price from the abattoir of kosher poultry is higher than that from treif abattoirs. But the product is undoubtedly of higher quality from birds which have experienced higher standards of welfare and are less prone to disease and because of the koshering process have a far higher hygiene standard.
The Jewish religious humane method of slaughtering
Treif (plural treifos)
Literally ‘torn’, generally used to denote non-kosher food.
Halachic examination or inspection.
Shochet (plural Shochtim)
The person who performs shechita, qualified with a thorough knowledge of Jewish law, animal anatomy and pathology and licensed by both religious and civic authorities.
5. Please explain the difference between the different levels of Shechita.
The Board uniquely is able to offer the consumer the widest possible range of high Kashrus standards of different Halachic categories for both meat and poultry:
Re Beef-the levels depend exclusively on the examination of the lungs of the animal after shechita by an expert inspector called a Bodek Chutz; he categorises the beef in 3 ways;
“Kosher” = any adhesion on the lungs called a “Sircha” that comes off without leaving a hole.
“Glatt” = if any Sircha can be removed with no difficulty leaving the lungs smooth.
“Chalak Bet Yosef” = no Sirchas at all and thus totally smooth.
Re Chickens – there can be an issue of Mehadrin i.e. “split back” some authorities want salting to be visible that the salt is all over the chicken. This is a chumra (stricture) and is labelled “split back”. Otherwise, all our chickens are on the same high level of Kashrus.
Some of the Board’s licensees are exclusively licensed as Chalak Bet Yosef only shops – whereby we only permit meat of the higher level of Kashrus to be prepared and cut for sale from those premises.
6. What species are kosher?
How do we know which animals and birds are kosher?
Regarding animals, the Torah provides two physical signs. Any animal that has split hooves and chews its cud is kosher. All others are not. Thus, for example, sheep, goat, cow, deer, buffalo, gazelle, and giraffe are kosher, while pig, camel, and llama, for example, are not.
Regarding birds, the situation is more complex. The Torah simply lists 24 species that are non-kosher. All others are acceptable. However, we are no longer certain of the identity of the non-kosher birds listed, so for close to 1000 years the overriding principle has been: “Tradition!” The only birds that are treated as kosher are those for which a reliable tradition, from teacher to student, exists that in the previous generation it was treated as kosher.
In the UK, we have had a long history of shechita (the LBS was set up in 1804) and with a well-regarded Rabbinical Authority, so we have a long tradition (mesorah) of which birds are kosher. Indeed, our Rabbinical Authority is often cited worldwide as an authority on kosher species. It is important to understand that birds carrying the same generic name may not actually be the same species so do not assume that because a particular bird is ruled kosher in one country that a bird with the same name in another country is indeed the same species.
7. What species can we shecht in England?
Although the practice of shechita has been subject to public law for some time, there have been very significant changes since the Second World War, particularly since the European Union has sought to raise standards of slaughter generally with a move to much larger slaughterhouses under the supervision of vets and health officers. The days are gone of taking a bird in a basket on the bus to a shochet with a stall in the East End.
As the law stands, where an animal is slaughtered without prior stunning for consumption by a Jew, the slaughter must take place in a licensed abattoir or officially regulated poultry slaughterhouse. Slaughter without prior stunning is not allowed in any other place.
The law also limits the animals that may be shechted in England to:
sheep, goats or bovine (ox, bullock, cow, heifer, steer or calf) and birds which means any turkey, domestic fowl, guinea-fowl, duck, goose or quail.
It is illegal in England to shecht any other species. The understanding is that these were the only species that were being shechted when the Regulations were made in 1995. Thus some species which in the past had been shechted on farms such as deer and some game birds could no longer be legally shechted.
One of the key objectives of the London Board is to ensure the provision of Kosher meat and poultry for the Jewish Community in and around London. It is important to remember that whilst there may be some kosher species that we can no longer shecht (for either Halachic or commercial reasons), there is currently a wide variety of meat and poultry on sale in the kosher butcher shops.
9. Can we eat from the hindquarters?
Rabbi J.Conway – Director of Kashrus KLBD:
“The main problem with hindquarters is the fact that most of the meat is covered with ‘Chelev’, the forbidden fat known as ‘Tallow’ or ‘Suet’.
The prohibition against consuming this fat is considered by the Torah so important and fundamental that it is accompanied by the Divine punishment of ‘Karet’, literally “cutting off” one’s soul, the severest and most dreaded punishment for the believing Jew because it means the loss of everlasting life. “Anyone who eats Chelev … his soul shall be cut off from his people” – Leviticus 7,25.
Indeed, eating Tallow is a much more serious prohibition than even eating pork! Only two other dietary prohibitions carry such severe sanction, consumption of blood is one, chametz is the other. Thus, Jewish dietary tradition is meticulous to avoid any accidental consumption of blood, by thorough washing and salting of all meat (and roasting of liver), and we all know how particular we are (koshering the kitchen, changing the Keilim, manufacturing under supervision) to avoid even a crumb of chametz. Similarly, the avoidance of hindquarters prevents the accidental consumption of Chelev.
Although some forbidden fats and veins are routinely removed from forequarter meat by a process known as ‘nikkur’ – porgeing, the hindquarters are particularly difficult to porge for two reasons:
1. The Chelev itself is interleaved and interlaced within the meat, and
2. The hindquarters also contain the forbidden Gid Hanashe – sciatic nerve and its branch sinews, about which the Talmud instructs “mechatet acharav” – “one must dig after it throughout the meat”!”
Dayan YY Lichtenstein – Rosh Beis Din- Federation of Synagogues and member of the London Board’s Rabbinical Authority:
“The porging of hindquarters is a very intricate, complicated and skilled process. We are not allowed to eat the forbidden fats (even a tiny amount) and these fats must be removed by a process called “nikkur” ie porging. In addition there is the ‘Gid Hanashe’ the sciatic nerve which also must be removed. Since it is labour intensive and intricate to remove all the forbidden parts of the hindquarters of an animal, the entire hindquarters are usually sold to the non-kosher market.
The quickest training course in the world in Israel to learn this specialised hindquarters Nikkur takes a minimum of five months to complete.
Historically it was stopped in Israel and then reintroduced about 120 years ago because they had difficulty in selling on the hindquarters since the Arab population ate lamb rather than beef. In 1876 the Yerushalayim Ashkenazim initiated kosher slaughter of cattle; they now introduced porging of the hindquarters in Yerushalayim. The following year Rabbi Yehoshua Leib (Maharil) Diskin of Brisk, an expert in nikkur, moved to Yerushalayim, and together with Rabbi Shmuel Salant established a va’ad shechitah to ensure that the shechitah and nikkur were performed in the strictest manner. Around that time it was also allowed in the UK. In Israel it was done by “Menakrim”- Porgers who were “Yireh Shamayim” G-d fearing people who could be trusted. However, in the UK it was a free-for-all (this is why in 1890 Machzikei Adath started their own Shechita).
For the next 30 years, porging of the hindquarters took place in London. However, the situation was most unsatisfactory indeed due to the lack of controls in place. In the end, Dayan Abramsky of the London Beth Din made sure all the porging was brought under control. There were 37 shops at the time porging hindquarters and there was a porger located in the shops. When the War broke out and meat was scarce, Dayan Abramsky decided to ban porging for Kashrus reasons – there was concern that neither the porgers nor the butchers would undertake the very delicate and intricate work properly. Today, the butchers buy a complete forequarter of beef and then that is porged for the blood vessels and koshered under the Board’s supervision.”
Q) Could porging of Hindquarters be re-introduced in the UK?
Dayan YY Lichtenstein – Rosh Beis Din- Federation of Synagogues and member of the London Board’s Rabbinical Authority:
“Although there may be a demand for hindquarters from some sections of the community, it would still not make economic sense. It is not done in the UK because the price of Kosher meat would sky rocket. If we took all the hindquarters we would need many more porgers. For example; 250 animals a week, equates to 500 hindquarters. A good porger can do 4 or 5 a day. It therefore requires at least 20 porgers to porge the meat in any given week. This creates a massive expense of thousands of pounds in salary costs for something which has limited demand.
It does take place in Israel on a very small scale – simply to supply a small demand from tourists who want to eat hindquarter meat. In any event, the market is much larger in Israel and they have massive purchasing power. The buying power in Israel is much stronger than what we have in the UK. (An Israeli importer can take in everyday what the LBS / UK take in a week).
The UK and the US kosher butchers are similar in that they have to be sensitive to the commercial needs of the abattoirs in which they are allowed to purchase. In America they don’t sell hindquarter meat but rather the meat is sometimes hung, marinated, cut and so presented that it resembles and tastes like a typical Fillet steak. It used to be done in France and Spain but it has now been stopped and it is only done in Israel. You will see therefore that aside from a small section of the tourist market in Israel the position in the UK is exactly the same as everywhere else in the world.
Could it be introduced in the next few years? I do not believe so, there are more important issues such as defending ourselves against those who are anti-shechita. Whilst some caterers and members of the public might love it, we need to look at the bigger picture and take a mature view that takes into account kashrus standards and the price of kosher meat for the consumer.”
10. Do the members of the Rabbinical Authority buy from the LBS licensees?
Absolutely! They are very proud of the standards of the Board’s Shechita.
For more information about the Board’s Rabbinical Authority please click here