Shechita’s stock rising in modern world

If you were living in a yurt in Siberia, it’s possible that news of the horsemeat scandal that swept Europe just a few months ago might just have passed you by.

It caused widespread dismay among many people in many communities, predominantly among those who bought cheap pre-made meals or burgers. The Jewish community showed concern but mainly was unaffected. However, it did bring an increase in people – non-Jews as well as Jews – buying kosher meat and poultry.

The connection might not seem obvious at first, as it is pretty nigh impossible for horsemeat – or any other non-kosher meat – to enter the kosher food chain. Rather, it is in the traceability of kosher meat and poultry wherein lies the link.

This is where the London Board for Shechita (LBS) comes in. In its own words, the LBS is a charitable organisation operating on a non-profit basis to ensure the provision of kosher meat to the Jewish public.

What does that mean? In simple terms, it’s the job of the LBS to make sure that every one of its licensed kosher butchers and meat product manufacturers is able to get kosher meat and poultry throughout the year, for every Shabbat and every chag. In doing so, it will know the source of every leg, wing, steak, chicken liver and chop that crosses a counter or decorates a dinner plate.

That capability and certainty of knowing where it all came from and where it’s all going is what gives the LBS its caché in today’s world.

When consumers see an LBS licence certificate displayed in a shop window, they can be safe in the knowledge that what it says on the label of what they’re buying is what they will get in their basket. It is fast becoming a market-leading organisation in food information and education.

The organisation has been in existence since 1804. It is unique in Anglo-Jewry at bringing together the United Synagogue, the Federation of Synagogues and the Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ Congregation under one roof as its constituent parts. It has its own Rabbinical Authority with a senior Dayan from each parent body (Dayan Gelley from the London Beth Din, Dayan Lichtenstein from the Federation and Dayan Amor from the S&P).

The LBS plays no role in buying livestock or in wholesaling meat and poultry. Its role is to employ teams of shochtim – Jewish religious slaughtermen (and their aides who do the checking and the sealing) at abattoirs, whose job is a religious calling for which they train for years before they ever pick up a knife. It also employs shomrim, essentially food inspectors, who oversee kashrut operations in the premises of licensees and particularly the porging and the koshering. It finds abattoirs who are willing to work with shechita – there are very few in England. It will award those coveted licences to butchers and factories it deems fit and worthy to handle kosher meat and poultry, whether they sell it over the counter or ready packaged. Butchers offer different products and vary greatly in style but the LBS inspects all of them before giving a licence.

The LBS is a charity so is not in business to make profits. It gets no donations but charges fees for its services and for the people it employs. Occasionally, one will see stories in the Jewish press about shechita fees. However, tough management and tighter economic controls have led to its fees per kilo being lower now than in 2005 and this in a period in which worldwide meat and poultry prices have increased. The LBS is seriously concerned about the price of keeping kosher, but it must be stressed that it plays no part in setting the prices paid by consumers. Uniquely among UK shechita authorities, it seeks to have a number of abattoirs where it offers its services so its butchers have a choice and there is competition for their custom.

While it might be more than two centuries old, the reach and influence of social media in today’s world is being acknowledged as the LBS is about to revamp its website and is launching its own Facebook page. This will bring greater accessibility, transparency and knowledge to both its licensees and consumers in a world where the substance of what we eat has never been of greater importance.

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