Stores, Customers Struggling to Find Kosher Meat

Rabbi Moishe Silverman stood taking inventory of a meat freezer at South Florida Kosher, the supermarket and butcher shop where he works. Dressed in a yarmulke and tie and wearing a plastic apron over his white butcher jacket, he surveyed the piled boxes of chicken and beef.

"Normally, this, on a Monday, this would be stacked up to here," he said, pointing to a mark on the wall above his head.

But the cardboard boxes of beef in the freezer mostly reached his knee. It's a scene being repeated in the freezers of kosher butchers and their customers across the nation.

The shortage is the result of the collapse of Agriprocessors Inc., formerly the largest kosher meatpacking company in the nation. In May, nearly 400 workers were arrested in an immigration raid at the company's Postville, Iowa, slaughterhouse.

Since then, the company has struggled, and the plant has closed. It stopped shipping beef about three weeks ago and chicken in the last week, customers said. Since there are only a handful of processors nationwide who slaughter animals according to Jewish law and under the supervision of rabbis, the shutdown has cut the kosher meat supply to the bone.

Other processors have been swamped with orders and either boosting the amount of meat they produce or refusing to take new clients. Some consumers are paying up to 40 percent more for the same meat. Markets and butchers say they can't get certain cuts of beef for their customers, largely Orthodox Jews, and some have had to rearrange what they do have to fill display shelves.

"We just spread out the stuff that we do have so it shouldn't look empty, but there's no question there are cuts that are missing," said Yitzie Spalter, the manager of the North Miami Beach store where Silverman works.

Previously, 80 percent of the store's meat came from Agriprocessors, Spalter said.

Now, he hasn't been able to get it in the same quantities. On an average Sunday, the store would get 250 cases of meat. On a recent Sunday, the store received just 26 and a promise of 120 more during the week -- still just over half their normal order.

And they've been lucky.

Spalter fields calls from restaurants and caterers who can't get meat at all. He tries to supply them, but his customers come first. Shoppers said his store did have more of a selection than others.

Smaller communities, where Agriprocessors had a niche market, may be among the hardest hit, but big cities are not immune. Markets in Miami, Cleveland, Arizona and Houston relied on the company, said Menachem Lubinsky, the editor of industry newsletter KosherToday.com and a former Agriprocessors spokesman.

"We're buying from anybody we can get it from," said Darryl Ames, the store manager at independent grocery store Belden's in Houston. "We may not have veal or we may not have a certain type of roast, but usually within a few days we get it back in stock."

Heshy Wilensky, the owner of New Deal Kosher Market in North Miami Beach, said he stopped doing business with Agriprocessors in June, shortly after the raid, because he didn't like what he was reading about the company. Previously, 90 percent of his meat had come from the company, but he said he wasn't having trouble getting kosher meat.

The shutdown has been less of a problem in places like New York. That's where Agriprocessors' chief competitor, Alle Processing, is headquartered and has more of a market share. Alle Processing did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

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