Stores, Customers Struggling to Find Kosher Meat

Largest kosher meat supplier in the country collapsed after immigration arrests.

ByABC News
December 1, 2008, 10:25 AM

Dec. 1, 2008— -- 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.