Food processing workers are at the very bottom of the pay scale. Many are subject to repetitive stress injury and other on-the-job hazards. Where unions exist, they improve conditions. But what can consumers do?
In early 2006, Rabbi Morris Allen struck a deal with Agriprocessors, a large meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa, to bring fresh kosher meat to St. Paul, Minnesota. Two months later, a Jewish newspaper published a report exposing harsh working conditions at the plant. The report alleged that money was disappearing from paychecks, safety trainings were conducted in English for Spanish-speaking employees, workers were underage, and health coverage was overpriced.
Rabbi Allen felt “personally embarrassed” for putting his faith in the company. To him, a kosher seal means not just preparing and processing food according to the ritual tradition but also treating employees in an ethical way.
In the summer of 2007, Rabbi Allen, the Rabbinical Assembly, and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism launched a program called the Magen Tzedek, an ethical certification awarded to kosher food companies that meet high standards in employee health, safety, training, wages, and benefits.
With over 10 million Americans buying kosher products, the Magen Tzedek assures consumers their food is produced with high integrity. As Rabbi Allen states, “Keeping kosher is the way in which I demonstrate not only a concern for my relationship to God and Torah but the Jewish concern for our relationship to the world in which we live.”