The leading Jewish authority in charge of certifying kosher food has threatened to withdraw its certification from the products of Agriprocessors Inc., the nation’s largest kosher meatpacker, after criminal charges for more than 9,000 child labor violations were brought against the company and its owners in Iowa this week.
Rabbi Menachem Genack, who is in charge of kosher supervision for the Orthodox Union, the major kosher certifying organization in the United States, said he had set a deadline of “several weeks” for Agriprocessors to name a new chief executive, or the group would suspend supervision of kosher production at its plants.
“Because of the new charges in the state of Iowa, we believe it is in the best interest of the kosher consuming public to have new management with a new C.E.O., that will give people a new sense of confidence that all laws and regulations are being completely complied with,” Rabbi Genack said in an interview on Wednesday.
Losing the kosher certification of the Orthodox Union would be a potentially crippling blow to Agriprocessors, whose meat and poultry — sold as Aaron’s Best and Rubashkin’s, among other brands — are staples in Jewish households nationwide that observe kosher practices. The company is by far the largest producer of kosher meat, with annual kosher sales estimated at $80 million. Although other groups provide certification, they are less widely known, and the loss of the familiar circled-U seal on the company’s products could drive away many customers.
Agriprocessors has been struggling to maintain its production since 389 illegal immigrant workers were detained at its plant in Postville, Iowa, in a raid on May 12. On Tuesday, Iowa’s attorney general brought 9,311 criminal misdemeanor charges that accused the company of employing 32 workers under the legal age of 18 in Postville. Many of the youths worked night shifts in dangerous jobs that exposed them to hazardous chemicals, according to the charges.
Aaron Rubashkin, the Agriprocessors owner, who is a Hasidic Jew, and his son Sholom, the former chief executive of the Postville operation, were named as defendants in the criminal cases.
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