As the Times Square ball dropped, government and corporate sectors switched from their 2010 to 2011 budgets. In the mix, New York State, whose population makes up the largest kosher consumer market outside of Israel, has stripped the Division of Kosher Law Enforcement, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The 11-employee division of the state Department of Agriculture and Markets has been whittled down to just its director. The cut follows another budgetary decision made last summer to lay-off much of the division’s staff. The department is saying that the lay-offs will save the state $1 million this year.
The division has played a significant role in protecting consumers against fraudulent use of kosher symbols. Howie Beigelman, Deputy Director of Public Policy at the Orthodox Union, explained that the division’s inspectors confirmed that kosher markets, restaurants, caterers and other businesses are certified by the agency they purport to be. They would ask: “Are you compliant with the law? You say you’re under the OU — are you actually? Or you say you’re glatt — are you really?” he told the Jew and the Carrot.
“It’s a large industry for the state and it allows the state basically to police [it],” Beigeleman continued.
Illegal use of kosher symbols is widespread, according to another article in the Journal. Kosher-certifying agencies spend considerable amounts of money and time each year protecting their names. Andrew Wolpin, a former inspector for the state who was laid-off told the Journal: “Now that there’s no kosher enforcement it’s going to be the Wild West and people will do whatever they feel like.”
According to the JTA, the state views the role of inspectors as obsolete after a 2004 court decision. Until then, inspectors enforced kosher supervision, holding all kosher businesses to Orthodox kashrut standards. The decision was found to be discriminatory against non-Orthodox kosher businesses and was changed to have inspectors confirm that kosher businesses are supervised by the agency they claim to be. A second case challenging the current law is in litigation.
The OU has urged the state to change its budget. According to Beigelman, Rabbi Menachem Genack, Chief Executive Officer of OU Kosher, wrote Governor Paterson before the end of Paterson’s term, but has yet to receive a response.
According to the OU, the Speaker of the New York State Assembly, Sheldon Silver, has indicated that he will speak to Governor Andrew Cuomo about the division in the coming months
The Rabbinical Alliance of America and the National Council of Young Israel have also come out against the cuts, according to the JTA.