|Kosher Meat Shortage|
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NEW YORK — Jacqueline Lankry doesn’t know how she’s going to fill her orders. Owner of her own kosher catering firm in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., Lankry orders a box a week of meat and poultry from Agriprocessors, which runs the nation’s largest kosher slaughterhouse, where production has slowed to a crawl since a federal immigration raid last month at the Postville, Iowa plant.
Lankry learned on June 4 that last week’s box isn’t coming. “They told me they have no merchandise,” she told JTA. “I’m closed for business today. I’m going from store to store, looking for meat to fill my orders.”Instead of buying wholesale chopped meat for $2.19/lb., she’s dishing out $6.99 to buy it retail. That’s going to hurt her bottom line in a big way. But she’s stuck, she says. There are no other kosher meat suppliers in town — everything comes from Agriprocessors, which she and other caterers refer to as “Rubashkins,” after the family that owns it.
She doesn’t know about the raid, she said. She doesn’t know about problems with the workers, or PETA’s allegations of inhumane slaughter methods. She just knows that if Agriprocessors shuts down, she and a lot of other people will be out of business.
“We don’t have a choice,” she explains.
The 400 undocumented workers arrested in the May 12 raid, and their families, are living in limbo, out of work and facing deportation. But now the fall-out is beginning to extend beyond those most directly impacted.
Last week, the production slow-down at the Postville plant finally hit the nation’s kosher markets and, by extension, kosher consumers. Retailers from coast to coast report trouble getting orders filled, and many report price hikes, although they’re generally vague about whether those increases are coming from Agriprocessors or competing suppliers.
Bottom line is, there is less kosher meat, and it’s costing more.
Mordechai Yitzhaky, owner of Kosher Mart in Rockville, Md., says his meat supply is down 80%. He hasn’t seen any price hike yet, but he expects it if production doesn’t get back to normal soon. He won’t pass on the increase to his customers, however.
“Kosher meat is already more expensive,” he says. “We don’t want people to stop keeping kosher.”
Albert Zadeh, owner of Pico Glatt in Los Angeles, buys all his meat and poultry from Agriprocessors, which sells its products under various labels that include Aaron’s Best, Rubashkin’s, Shor Habor, Iowa’s Best Beef and Supreme Kosher. He’s seen a sharp decline in supply.
“If you order ten boxes of beef shank, you only get four,” he says.
There’s also less poultry, and it arrives more haphazardly. “They used to send chicken legs, cut up. Now they give you whole chickens, all sizes, whatever they have,” he says.
His customers “understand the situation,” he says, and are making due with less. Prices have gone up “a few cents,” he says, but for now, he’s absorbing the difference and charging his customers the same.
Dov Bauman, owner of Glatt Mart in Brooklyn, says his fresh poultry supply from Agriprocessors is down, and he, too, is getting whole chickens instead of ready-to-sell parts.
“I don’t have the manpower to break it down,” he says. Prices have gone up from three to 15%, he says, depending on the item.
But Bauman, like other kosher retailers, doesn’t blame it all on Agriprocessors. Fuel hikes, which increase shipping costs, are affecting meat prices as well, he says. In a way, the tighter supply means more people are eager to stock up on kosher meat and poultry now, in case things get worse. “I’m getting more business,” he admits.