HOME  DISINFORMATION  CHRC  60 MINUTES  PEOPLE  ABELLA  COTLER  DUNN  FARBER  MARTIN  MORGAN  RAMBAM  RONEN  KOSHER TAX  LVIV MASSACRE  LA JUSTICE
Moshe Ronen  Letter 01  15-Mar-2000  Three questions concerning kosher labelling
"The impression that your answer would be attempting to correct here is that the promotional claims of increased purchasing by the general public following kosher certification is palpably false, as kosher certification is kept secret from all but a select group." Lubomyr Prytulak

March 15, 2000
Moshe Ronen
National President
Canadian Jewish Congress
100 Sparks Street Suite 650
Ottawa, Ontario
K1P 5B7

Telephone: (613) 233-8703
Fax: (613) 233-8748


Moshe Ronen:

I wonder if you would care to make an attempt to dispel some negative impressions having to do with kosher labelling by answering the following three questions.

(1) Does the
Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC)
own the
Council of Orthodox Rabbis (COR)?


Is the Council of Orthodox Rabbis (COR) a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC), and do all COR revenues go to the CJC?  And if not all, then what proportion of COR revenues does the CJC pocket?

And what proportion of all CJC income comes from kosher labelling?

On the CJC web site under Our Aims and Objectives is listed the aim of raising funds, but kosher certification is not included among the means of raising funds, suggesting either that the CJC does not receive funds from kosher certification, or else that the funds received from kosher certification are too trivial to mention, or else that the CJC wishes to conceal this source of income from public view:

TO RAISE FUNDS, to collect and receive monies and property, by contribution, subscriptions, gifts, legacies and grants for the objects of Canadian Jewish Congress or for any special purpose it may determine or as may be directed by donors, consistent with its aforesaid objects.
Canadian Jewish Congress web site, under Our Aims and Objectives, at www.cjc.ca/cjcaims.htm

Using the CJC search engine to search for "kosher" or for "COR" or for "Council of Orthodox Rabbis" turns up no acknowledgement of a connection between the Canadian Jewish Congress and the Council of Orthodox Rabbis.

The impression that it would be in CJC interests to dispel here is that the CJC is less a body representing Jews and deriving its support from Jews, than it is a body which taxes the unwitting Canadian public and represents hidden interests, projecting the appearance of representing Jews only to bolster its perceived legitimacy.


(2) How remunerative is kosher certification
to the CJC,
and how burdensome
to Canadians?

The Canadian public might be interested to know how much kosher-licensing grosses the CJC each year, and how much all kosher licensing (supervised not only by the CJC, but by all other kosher groups, whether these groups are in Canada or outside) costs the average Canadian household each year.  Keeping the license fees secret, or merely alluding to them by means of impressionistic generalizations, only encourages speculation that the fees are being concealed because they are unconscionably high.  For example, let us consider the following statement:

When a company calls on Rabbi [Bernard] Levy's committee, through its O.K. Laboratories [which licenses the circle-K symbol], or on the Orthodox Union, through its Kosher Certification Service [which licenses the circle-U symbol], it incurs a charge for the services of the inspecting rabbis.  Neither group will disclose what the charge is or what gross revenues are, nor are corporations anxious to make their own payments public.

Rabbi Levy observed, however, that the average annual cost to a concern for kosher inspections is about $1,000 with a range from $250 for "mom-and-pop" operations to $40,000 for a multi-plant corporation.  All charges, he said, are keyed to the frequency of inspection, which could be on a continuous, daily, weekly, monthly or quarterly basis.
Leonard Sloane, "Calling It Kosher: How to and Why," The New York Times, 18May75, p. F3.


Rabbi Levy's ball-park estimates above of kosher-licensing fees only pour fuel on the fire of our curiosity.  Can any business be found that really pays only $250 annually?  Is the highest amount paid really only $40,000?  If rabbi Levy's estimates are accurate, then what harm would be done in disclosing, by mutual consent of all parties, what the fees actually are in many different cases?

And let us not overlook that the estimates cited above are twenty-five years old.  If since 1975 kosher fees have been climbing 5% annually, then the 1975 fee of $40,000 would become today's fee of $135,454; and if climbing 10% annually, then the 1975 fee of $40,000 would become today's $433,388; and if climbing 15% annually, then the 1975 fee of $40,000 would become today's fee of $1,316,758.

Examining a more recent mention of a certification fee, we note that in 1992, Maryland rabbi Jonah Gewirtz projected extracting $700,000 in one year from steel manufacturers alone:

How do steel companies get certified?  Easy.  Gewirtz and his colleagues formed a nonprofit Maryland company that will charge steelmakers a fee for kosher certification.  Gewirtz, who is president, estimates annual revenues of up to $700,000.  "Nobody gets rich," he says, and adds that he's reminded of a Talmudic saying: "They who do something for the glory of God find their work being done by angels."
Newsweek, 23Mar92, p. 49.


It is curious to those of us to whom annual revenues of $700,000 from a single source alone would seem like wealth, that to rabbi Gewirtz they do not.  And we note also that this more recent citation is still eight years old, which invites the computation that if kosher-certification fees levied upon steel manufacturers rose, say, ten percent annually for eight years, then that anticipated annual revenue of $700,000 would today become an anticipated annual revenue of $1,500,512.

The impression that the CJC would be trying to dispel here is that kosher licensing brings income in sinful volume, and imposes upon the Canadian consumer a substantial burden.  Veiling the magnitude of kosher-certification fees under a cloud of secrecy gives the impression of protecting the public from the shock of discovering how high kosher-certification fees really are, an impression not dispelled by the tacit admission by the Kosher Overseers Associates of America at http://www.kosher.org that fees generally are skyrocketing, which tacit admission is carried in their claim that they themselves are "Foremost in combatting skyrocketing Kosher Fees."


(3) Is the CJC
on the side of
truth in labelling?

On the one hand, a sales pitch advocating kosher labelling claims that kosher certification offers a sales advantage that consumers, both Jewish and non-Jewish, prefer products that are kosher-certified:

HOW TO CHOOSE A KOSHER CERTIFICATION

by Dr. Avrom Pollak, President, STAR-K KOSHER CERTIFICATION,
11 Warren Road, Baltimore, Maryland 21208 USA
Tel. 410-484-4110, Fax: 410-653-9294, E-mail: StarK11@aol.com


Many of you here this afternoon are already fully aware that kosher certification can offer your company a distinct sales advantage.  Numerous market studies have demonstrated that consumers will most often select a product with a kosher certification over a similar item that is not certified.  Furthermore, these same studies reveal that kosher certification is considered a plus among a wide spectrum of consumers both Jewish and non-Jewish.
Opening of an address available online at http://www.kashrut.com/trade/trade_links/hechsher.

On the other hand, however, there looms an enormous incongruity which is that kosher labelling is deliberately secret.  To take me as an example whereas in December of 1999 I would have estimated that the number of kosher-labelled products in my house was zero, a count revealed that it in fact considerably exceeded 100 a rather astonishing discrepancy.  From my own experience, and from the experience of others I have spoken to, I would venture to hypothesize that something like 9 out of 10 Canadians are unaware that their food and household products come with kosher labels, and perhaps even 99 out of 100.  The average consumer who takes the trouble to read package labels will not recognize the esoteric kosher symbols that he encounters there.

We are left, then, with two questions: (1) Might the claim that kosher labelling will increase sales be disingenuous?  (2) Are we to continue in our present state of conspiratorial, secret labelling, or enter into a new era of truth in labelling?

Such truth in labelling can easily be realized by legislating that kosher identification always start with the word "KOSHER," that a Magen David be placed immediately below, and beneath that any further information which may be of use to the kosher-certification agency, or to the consumer.  (Of course nothing prevents the CJC from adopting truth-in-labelling practices even before they are imposed by legislation.)  The contrast between the old way of doing it and the new way is illustrated below:

OLD WAY:
Secrecy in Labelling
NEW WAY:
Truth in Labelling

Of course the legislation could stipulate that the new, informative label be enclosed in a circle rather than a rectangle, if continuity with current COR graphics were desired.  The location of the kosher label should also be standardized, either close to the product name, or else close to the bar code as things are done today, the kosher label is sometimes prominent, but at other times hidden.  (One imagines that if kosher labelling is thought to improve sales, then manufacturers will prefer to display it prominently beside the product name rather than hiding it away near the bar code.)  And of course, somewhere should be readily available to the consumer the expansion of acronyms, as for example that COR stands for Council of Orthodox Rabbis.

The impression that your answer would be attempting to correct here is that the promotional claims of increased purchasing by the general public following kosher certification is palpably false, as kosher certification is kept secret from all but a select group.  This negative impression is bolstered by such observations as the objection of Jewish groups to being required by the European Parliament to label kosher meat as kosher, which requirement was expected by Jewish representatives to decrease sales, leading to a doubling or tripling of kosher meat prices.

To put it another way, the impression that your answer would be attempting to correct here is that the CJC knows that public recognition that COR stands for Council of Orthodox Rabbis, and that it constitutes kosher certification, would lead to a drop in sales to the general public of products bearing the COR label.

To put it still another way, the impression that your answer would be attempting to correct here is that the CJC promotes the use of a label whose significance must be kept secret in order to avoid causing a collapse in sales.


I have further questions that I will be wanting to put to you concerning kosher certification, but these can be left for future letters.



Lubomyr Prytulak


HOME  DISINFORMATION  CHRC  60 MINUTES  PEOPLE  ABELLA  COTLER  DUNN  FARBER  MARTIN  MORGAN  RAMBAM  RONEN  KOSHER TAX  LVIV MASSACRE  LA JUSTICE