Thursday, September 07, 2006

meat scandall & (drug bust at chicken plant)

Nathaniel Popper | Fri. Sep 08, 2006 FORWARD
The evening of August 30 was a dark one for the kosher food industry.

First, a group of rabbis in New York discovered boxes upon boxes of nonkosher meat in the warehouse of a major kosher meat distributor. At roughly the same time, in Pennsylvania, federal agents seized 726 pounds of marijuana at a kosher slaughterhouse.

For kosher consumers, the more disconcerting news came from Monsey, N.Y., where rabbis found packages of nonkosher meat in the storeroom of a local kosher meat distributor. There was no immediate announcement about how long the nonkosher meat had been on the shelves, but Monsey, a heavily Orthodox town, has been plastered with handbills and letters warning residents to ritually cleanse, or kasher, any kitchen supplies that may have touched meat from the wholesaler, Shevach Quality Meats.

In both of the current cases, the transgressions appear to have slipped by the rabbis who are supposed to keep careful watch over the kosher production process, which demands strict quality control. Some kosher authorities said that this week’s incidents point to the difficulties faced by the rabbinical community as it copes with the increasing industrialization of the kosher meat business.

“When you have mass-produced meat products, there are more links in the chain — and the chain is as strong as its weakest link,” Spivak added.

In the case of the G & G Poultry plant, where the drug bust took place, the problems seem to have been restricted to a few of the plant’s 120 some employees. In the affidavit, federal agent Rebecca Lafferty said that her agency began tracking the shipment of marijuana when it arrived in Baltimore in a cargo container from Mexico. Customs officials opened the container and found blocks of marijuana inside “handy crafts [sic] made of pottery, wood and plaster.”

The authorities allowed the container to pass through so that they could track its movement, and in mid-August it was shipped to the G & G facilities, which are near Reading, Pa. The affidavit describes Hispanic men driving in and out of the factory parking lot with rental trucks after a Saturday delivery date, when the kosher factory would have been closed.

Federal agents finally raided the plant after seeing three men unloading the cargo container during business hours and placing the pottery-encased marijuana outside the fence surrounding G & G. The owner of G & G, Meir Grunbaum, said that he knew nothing of the problems until the raid.

“The federal agents were embarrassed to go away from here with no arrest, so they just made a false arrest, and that’s not right,” Grunbaum said.

Grunbaum said that one of the men, who is still being held in Philadelphia, had been on his first day of work at G & G when the raid occurred. Grunbaum’s explanation is not contradicted by the affidavit, which makes no mention of any role played by the four arrested men in the pot plot before the morning of the raid. Moreover, the person who was listed as the recipient of the cargo container was not among those arrested.

The G & G plant receives its kosher supervision from both the Orthodox Union and the Central Rabbinical Congress, a Brooklyn-based agency affiliated with the ultra-Orthodox Satmar sect. Neither supervisory agency had any comment on the busts.

In Monsey, it was the kosher supervisory authorities who were called in to confirm the problem at Shevach, a distributor that had rented space in the back of one of Monsey’s biggest kosher supermarkets, Hatzlocha. Shevach sold to local caterers, but also was the meat supplier for the Hatzlocha supermarket.

According to a manager at Hatzlocha, who declined to give his name, the problems with the Shevach distributor’s meat were uncovered only by chance. The manager says the owners of Hatzlocha were tipped off after noticing meat on the shelves that was labeled as coming from a slaughterhouse that had long before stopped selling to the wholesaler. Suspicious, the owner of the grocery store called in local rabbis, who broke into the cooler room of Shevach meats. After some basic tests, it was determined that the meat being sold was not kosher.

“The kidneys were in there,” the manager said. “This was a very obvious giveaway.” One veteran kosher administrator, Rabbi Yudel Shain, said that 20 local rabbis had met Sunday to discuss what to do about the situation. That same day, the rabbi who provided kosher supervision to Shevach, Shlomo Breslauer, released an announcement that he was withdrawing his supervision of Shevach and warning people to purify their kitchens.

There has been no unified communal response to the news in Monsey, but one of the local kosher supervisors, Weissmandel, released his letter giving instructions on how to clean house. This included 20 steps, such as laundering tablecloths and turning ovens to 500 degrees for at least one hour.

“One must take severe measures [with] all dishes including pots, covers, gloves, forks and knives, ovens, table counters, blenders, microwaves, porcelain bowls of various sorts, glass dishes and anything that was used hot or with spicy matters,” Weissmandel wrote.

The incident in Monsey also has brought to light the fact that for all the careful kosher supervision in the meat industry, many distributors — the middlemen in the food chain — are not required to secure the kosher supervision that must be maintained by stores and slaughterhouses. Rabbi Moshe Elefant, a kosher administrator at the Orthodox Union, said that while his organization had nothing to do with the situation in Monsey, the current incident could provoke all supervising agencies to begin requiring supervision of distributors.

Shain, the veteran kosher administrator, said that he had pointed out problems with Shevach meats a number of years ago but no steps had been taken to rectify the situation. Shain said he is certain that Monsey is not the only place with such problems.

“If you think that I have a doubt that this kind of game is going on in other places — I’m telling you that it is,” Shain said.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Shatnez in Monsey

SHATNEZ TESTING: The Monsey Shatnez Test Center does testing in Monsey, Queens, Englewood & other areas as well. While testing in Queens, there arose some questions by some of the Queens "Rabonim" as to the expertise of the tester. The Rabonim had garments that the Monsey tester labeled as non-Shatnez was re-tested by the National Shatnez Testing laboratory & found that they did in fact contain Shatnez.

The Rabonim confronted the Monsey tester, & was told that these garments contain Shatnez, yet he was unable to identify the places that contained the Shatnez. Other tests were prepared for the tester to ascertain his degree of expertise. After the conclusion of the testing of his expertise he was advised not to return to Queens.

We followed up with approaching Rabonim in Monsey, NY to advise them to follow up on the serious concerns of the conclusion of the Queens Rabonim. The Monsey Rabonim sent garments to the Monsey test center & had the same results; the National Shatnez Testing Laboratory was able to clearly show the Rabonim Shatnez even though they had labels non-Shatnez.

The Monsey Rabonim confronted the Monsey Shatnez Center with the facts & concluded that he is not qualified to test for Shatnez.

Thereafter he went to the "Bnai-Brak" Shatnez laboratory to obtain a certification. They interviewed him & advised him that he will require a whole year of training in their Laboratory before they can consider certification. The tester advised them that he is leaving the Shatnez testing field altogether. Upon his return to Monsey he decided to continue Shatnez testing. Thereafter he obtained the certification of "Mishpat-Sholom" in Brooklyn, NY despite being advised by the Monsey Rabonim of the situation.

"Mishpat-Sholom" also certifies Lee Ave Laboratory. "Mishpat-Sholom" does not have a qualified expert in the practical testing of Shatnez in the Bais-Din. Lee Ave Brooklyn lab claims that they have retrained the Monsey tester. The fact remains that after retraining, we are confronted with the same problems, Shatnez garments having labels non-Shatnez.

As an aside: This writer, R' Yehuda Shain was trained in Shatnez testing under R' Yosef Rosenberger OB"M 40 years ago, and worked under his personal guidance.

A meeting was called by Mishpat-Sholom Bais-Din to update them of the findings of the Queens & Monsey Rabonim as far as the Monsey tester. We were present & a representative of the National Testing Laboratory as well. Present were representatives of the Lee Ave Shatnez center, why? The most important one was not present at all "the Monsey tester".

Some prominent Rabonim advised against going to the meeting called by the Bais-Din Mishpat Shalom as their intentions are to cover up & to make the accusers look foolish. We were not ready to accept that a Bais-Din will be using such tactics. Also at the meeting was a CPA who brought some suits of his (purchased at the British-American store in NYC) that were tested by the Lee Ave Shatnez center & labeled as Non-Shatnez. After retesting them at the Flatbush Lab (not affiliated with Lee Ave. Lab) they were found to contain Shatnez.

Also present was a prominent Flatbush Rov & a Flatbush askan. At first the Lee Ave. Lab told all of us & the Bais-Din that their tester has not been going to the British American store in Manhattan for 3 years. The owner of the suits called the store from the Bais-Din & they said that the Lee Ave. Labs tester comes every 2 weeks to do Shatnez testing. The Bais-Din Mishpat Shalom was in a bind by certifying Shatnez garments as non-Shatnez.

Mishpat Shalom decided on a new tactic & wanted to know 1 thing only “why we brought this new problem to them"? (This questions the qualifications of the current Lee Ave Laboratory. (The current head of Lee Av Lab is an individual that Mr. Rosenberger, OB"M never let him get involved in Shatnez testing.)

The CPA & the Flatbush Rav asked the Mishpat-Sholom Bais-Din how they intend to deal with this new serious problem. The Bais-Din responded that it's of utmost importance to know why I told the Flatbush group about this meeting & thereby putting them in a corner. And till they do not get a satisfactory response they will not address any real Shatnez issues.

Then one of the Judges said a long story about him eating a hot piece of Gefilte fish & going to the hospital, & it's hard for him to talk; yet all the Mishpat Shalom Judges had him do all of the talking.

We saw that the Monsey tester was not present & Lee Ave Lab was there, we realized the "set-up". At that point it was useless to remain any longer at the meeting. We must confess that the Rabonim that advised us against going to the meeting, were regretfully right, as this is the outcome they foretold.

The facts as they are today, the Monsey Shatnez Center & the Lee Ave Lab. are certifying clothing containing Shatnez as "non-Shatnez", under Mishpat-Sholom Certification.

The "Right Place" in Borough Park was advised that their tester is unqualified & is certifying suits containing Shatnez as "non-Shatnez", the Right Place refuses to adhere & stop those deceiving the public and buyer beware.

All of the "Right Place" suits require re-testing by a qualified lab, which excludes the following labs: Lee Ave Lab & their affiliates, Monsey Test Center. They claim to be guided by a Psak of a Rov. The Shatnez testing fee is a fraud. We verified that the Rov was given wrong and misleading information.

There have been surfacing some fraudulent letters about Shatnez & other related issues. The Rabonim signed authentic letters that certain Shatnez testers are not to be relied upon.

Are there prominent Rabonim in Monsey & other areas covering up & hindering the exposure of this scandal? YES
To be continued.