Kosher Certification Isn’t A Tax, But It’s Surely Worth Discussing

Louise Mailloux, Parti Québécois candidate and professor at Cégep du Vieux Montréal, was criticized earlier this month by the Centre for Israel and Jewish affairs (CIJA) over her past remarks about what is known as “kosher certification”, the process of authenticating food products as kosher and therefore fit for consumption by observant Jews.

CIJA cites an article Mailloux wrote in L’Aut’journal and a 98.5 Radio interview with Benoît Dutrizac two years ago, in which she claimed that kosher certification, which has become commonplace among products sold in any supermarket, is enriching rabbis.

 

She has elsewhere suggested that the proceeds from kosher and halal certification fund religious wars.

 

“According to Mailloux, kosher certification is a ‘rip off’, ‘robbery’ and a ‘tax’ paid ‘directly… to the synagogue’ unbeknownst to Quebecers,” Del Negro said on March 13, “…thereby contributing to unfounded resentment toward Quebec Jews by their fellow citizens.”

CIJA went so far as to describe Mailloux’s views on the subject as “anti-Semitic propaganda”, and a “conspiracy theory”, and there seems to be little doubt that Mailloux is blowing things grossly out of proportion. A “Judaism 101” page explains how kosher certification actually works, and it sounds reasonably benign:

The task of keeping kosher is greatly simplified by widespread kashrut certification. Products that have been certified as kosher are labeled with a mark called a hekhsher (from the same Hebrew root as the word “kosher”) that ordinarily identifies the rabbi or organization that certified the product. Approximately 3/4 of all prepackaged foods have some kind of kosher certification, and most major brands have reliable Orthodox certification.

 

The process of certification does not involve “blessing” the food; rather, it involves examining the ingredients used to make the food, examining the process by which the food is prepared, and periodically inspecting the processing facilities to make sure that kosher standards are maintained.

Kosher (or “kashrut”, yet another derivative of the same Hebrew root) certification is a business. Companies pay certification agencies, such as the Kashruth Council of Canada (whose hekhsher is the letters “COR”, inside an oval), to ensure that their products meet kosher standards. Mailloux’s comments reflect a conviction, shared by certain other suspicious minds, that ordinary consumers are unwittingly buying certified products at prices that are significantly inflated by the cost of certification, and that the certification agencies are using their profits to fund religious causes. One sees unhinged references to a “kosher tax”, and even (rather cleverly, I suppose) a “kosher nostra“.

There seems to be little dispute that kosher certification, at least in Western countries, is so widespread that it’s easy to buy certified products without meaning to do so:

Still, a lot of consumers are oblivious to kosher products. Those in the know tend to be familiar with Jewish culture. Lazarus, for example, is Jewish but not observant.

 

She suspects many shoppers are unknowingly tossing kosher products in their carts. Others don’t know enough about kosher rules to realize they may fill particular dietary needs.

The essence of the counter-argument to dark “kosher nostra” speculations, then, is that kosher certification has no significant effect on prices. Back to Judaism 101:

There are some who have complained that these certification costs increase the cost of the products to non-Jewish, non-kosher consumers; however, the actual cost of such certification is so small relative to the overall cost of production that most manufacturers cannot even calculate it. The cost is more than justified by the increase in sales it produces: although observant Jews are only a small fragment of the marketplace, kosher certification is also a useful (though not complete) point of reference for many Muslims, Seventh Day Adventists and vegetarians. In addition, many people prefer kosher products because they believe them to be cleaner, healthier or better than non-kosher products.

At this point, though, another term enters the equation: simple exasperation. Yes, some kosher rules may promote greater health and cleanliness, but the whole concept is still rooted in a futile desire to obey a non-existent deity. Honest explanations of the practice come out and say this, if not necessarily in so many words.

Though an ancillary hygienic benefit has been attributed to the observance of kosher, the ultimate purpose and rationale is to conform to the Divine Will, as expressed in the Torah.

I have no trouble believing that the cost of kosher certification is negligible in the grand scheme of things, but the fact that many Canadian food producers apparently find it necessary to jump through this superstitious hoop nevertheless sticks in my craw. In principle, I would rather buy food that had not been rigorously checked for conformity to the Divine Will, even if it were slightly more expensive! All this applies equally, of course, to halal certification, which seems to work in about the same way as kosher certification but with a different set of semi-arbitrary rules.

Fortunately, I live in a country where kosher certification is an issue only for products intended for export, although halal certification is another matter (Islam is more widespread in China than most Canadians probably realise). I’d be interested, however, to hear from people who live in Canada. Are there, in fact, hekhshers (or the Islamic equivalent) all over the products in your local supermarket(s)? Are non-hekhshered alternatives readily available, and is there any obvious difference in price and/or quality? Kosher certification isn’t a tax, and certainly isn’t robbery, but I would argue that it’s something Canadians should know about and should be discussing. Comment here or write to me at doubting_corwin (at) fastmail (dot) net.

25 thoughts on “Kosher Certification Isn’t A Tax, But It’s Surely Worth Discussing

  1. You fail to mention that both kosher and halal certification of meats involve slicing the animal’s throat and letting it bleed to death. Halal certification also involves a prayer and the animal’s head must point toward Mecca. All of this because in both cases a so-called prophet has said that his deity told him that blood is impure.
    In the province of Quebec, most chicken meat is halal certified and not labeled as such. It is very difficult to learn the truth about the other meats.

    • A good point. Also kosher food cannot be touched by gentiles. As a heathen I find this troubling.

      • Presumably that rule means that a lot of commercial food handling in Canada is done by Jews, if kosher certification is as widespread as people seem to be saying it is. Or am I misunderstanding something?

    • I’m not too concerned about exactly how animals are slaughtered, as long as the meat doesn’t end up contaminated, but the throat-slitting you mentioned does give the Humane Society crowd a very specific reason to prefer non-halal, non-kosher meat. I wasn’t aware that the head needed to point towards Mecca in order for a slaughtered animal’s meat to be halal. That’s an excellent example of a purely superstitious rule that obviously has nothing to do with any rational concept of health or hygiene.

      In the province of Quebec, most chicken meat is halal certified and not labeled as such.

      Any idea why meat producers do this? It seems odd to me that they’d bother to make their chicken products halal and then not tell anyone. Is it so that they don’t have to bother separating halal from non-halal? Maybe some enterprising food company will start marking products with an anti-hekhsher (I’m thinking “No BS”, inside a circle) to certify that no attempt whatsoever has been made to conform to kosher or halal rules. Then there wouldn’t be any ambiguity.

    • There is a lack of logic in your comments that is common in the write ups on this topic that proliferate the internet.

      “I have no trouble believing that the cost of kosher certification is negligible in the grand scheme of things”

      This is the paradigm that most people see this issue through, which is distracting them from a scam that is occurring. While it may be negligible in comparison to the profits of the food corporations, it is not a negligible amount of money, considering that, in Canada, this affects virtually ~90+% of the products in the grocery store. Just because the amount of money is small compared to the net income of food companies doesn’t mean it isn’t enriching Rabbis, which it almost certainly is. A small percentage of a billion dollars is a lot of money to an individual. As a related example, what the Mafia steals from trucks may be relatively negligible to the company they steal from, but extremely valuable to Mafia profits.

      Ultimately, people don’t want to look at this issue critically because of the umbrella of protection that exists for Jewish organizations as a result of the horrors of WWII, that and people like yourself seem to be unable to think critically. I will add that I am not a white supremacist or a holocaust denier.

      • “Ultimately, people don’t want to look at this issue critically because of the umbrella of protection that exists for Jewish organizations”

        Agree. Make the Kosher be charged voluntarily only at checkout. If people want to donate to Kosher charity, then let them donate as an add on at the checkout…. But Kosher is not even a charity, it’s basically a scam. So not sure why people would even donate 🙂

        Which is why they have to force it on people as part of the food price. Likely

    • I also want to add some clarification as to why this is a scam. There are a variety of reasons why food companies get on board with this, but what is not commonly mentioned is the backlash they would get from Jewish organizations who would brand them as “anti-semitic” as a result. With this in the public, the food company’s reputation and profits would suffer. In essence, this is a type of extortion that requires a fee be paid in order to maintain a company’s “reputation.” The Mafia does something like this although they don’t ruin your reputation, they just break bones or something.

      Mailloux is not “blowing things grossly out of proportion” as you have stated above, and her insta-branding as “anti-semitic” is exactly the same kind of thing which is used to keep the food companies, and us, paying more.

      • James, your posts are spot on.

        Again, the Kosher tax (which really it is) should be a donation paid voluntarily by the consumer as an add on. It will complicate the checkout systems though. They already ask if you’d like to donate to some charity at Loblaws when you checkout, which is also annoying

        I’m in favor of not even having it as an add on. But if we must compromise… and put up with this pathetic tax, at least make the tax an addon that is voluntary, so that it’s no longer a tax but rather a voluntary donation

  2. A great many of the packages (and not just meat products, of which we eat very little) in our pantry bear a little kashrut mark. I really don’t see why I should care. It doesn’t necessarily mean the product is different (many of the kosher rules are relevant only to animal products), only that it is inspected vis-a-vis certain rules. The marginal increment in overhead costs would seem to be offset by the increased sales. So as far as I can tell, I am in no way being harmed by the practice. It makes no more difference to me than the little note that it was/wasn’t made in a nut-free facility (which by contrast, is important safety information for some people).

    • I can appreciate that pragmatic attitude, but for me there’s something flatly distasteful about a non-religious business that sells its products to the general public actually paying an agency to check whether its procedures conform to a set of superstitious rules. It’s not a big deal, but given the choice I’d rather vote with my wallet not to support that kind of activity.

  3. In Ontario kosher is available at a higher cost, so
    I avoid it:)

    It costs at least 25-50% more.

    I have no problem with others paying more as long as the sane people do not have to pay more.

    • I’m surprised that the price difference is that big, given what I’ve read elsewhere. Are you sure the products that cost 25-50% more aren’t just a subset of kosher products – high-end ones that are conspicuously marketed as kosher, or something like that?

      In any case, do you ever have trouble finding non-kosher products to buy instead?

      • I sometimes shop in jewish neighbouhoods and yes
        kosher is a lot more expensive. I glance at the kosher section of the meat/fish counter and walk on.

        Kosher is probably more expensive in ON because
        it is a specialty item.

        Also most jewish people don’t buy it only the
        true believers so they have to pay.

        • I don’t know how it works at the meat/fish counter, but it sounds like a lot of the products on the shelves of a typical Canadian supermarket have relatively inconspicuous kosher certification marks even if they’re not in a special kosher section. You might try surveying your pantry like Eamon Knight did (see his comment above) to see what comes to light.

          But yes, most if not all of the Jews I’ve known over the years have been indifferent to kosher rules. The kosher certification agencies must be pandering to a subset of the Jewish population, plus other consumers who see kosher products as cleaner and healthier (which is probably true to some degree).

    • There are many items that are not easily identified as kosher which actually are, in Canada. In fact, most regular grocery store items that come packaged are in fact kosher, including a simple bottle of regular Heinz ketchup. Look for a U or K symbol. It will be all over almost everything you buy from a grocery store in Canada, even if you’ve never been down the kosher isle.

      • “There are many items that are not easily identified as kosher which actually are, in Canada”

        Well they make the logos so small that you cannot see them. And even if you can see them, if it is tasty food, you (well most people) are going to buy it… whether or not it’s unethical logo is displayed.

        Make this tax a voluntary donation. Other religious charities have to ask you for a donation to their church, so make this absurd tax have the same requirements. And yes, I’m calling it a TAX because not calling it that is simply playinng word games, or at worst mind games and “beating around the bush”.

  4. Nothing new here. Just another rip-off as all religious stuff. Some people make tax-free money based on religious superstitions and the gullibilty of common folk…

    (from good old ernie…)

    • Tax-free? Really? Do you know for a fact that the certification agencies don’t pay taxes on the money they make? I agree that they’re benefitting from superstition, of course.

      • “Tax-free?”

        There is some info on a website about it:

        “The money generated by their Kosher department every year is kept secret through the Orthodox Union and other agencies using a questionable “religious” tax-filing exemption loophole to protect their finances and how they use them, as well as keeping what they charge out of the sight of consumer watchdogs and the IRS’ radar.”

        http://vnnforum.com/showthread.php?p=1841143

        I don’t agree with everything in that article in the link, but there are a lot of good points if you ignore some of the exaggerations.

        It’s not a credible source, but still has some good points regardless that would need to be further looked into.

        As for it not being a tax… that’s just a semantics game. It’s an argument over the definition of words. It sure is a “financial cost” to people which is very much like a tax… Laynes Law problem here:
        http://c2.com/cgi/wiki?LaynesLaw

        As for it not being costly – this is a conspiracy supported by no science or evidence. Who says it is not costly and what studies have been done to prove it is not costly? Just taking their word for it is not science or evidence. Show me actual audits and actual math. Do not take anyone’s word for it that kosher certification and inspection costs are almost “free”. That is complete nonsense since obviously it takes tremendous work to inspect thousands of factories each year – not to mention all the costs of labeling packages.

        This argument that kosher costs are cheap since it’s only less than a penny per every transaction is the same logic used by banks who only make a few pennies on certain transactions… Guess how much money that adds up to if your total amount of transactions is in the millions.

  5. Everyone should have a right to their beliefs or non-belief but no one should have the right to abuse, torture or mistreat animals for any reason, including religious sacrifice. The Government of Canada should follow Denmark’s lead in banning the cruel slaughter of animals for religious purposes.

    • Slitting an animal’s throat instead of slaughtering it in some slightly more rapid way is a pretty mild form of “abuse”. A law against the practice would strike me as petty, unnecessary red tape.

      • By red tape it sounds like you are more of a deregulation free market libertarian that wants the meat industry to regulate itself… Let me ask you this though… how would you feel if your dog or cat was killed slowly, bleeding to death? Would you rather euthanize your dog or cat peacefully? There are studies done showing that pigs are as smart as dogs.. so if we eat pork why should pigs be treated any worse than a dog? Why do dogs not get slit in the throat and bleed to death slowly?

        If it was the case of a fish and you were killing a fish a certain way, I wouldn’t be as concerned since science can prove that fish are not as sentient or intelligent as pigs and dogs. Same goes with killing a house fly or mosquito. But a pig? how do you treat your dogs? Why should a pig be treated cruel if it is the same intelligence as a dog?

  6. I’m sure that there is something uncovered. Why there is MK on CocaCola, for example?
    They could ask some money from the sources, the pruducers. It isn’t a question of local markets where we buy meat that they’re Kosher or Halal for the religion reason.
    Certainly kosher sign is not for free…

  7. After reading the entirety of the section in Canada’s Food Inspection Act dealing with humane slaughter, it troubles me greatly that religious slaughter is exempt from Section 79, the requirement to render an animal unconscious before slitting its throat. More specifically, it specifies that the animal should be restrained and then have its throat slit. This disturbs me deeply. How could this practice not cause an animal distress? I would very much prefer to avoid this sort of barbaric handling of livestock, thank you very much.

  8. In Canada, it’s true that the vast majority of the products offered in the grocery stores/supermarkets has the kosher certification and the labelling is usually quite discreet. It always perplexed me why food companies who have nothing to do with Judaism would pander to Judaics, who represent less than 5% of the Canadian population. I now understand that a much bigger problem/threat than inflated food prices is the Vatican-Rothschild owned banking system, which enslaves all of us. Rabbinic Judaism has been THE red herring for two millennia now. Imperial Rome is alive and well.

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