Behind the Headlines Kosher Meat in Short Supply

The federally-imposed price freeze on beef, slated to remain in effect until Sept. 12, has resulted in shutdowns of some kosher processing plants, curtailment of operations and layoffs of workers in others, and spreading shortages in raw and processed kosher meats, particularly delicatessen foods, at the retail level.

These are the highlights of a survey by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, centered on wholesalers, processors and kosher butcher shops and other retail outlets in the east, the area of the nation’s largest concentration of Jews. Caterers also have been hard hit by the freeze and the resulting shortage of beef and other kosher meats.

The JTA was told repeatedly by wholesalers and processors that they were unable to predict what would happen in the remaining month of the meat price freeze but that they were hoping to remain in business somehow. Observant Jewish consumers were found to be switching to poultry and fish which, in turn, were rising steadily in price under the pressure of the greater demand. Many housewives, the JTA was informed, were telling friends they could not continue to buy kosher meats because prices have been raised in some outlets despite the price freeze.

PANIC BUYING, PRICE HIKE

Reports were widespread of a rush of panic buying of meat by Jewish, as well as non-Jewish consumers, which had exacerbated the problem. Many kosher butcher shops were posting signs of limits on purchases and others were closing early when their supplies were exhausted. Catered parties are becoming increasingly expensive, both because of the shortage of beef and rises in prices of other kosher meats. There was widespread agreement among spokesmen for all levels of the industry that the prices of kosher meat, like those of non-kosher meat, would almost certainly rise after the price freeze was ended in September.

Industry suppliers are divided into two basic categories: the wholesalers who supply raw meat including steaks, chops and chopped meat, to kosher butchers and to processing companies; and processors who prepare delicatessen meats, both packaged and unpackaged, for delicatessen stores and general retail outlets.

The head of one of the nation’s largest wholesale distributors of meat to kosher butchers and provisioners described to the JTA a unique arrangement by which some 200 New York City kosher butchers have banded together to get regular supplies of beef. The official, who asked that his name and that of his company be withheld, said that his plant was shut down on Aug. 2 for lack of beef supplies.

He said the company normally supplies several million pounds of kosher meat weekly to its customers and that many of them “panicked” when the firm halted operations. After much discussion, he said, a number of the butchers organized a Kosher Butchers Associates of New York who, collectively, could do what some supermarket chains have been doing–buying beef animals from ranchers.

He said the animals are being slaughtered by kosher slaughters and processed at the company’s plant. The arrangement, he reported, in effect for slightly more than a week, has enabled his company to recall its 240 employes and resume operations while, also making it possible for the 200 kosher butchers in the group to get at least 50 percent of their regular supplies. He added that the kosher butchers were losing money but that the losses were minimal and “at least they are staying in business for the time being.”

FIRST TIME HALT FOR SOME FIRMS

Another major wholesaler, Moore Brothers of Brooklyn, has laid off 65 workers, about 40 percent of its work force, and cancelled night operations. Leo Moore, president, said the firm was getting about half its normal supplies and that it was rationing sales to the 100 kosher butcher shops it normally supplies. Like other executives, he denounced the Nixon Administration for “discriminating” against the meat industry.

Mogen Dovid Kosher Meats, the second largest processor of delicatessen meat products in the United States, halted operations on Aug. 10. Harry Berger, president, said the company would stay closed until lifting of price ceilings in Sept. He said the firm normally produces about 200,000 pounds a week of delicatessen specialties and supplies an estimated 50 percent of delicatessens and supermarkets in the New York metropolitan area. He said divisions of the company had been in business for periods ranging from 25 to 100 years but that this was the first time operations had been halted for lack of beef.

Hebrew National Kosher Foods, the largest processor, reported that 80 workers, about 20 percent of its work force, were furloughed last week. Leonard Pines, president, told the JTA that “most of our suppliers have gone out of business.” He said the company was “somehow” managing to get enough meat to provide about half of its normal deliveries to some 3000 customers but that it was “strictly a day to day thing. We have absolutely no idea what will happen next week.”

Cross Brothers Meat Packers, the only kosher slaughtering firm in Philadelphia, shut down last week, crippling supplies to the area’s 55 kosher butchers. Bernie Cross, president, said the company would stay closed until the price freeze was lifted. Louis Stern, general manager of Foremost Kosher Sausage Products of Philadelphia, described the kosher meat situation as “mass chaos.”

Allan Cohen, president of the Detroit Retail Kosher Meat Dealers Association, said that in 35 years as a meat dealer he had never seen a beef shortage as severe as the current one. As in other cities, prices of kosher veal, lamb and poultry have soared.

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