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An Unusual One-year Pilot Test Program in California to Protect Users of Kosher Meat and Poultry

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The machinery of a complicated new California State law to protect users of kosher meat and poultry, involving an unusual one-year pilot test program in Los Angeles County, was explained today by an Agudath Israel leader who helped get the measure through the legislative mill.

Dr. Irving Lebovics of Los Angeles, co-chairman of the regional commission on Legislation and Civic Action of Agudath Israel, spelled out the complexities of the new measure, signed into law August 1 by Governor George Deukmejian, in a telephone interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Assemblyman Tom Hayden, Santa Monica Democrat, sponsored the bill and it was approved by the Assembly by 65-4 and by the State Senate 33-0, Lebovics said.

SOME PROBLEMS WITH THE OLD LAW

Lebovics said that there is a law on the books for kosher consumer protection, 383-B, but that Herschel Elkins, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Attorney General’s consumer affairs department, had complained that 383-B was almost impossible to enforce.

Elkins said that, among other problems, 383-B required that intent to defraud in such cases had to be proved. A rabbi named by the state in the late 1950’s, after 383-B was passed to serve as commissioner of supervision, encountered political and other problems which resulted in state defunding of that post in the mid-1960’s. There has been no statewide protection of the observant Jewish consumer since.

FOUR KOSHER BUTCHER SHOPS TARGETED

Acting on complaints from the Rabbinical Council of California, Elkins managed to borrow an inspector from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration office in Seattle in 1984. Elkins had targeted four kosher butcher shops in Los Angeles and started punitive actions against them.

Lebovics said penalties were imposed on the four against which Elkins acted, not under 383-B but under the state’s general consumer fraud law. All of the butcher shop operators, each of whom had his own rabbinical supervisor, eventually were discredited and all went out of business, Lebovics said.

Lebovics said that when planning was started on the new law, with participation and support by a wide variety of local Jewish organizations, it was agreed that the place to start was kosher butcher shops in California which Elkins reported presented a much wider problem than had been suspected on the basis of the drive against the four kosher butchers.

He said that because of Deukmejian’s objections to the Jewish groups’ plans for a one-line item in the 1985 state budget to provide one kosher food inspector from the Department of Food and Agriculture (DFA), the groups decided to seek a bill for funding. The result was the new law, which provides $64,000 to administer the one-inspector arrangement for one year in Los Angeles County.

Lebovics told the JTA that the new law has a sunset clause, meaning that it will automatically die after one year. Accordingly, the Legislature will have to meet before the expiration and pass a new state-wide kosher product inspection law.

The Agudath Israel official said that the one-year pilot program will make it possible for the Jewish organizations and state officials to work out bugs in the program, and provide an idea of the size of the budget that will be needed annually for a state-wide program. He said the state DFA also had asked for the pilot program to determine whether it could be fitted into its operations.

The DFA has a staff of “fealers,” inspectors who check weights and measures in retail establishments, a program which includes visiting retail stores to determine if their scales are accurate. These inspectors, if the program goes through as hoped, will be trained by the Attorney General’s office to check receipts and other evidence in kosher meat markets. Lebovics said one search might be for kosher food retailers who were found to be selling more claimed kosher meat and poultry than the required documents substantiated.

The language of the new law provides that “any person who sells meat or poultry advertised or represented to be kosher shall retain for one year a true and legible invoice of all invoices and records of cash or charge transactions from the packer or producer of the kosher meat and shall make these documents … available for inspection” by the DFA “upon request.”

Rabbi Chaim Schnur, California Agudath Israel director, said a meeting was being arranged at the Attorney General’s office with rabbis statewide and with kosher food suppliers to acquaint them with details of the new law.

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