US: Kosher chicken shortage this Passover

06-03-2013 | | |
US: Kosher chicken shortage this Easter
US: Kosher chicken shortage this Easter

The largest kosher chicken producer in the US halted production for at least a day all allegedly due to shipment of chickens that arrived ready for slaughter which were underweight. This is raised questions about there being enough kosher chicken for Jewish homes this Passover.

The plant in Mifflintown, Pa., was scheduled to resume production on Monday after closing down on Feb. 28, Haaretz reported. Empire, which has a regular production schedule of Monday to Thursday, is the largest kosher poultry producer in the United States.

Company spokesperson Elie Rosenfeld told Haaretz that the plant did not slaughter the tens of thousands of chickens that arrived on Feb. 28 because about half of them were not at the appropriate weight. Waiting until Monday to process them allowed the birds time to grow.

He said that Empire knew Wednesday night that the chickens were light, and decided Thursday morning to close down production for one day rather than slaughter chickens that would not fit its customers’ needs.

However, others believe that the real reason is a reovirus that causes chickens’ leg tendons to tighten and then snap, rendering then non-kosher. Too many of the birds in the shipment meant for Thursday’s slaughter had snapped tendons and were treife, causing Empire to shut down production until Monday.

Even before the temporary shutdown, which at least one observer told Haaretz would lead to a shortage of kosher chickens at Passover, “there were shortages in the last couple of weeks, since they started checking the tendons,” said the manager of the meat department at Gourmet Glatt in the Borough Park section of Brooklyn, who also asked that his name be withheld.

All chicken producers have been hit with the virus, which reportedly cannot harm humans. A vaccine against the virus is now in wide use. Empire, probably because it controls its own chicken production from hatching through distribution, was hit much later than most other producers. Even so, its problem with the virus peaked in late January.

Whatever its cause, Thursday’s shutdown is news because it comes less than a month before Passover, and Passover’s dietary restrictions cause a large uptake in chicken consumption.

Empire produces poultry products under its own name and under the brand names Nirbater (a hasidic kosher supervision named for Rabbi Aron Teitelbaum, the Nirbater Rav, who is also the head kosher supervisor at Empire), and Whole Foods’ brand Kosher Valley.