NEW YORK - Kosher meat, always more expensive than regular beef and poultry, may grow even pricier this summer after the arrests of nearly half the work force in an immigration raid at the nation’s largest kosher meat processor.
Any price increases would affect not only observant Jews, but also Muslims who often buy kosher meat because it meets halal guidelines, as well as people who simply buy kosher food for health and safety reasons — and who make up the majority of the $12.5 billion market. A rise would add to the steep climb in kosher food prices over the last year.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents on May 12 raided Agriprocessors’ Postville, Iowa plant, arresting nearly 400 workers on immigration, identity theft and other charges.
The company produces about half the country’s kosher beef and roughly 40 percent of its kosher chicken; the plant was temporarily shut by the raid, but has since reopened. The arrests were quickly followed by almost 300 plea deals by workers. If the company can maintain production at the plant, its prices may still rise as it hires documented workers after the largest immigration raid in history, said Joe Regenstein, a food sciences professor at Cornell University.
“I suspect prices will rise disproportionately as the real costs of production will have to get factored in,” Regenstein said.
“The particular competitive advantage of (Agriprocessors) is likely to be lost. If they end up in further trouble, there could be a shortage of (kosher) meat sometime over the summer.”
Agriprocessors said Friday it hired Jim Martin, a former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri, as its outside corporate compliance officer.
“Agriprocessors’ 800 jobs are important to Postville and northern Iowa, along with the observant Jewish community across the country that relies on them for their kosher meat and poultry,” Martin said. Even before the raid, Yehuda Shain at the Kosher Consumers Union said there was a bigger spike in kosher meat prices this year than in the past — and he expects more to come.
While no separate data on kosher food inflation were available, overall meat prices increased nearly 4 percent in 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“The situation is impossible,” said Ricardo Bosich, owner of Gordon and Alperin kosher butcher in Newton, Mass. “Kosher food is so expensive, middle-class people can’t even afford it.”
Rising feed and fuel prices, the same factors pushing overall food prices higher, are adding to kosher inflation — but there are also challenges specific to kosher food, which is a $12.5 billion industry, according to market researcher Mintel International Group.