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Jewish Journal

Israel and American Kosher Red Meat Supply Don’t Add Up

by Pini Herman

April 11, 2013 | 12:41 pm

"There’s only so much meat on a cow."

There may be a lot of kosher red meat missing in the Jewish world. Demographic methods based on a variety of published agricultural, census, trade and news sources, as well as conservative assumptions on rates of Jewish kosher red meat consumption in Israel and the U.S are helpful in providing a picture of kosher meat availabilty.

The amount of kosher meat in the U.S. supply just doesn’t add up if one takes a conservative estimate of the American Jewish population being only 5.2 million Jews.  Assuming the 17 percent who said they only ate kosher to the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey interviewers hasn’t changed much, that would account for about 880 thousand American Jews.  Assuming that American Jews consume red meat at the same rate as other Americans of 113 pounds a year (as compared to the average Israeli consuming an estimated 45 pounds of red meat a year).  An average grain fed steer for slaughter in the U.S. weighs 1,280 pounds and only 49% of the carcass is edible or “cutable” as dressed meat which leaves about 630 edible pounds.  Traditionally, only the edible front half of a kosher-slaughtered cow may be used by kosher consumers so that leaves about 315 pounds of edible kosher meat.  It takes almost one kosher-slaughtered steer a year to feed almost three U.S. self-reported kosher-only-eating Jews, or a total of 319,000 cattle. 

Assuming that kosher-slaughter takes place on about 250 days a year, approximately 1,300 cattle would have to be slaughtered each day.  Considering that the highest recent year for kosher beef imports was 8.5 million pounds or the equivalent of 27,000 kosher-slaughtered cattle a year (or around 100 imported kosher slaughtered cattle per day), domestic U.S. kosher slaughter would have to be 1,200 cows a day to meet U.S. Jewish eats-kosher-only demand. 

There are only three U.S. domestic glatt kosher processing plants, Alle, primarily an importer who engages in some domestic slaughter at rented space in New York processing plant, Agri Star in Postville, Iowa and Noah's Ark Processors in Dawson, Minnesota,  who would each have to process approximately 400 cattle a-day to meet demand.  If any one of the processing plant could even process a tenth, or 40 cattle a day, that would be amazing, considering the modest size and scale of the existing three U.S. glatt kosher-slaughter meat processors.  My assumption is that glatt-kosher slaughtering 2 cattle-an-hour on 250-eight-hour days would be pretty “breakneck speed” for domestic glatt-kosher slaughter plants and result only in 12,000 cattle plus the 27,000 imported cattle being glatt-kosher slaughtered. This would only supply 12% of the 319,000 cattle needed to fill kosher-only-eating U.S.Jewish consumers red meat yearly demand.

Could it be that a glatt-kosher red-meat supply is only available for 80 thousand out of the 880 thousand American Jews estimated to eat kosher-only?  Why are glatt-kosher butcher shops not looking like the historical pictures of empty shelves found in Soviet Russia and Communist Cuba with ever longer lines?  This kosher-meat demand estimation exercise  uses conservative assumptions.  The 6.6 million U.S. Jews estimate of my east-coast based demographic colleagues, that I term the “million Jew mistake”  would translate into an additional 86,000 kosher-slaughtered cows to the 319,000 needed each year to meet estimated U.S. Jewish demand.

American kosher meat supplies just don’t add up to estimated demand. This brought home in a recent article about the local Doheny Glatt Kosher Meats covered by Jonah Lowenfeld: 

“In the kosher business in Los Angeles, everyone’s a competitor and everybody works together,” said Daryl Schwarz, who owned Kosher Club, a retailer and distributor of kosher meats that closed its doors on Pico in 2011 after more than 20 years in business. “Even though you could hate each other on a Monday, if somebody needs a product and you’ve got it, you’ll sell it to him.”

Schwarz said that while he would frequently find himself calling around to other markets to see if they had a particular kind of product in stock, Engelman always seemed to have whatever he needed.

“There’s only so much meat on a cow,” Schwarz said, “and Mike was never out of anything.”

Competitors are running out,  but one store has an assured supply. 

Many loyal customers of Doheny Glatt Kosher Meats believe that the meats that were switched were kosher, but to a lesser degree. That is doubtful.  The assumptions for these estimates are conservative, they assume no wastage and every cow  that enters a kosher slaughter line ends up being certified kosher.

Empire Kosher does sell regular kosher beef supervised by the OU (Orthodox Union) and the KAJ (K'Hal Adath Jeshurun), but Empire would have to account for an additional estimated 281,000 cattle a year, this equals in scale to two-and-a-half times the 115,000 cattle which were domestically slaughtered in the U.S. in a week for mid-April 2013.  For kosher destined cattle translates into over 1,100 cattle a work-day which would mean over 70 kosher slaughterers working at the pace of slaughtering and inspecting for kosher certification one cow each half hour without break for eight hours.

U.S. Jews could be eating a lot of hot dogs and salami, but that is doubtful. Hebrew National, a division of ConAgra, the largest cattle processor in the nation, markets only kosher deli prepared meats such as salami, not dressed beef. ConAgra is known as a meat exporter and is not a likely importer of kosher slaughtered cattle from South and Central America for use in preparing salami and sausages.

It's doubtful that there is any other major kosher red meat producer in the U.S. So, the kosher red meat supply in the U.S. is puzzling and seems to indicate a shortfall.

This kosher meat shortfall is sizable in Israel.

Israel’s annual consumption of red meat is estimated at close to 100,000 metric tons. While only some 25 percent of the population considers itself observant or orthodox in observance of Jewish law, between 70 and 80 percent of the Israeli population consume only kosher meat and poultry, that would translate into about 326,000 kosher-killed cattle, very similar to the U.S. Jewish demand and the vast majority of cattle are slaughtered outside of Israel, in accordance to Israel’s 1994 Kashrut law.

Based on an Israeli government report, the yearly ten thousand metric tons of non-kosher meat, or the equivalent of over 70,000 kosher-killed cattle, found by Israel’s State Controller which comes through Israeli ports and is diverted from the Palestinian Authority and sold as kosher within Israel, this constitutes about 10 percent of red meat bought as kosher by Israeli consumers.

On any given day about a half-million Israeli Jews may be unknowingly consuming non-kosher red meat.

So, what might a combined estimate of over one million Israeli and American Jews have in common? Chew on that.  

The problem of the kosher meat supply is systemic rather than the greed of one or another kosher retailer. Independent non-Orthodox outside auditing is needed to supervise the Kosher supervisors.

UPDATE 5/8/2013  The following is a recent email exchange with a person who wishes to remain anonymous regarding some of the assumptions that I put forth regarding kosher slaughter for the dressed beef market in the U.S.

From:NWBR
To: Pini Herman
Sent: Fri, May 3, 2013 4:27:16 PM
Subject: Article about Kosher Meat in the US

Hi Dr. Herman,

I saw several issues with your article of April 11th concerning the estimates provided, and wanted to know what you thought about it.

After a bit of consideration, the claims that the total production of US Kosher slaughtered beef is “only in 12,000 cattle” a year seems problematic. Agriprocessors alone was slaughtering 500-700 head / day at its peak, and this is much larger than your estimate. (See: http://www.agrinews.com/agri/star/promises/big/economic/effect/in/postville/story-2369.html and http://thegazette.com/2010/04/13/former-agriprocessors-plant-restarts-operations/ for the larger estimate.) Additionally, it seems to me that the estimates for kosher beef consumption are inaccurate. The assumption that Jews who keep Kosher eat the same amount of red meat as the American Public is unusual, and the level of red meat consumption itself seems high given the American Meat institute’s claim of 65 lbs / year of beef (http://www.meatami.com/ht/a/GetDocumentAction/i/48781.) On a related note, the income elasticity of meat consumption is not accounted for; kosher meat is much more expensive then non-kosher meat, so less presumably would be consumed.

I’m interested in your thoughts about this. Thanks,
Name Witheld By Request

....................................

From: Pini Herman
Sent: Sunday, May 05, 2013 12:55 PM
To:NWHBR
Subject: Re: Article about Kosher Meat in the US

Hi NWBR,

I appreciate your comments.  You are probably right that the kosher slaughter is over 40 a day.  I was looking at feasibility studies of similarly sized processing plants to Agri Star's plant, but size may not matter as much.  The main quantity I was working off was Alle's increase of imported beef during the time that Agriprocessors was shut down because of the raids on Argriprocessors.

The average consumption figure I'm working with is "red meat" which for Americans includes beef, lamb, pork, which for Jews probably means a greater share of beef in the diet because pork is not eaten. The fowl argument that Jews make it up with chicken and turkey would assume that non-Jewish Americans don't also consume great amounts of the birds, which are not categorized as "red meat."  The Beef Council naturally concerns itself with beef only.

Would you mind if I incorporated your letter in the blog and continue the conversation and calculations there?

Warm regards,

Pini Herman

-------------------

From: NWHBR
To: Pini Herman 
Sent: Sun, May 5, 2013 5:03:15 PM
Subject: RE: Article about Kosher Meat in the US

Hi Dr. Herman,

I don’t feel comfortable having the figures I provided used for the purposes of the estimation you are attempting, especially having my name associated with the idea that this calculation is valid. I don’t think that this type of calculation is at all reasonable for estimating whether or not kosher meat is supplied in sufficient quantities to fulfill demand. To back up the extraordinary claim that “kosher” meat that is sold is in fact not kosher, you would need extraordinary evidence. I don’t think that this type of calculation could possibly qualify, which is why I wanted to point out the issues I saw with the calculation.

If you want to continue the calculation, however, cross-substitution of beef and nonkosher meat can be estimated economically, and while any exact figures are difficult to assess given the large change in prices and the elimination of pork as an option, it doesn’t line up with your guesses about chicken, beef, and pork. According to the USDA’s published price elasticity estimates, a 50% increase in the price of beef would increase chicken consumption by 40% or more, but increase pork consumption by less than 10%; they just aren’t strong substitutes. The main effect of a price increase in pork (which can be used as a proxy to consider the lack of consumption of pork) is increased consumption of “other meats,” which would include turkey and other non-chicken, non-beef meat items. Fish seems to have a large substitution effect with pork as well.

Thanks,
NWHBR

Pini Herman, PhD. specializes in demographics, big data and predictive analysis, has served as Asst. Research Professor at the University of Southern California Dept. of Geography,  Adjunct Lecturer at the USC School of Social Work,  Research Director at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles following Bruce Phillips, PhD. in that position and is a past President of the Movable Minyan a lay-lead independent congregation in the 3rd Street area. Currently he is a principal of Phillips and Herman Demographic Research. To email Pini: pini00003@gmail.com To follow Pini on Twitter:

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Bruce Phillips is Professor of Sociology and Jewish Communal Studies at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Los Angeles. He has conducted Jewish population...

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