On the cover this week ...
Dec. 13, 2013
Checkmark for kosher
How safe is your food? That could depend on whether or not is has the Kosher Check certification. Formerly known as B.C. Kosher (BCK), the Vancouver-based agency now known as Kosher Check is expanding its requirements for kosher certification to include food safety plans beyond the minimum regulations laid out by Canada’s Food Inspection Agency.
Kosher Check is insisting its present and future clients adhere to advanced food safety protocols such as Canada’s Hazard Awareness Critical Control Points (HACCP), British Retail Consortium (BRC), Safe Quality Foods (SQF), the Foundation for Food Safety Certification (FSSC) and others.
“We feel customers have a right to know that their food is safe,” explained Rabbi Avraham Feigelstock, who sits on the Vancouver rabbinical court. What’s more, the market is demanding additional levels of food safety inspection, he added, with Europe way ahead of North America.
Two to three decades ago, such food safety scrutiny might not have been necessary, he said. “It used to be when you went into a bakery or butcher shop, the chances of your products having ingredients from China, India or Sri Lanka was low, but today it’s the opposite. The food market has become global, which is good because it brings down the price, but other countries don’t have the same level of food safety that we do. The need for a system to ensure these products are safe is essential.”
Kosher Check is taking the lead in this respect and is the only kosher agency worldwide making this move. It’s a nonprofit that has distinguished itself from other kosher certifying agencies since the mid-1980s, not long after its inception. In 1985, Feigelstock, the organization’s founder and supervising rabbi, began operating in Asia and today has representatives throughout the world and administrative offices in Sri Lanka, Mumbai and New Delhi. That makes Kosher Check Canada’s only kosher certification agency that operates internationally in a significant way.
Companies that already have the BCK hechsher are now required to have food safety certification as well, though more than 95 percent of the companies Kosher Check certifies are already in compliance, he said. Kosher Check certifies some 14,000 products – 2,000 of them manufactured and certified in Asia.
Obtaining the extra level of food safety certification isn’t necessarily all that complicated for food manufacturers, thanks to Icicle, a cloud-based software created by Burton Software in Richmond, B.C. Companies pay to subscribe to the software, enter their ingredient lists and are given data on what they have to do to achieve kosher certification and HACCP certification. The software saves much time in the documentation required to obtain HACCP.
What Kosher Check is doing is nothing short of revolutionary, Feigelstock suggested. “For the first time in history, a customer can know just by looking at a product label that a product is HACCP certified,” he said. “We’re the only agency in the world who is offering customers some kind of certification that tells them, this food is safe.”
Kosher Check’s 500 customers include Canada Safeway Rogers Sugar, Garden Protein, Golden Boy Foods and Sunrise Soya. The agency has 20 rabbis worldwide in its employ who supervise kosher food production in Canada, the United States, Chile, China, India, Japan, the Philippines, South Africa and Vietnam.
Lauren Kramer, an award-winning writer and editor, lives in Richmond, B.C. To read her work online, visit laurenkramer.net.
Nelson Jews bid Berlin adieu
Community members have mixed reactions after Gaza talk.
Most of Nelson’s Jewish community stayed away on the evening of Tuesday, Dec. 3, while activists Greta Berlin and Bill Dienst were in town. Eva Bartlett, who had been scheduled as one of the event’s key speakers, did not turn up for the presentation. Instead, a screening of a film about Bartlett’s experiences in Gaza was shown, accompanied by presentations by Berlin and Dienst.
Still, according to several listeners, if goal of the KAIROS-sponsored event was provoke an emotional response from listeners about the living conditions in Gaza, it hit its mark.
“It was so shocking,” Carolyn Moore said of the film, which was shown first. Moore, who is a member of the Kootenay Jewish community, said that she decided to hear what the presenters had to say after the Jewish community had tried to convince organizations not to host Berlin for fear her presentation would foment tension in the community. She said she left the event troubled not only by the graphic images in the film, but by what she felt was the true purpose of the event.
“It was all about vilifying Israel,” she told the Independent.
Phil Mader, also a member of the Kootenay Jewish community, said that he felt the event was “aimed at humanitarian issues. I think it was certainly to counter what [the presenters] seem to see as a silence over the difficulties that have been caused for the ordinary person [in Gaza].” Like Moore, he questioned what he saw as “a one-sided story.”
“The film was very much out of context,” he said. “It was pure propaganda and it was very hard to digest.”
Lynn B., who asked that her last name not be used and noted that she is not Jewish, said that she felt the presenters “were doing what they felt was their civic duty.” She was shocked, however, when they called Israel a “terrorist nation.”
Although the three attendees had differing perspectives as to the intent of the event, they all expressed concern about the accuracy of the film’s portrayal of conditions in Gaza. Each one offered a different visual example for why they doubted the film’s accuracy, and how it showed only one side of the story.
“It did look pretty real,” said Mader, “but in my own mind, I did not rule out the possibility of some kind of reconstruction being done and, whether it is based on lies, I don’t know, but, to me, it is a possibility, because they are so anti-Israel.”
Mader said that Dienst, who has served in Gaza as a physician, made a point of saying, “We are not antisemitic. But we are anti-Zionist.”
“And that didn’t go down well with me, as I am an ardent Zionist,” Mader explained. “I didn’t appreciate that.” However, Mader added that he felt it was “to their credit” that they clarified that they were not antisemitic.
But whether the presenters made that statement or not, said Moore, the emotional tone in the room illustrated why the Jewish community objected to the event. She said that she felt that the presentation would fuel antisemitism, as well as anti-Israel bias. And, it was clear that the Jewish community’s requests that Berlin not be invited became a target for anger by some of the audience who described the requests as “assault” and “harassment.”
According to Lynn, the sentiment was further inflamed after Berlin drew attention to the fact that most of the letters and phone calls came from Jews in the community and that, in her opinion, the intent was to stop her from speaking on the Palestinian issue. “Whether or not [the audience] took away any feeling of hate toward Israel I can’t say, but the people who were Jewish definitely felt it,” said Lynn.
Sandra Hartline, regional representative for the ecumenical organization KAIROS (which co-hosted the event), said she was told that members of the Jewish community had been writing “nasty letters” to the church in an effort to create “intimidation.” She did not say how she learned the letters were “nasty.” Copies of correspondence supplied to this writer by members of the Jewish community do not match Hartline’s description, but they do underscore the concerns expressed by some of the need for dialogue.
Morgan Gould, board member of Nelson United Church, said in an interview on Dec. 5 that the board had decided “not to go to press on this issue” except to say that “the members of our Jewish community were most welcomed, asked excellent questions and the exchange was lively.” He said that Nelson United Church provided a venue, but did not sponsor the event.
None of the attendees interviewed were able to identify which organization was assuming responsibility for hosting the event. All three said that the two speakers oversaw the content without any obvious moderation.
Mader said he wished that there had been someone there moderating the event. “I would have preferred that [to have been] the United Church, but [it] should definitely have been KAIROS moderating.”
Asked whether they felt anything positive came out of the event, Moore said she felt that “people are a lot more aware” about what she sees as an anti-Israel sentiment, and its potential to inflame antisemitism.
Mader said that he felt that people who came to hear Berlin and Dienst speak were now more informed because of questions they heard others asking. He said he made a point of asking questions that showed there was another side, and some listeners thanked him. He also said that many members of the Jewish community were unified by this issue, and that was ultimately good for the community.
“I think, too, it has made things a bit less ambivalent in a certain way because the [congregation’s e-mail forum] was a key player in this, bringing people together.”
Lynn said she felt it was important for people to “go to the other side and check it out” before accepting a point of view. Her presence reflected her own desire to understand the issues, she said. “I am not Jewish. I have great empathy for the Jewish people. I just feel this is wrong. It’s not the way to solve [the conflict], by vilifying people.”
Jan Lee’s articles B’nai B’rith Magazine, thedailyrabbi.com and Voices of Conservative and Masorti Judaism. She also writes on sustainable business practices for TriplePundit.com. Her blog can be found at multiculturaljew.polestarpassages.com.
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