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Myths and Facts : Kashrus Agencies Share Their Secrets

Richard Rabkin

When it comes to the kashrus industry, the public often feels they aren’t getting the whole story, and they harbor a list of unasked questions — Which agencies are acceptable? Why does it seem the industry is all about politics? Why do products need multiple hechshers? Do mashgichim really know about food chemistry or are they a bunch of untrained yeshivah bochurim? Why doesn’t everyone get together under one set of standards?

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

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This last pivotal question has been asked by kashrus organizations themselves, and the AKO — Association of Kashrus Organizations — was established to provide all reliable kashrus agencies to be able to share their concerns about market and technical developments, leniencies and strictures, and policy variables. Most kosher consumers never even heard of the AKO, but this best-kept secret of the kashrus industry recently held an international conference in Toronto which gave voice not only to the well-known agencies but also to the smaller vaadim — the local kashrus organizations often run under the authority of the community rabbinate. Kosher consumers often have misconceptions about the kashrus industry. The conference — with one-man hechshers and mega-agencies coming together — helped dispel some of those myths.

 

Myth: The kashrus agencies have invented the insect infestation issue.

Any experienced mashgiach will tell you that insect infestation of certain fruits and vegetables is so real that these critters are not only microscopic but are visible to the naked eye. Yet many kosher consumers wonder why this phenomenon became so much more prevalent in recent years.

Kashrus experts have adduced a few explanations but most agree that the primary factor in an increase in infestation is due to the former use and subsequent banning of insecticides. DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) is an insecticide first synthesized in 1874, but its widespread use in agriculture as an insecticide only became commonplace after World War II.  DDT was extremely effective in killing agricultural insects, but it was later classified as "moderately toxic" by the United States National Toxicology Program (NTP)and "moderately hazardous" by the World Health Organization (WHO). As such, it was banned in 1972, along with many other insecticides.

While this was a positive development for the health of the planet and those of us who inhabit it, it was a negative development for kashrus. Soon after the DDT ban set in, experts in the kashrus field began observing a marked rise in the insect infestation levels of common fruits and vegetables. While a cursory washing may have been sufficient in the previous generation, these new post-insecticide insects were more prevalent and stubborn. “The increase in the infestation of fruits and vegetables over the last 10 to 15 years has been remarkable,” said Rabbi Tsvi Heber, director of community kashrus at COR- Kashruth Council of Canada. “During the years when insecticides were commonplace, they were effective. When insects developed certain immunities to the chemicals, they improved the strength of the insecticides. But when the use of most insecticides was discontinued altogether, the insects came back with a vengeance.”

Thus, the need for more scrupulous fruit and vegetable cleaning protocols for kosher consumers. This has given rise to the “kosher” fruit and vegetable industry including companies such as Eden, Golden Flow, Bodek, Positiv, and the like.

 

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