Agriculture chief says new law wont kill kosher meat

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The federal government will not enact new regulations that would eliminate kosher meat in the United States, the secretary of agriculture has assured Jewish groups.

Fearing the impact of the proposed regulations, which govern the washing and cooling of raw meat, Orthodox Jewish groups and kosher meat producers brought their concerns straight to Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman on Tuesday.

According to participants in the meeting, Glickman said, "Obviously, we're not going to permit kosher meat…being eliminated."

Glickman's remarks formally signaled that the proposed regulations by the Department of Agriculture would undergo changes before becoming law.

Designed to reduce disease-causing bacteria in meat and poultry, the proposed regulations as they now stand would affect the salting and rinsing processes, or m'lichah and haddachah, according to rabbinic experts.

The new rules, known as Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points, would not affect ritual slaughter, or shechitah, necessary to make meat kosher.

The directives, introduced in February as a way of responding to recent outbreaks of food-borne illnesses, deal with post-slaughter procedures.

They call for washing all meat and poultry in an antimicrobial solution and storing the food below 40 degrees Fahrenheit through the handling, holding and shipping process.

Jewish activists have expressed fear that the antimicrobial treatment wash would endanger the ritual salting and rinsing of meat, making kosher meat and poultry scarce or more expensive.

Glickman refused to discuss specific issues related to the regulations with the Jewish leaders, according to participants in the meeting.

Instead, the secretary referred the group to hearings scheduled to begin next month.

"There was an understanding that the regulations will accommodate both religious requirements and health and safety concerns," said Abba Cohen, Washington, D.C., director and counsel for Agudath Israel of America.

Cohen said he plans to speak out at the September hearings.

"This is the beginning of the process," said Rabbi Menachem Genack, rabbinic administrator of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.

Genack also expressed optimism that the final regulations would not adversely affect the kosher community.

Representatives from the Rabbinical Council of America, Empire Poultry and Star K Kosher Certification of Baltimore also attended the 35-minute meeting in Glickman's office.

A period for public comment on the regulations expires 30 days after a series of public hearings scheduled to last through September.

Officials hope to have the new regulations in place by early next year.