Fears over mad cow disease making many go kosher

new york | New signs spice up the meat section of the Hungarian Kosher Grocery in Skokie, Ill., one of the nation’s largest kosher food supermarkets.

They reassure customers that, in light of the recent scare and media hoopla over mad cow disease, kosher beef is safer than non-kosher meat.

“Some people are paranoid. You tell them something on television, and they think that’s the way it is,” says Sandor Kirsche, the supermarket’s owner.

Kirsche posted the placards in response to customer inquiries about meat safety following the reports of mad cow disease in the United States in recent weeks.

Kosher food wholesalers and retailers, as well as top kosher-certification agencies, agree with Kirsche’s assessment that kosher beef is much less likely to be infected with mad cow than is non-kosher cuts.

Kosher food industry sources say that a combination of safeguards — ranging from traditional kosher slaughtering practices to beef-purchasing policies — make kosher beef safer.

Some predict that the mad cow scare could create greater demand for kosher beef from Jews and non-Jews alike.

Menachem Lubinsky, president of Integrated Marketing Communications, which produces the annual Kosherfest trade show, says he expects that the mad cow scare will boost sales of kosher beef the way several outbreaks of salmonella in the past few years sent kosher poultry profits soaring.

Still, industry sources caution that kosher meat isn’t immune to contamination with mad cow disease.

“I don’t want to overstate the case. Some of the procedures related to kosher mitigate against MCD, but there are no guarantees,” says Rabbi Menachem Genack, rabbinic administrator of the Orthodox Union’s kashrut division.

Abe Hollander, manager of the meat department at Supersol in Lawrence, N.Y., another major kosher outlet, says he, too, has fielded questions from worried customers.

But if the mad cow outbreak remains confined to a few states, he says, “it should have no effect whatsoever” on the kosher beef industry.

“I don’t pay any attention to it,” he says. “It’s the mad butchers you have to worry about.’