ConAgra Foods is being sued over claims its Hebrew National brand of hot dogs and deli meats is not kosher.
A lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, District of Minnesota (Wallace et al v. ConAgra Foods Inc) alleges the meat-processing plant used by ConAgra did not adhere to strict Orthodox Jewish standards and practices of inspecting cattle before slaughter and of the slaughter and handling of the meat.
According to the Hebrew National website, in order for meat to be kosher, a special supervisor, the mashgiach, or an ordained Orthodox rabbi conducts an investigation of the plant and its procedures, as well as the ingredients, equipment, and processes used in the production of the product.
In addition, each animal must be inspected to be free from disease before slaughter. It then must be slaughtered by slitting the throat of the animal with a sharp blade with no nicks or unevenness. The blood must also be fully drained from the meat. The person who slaughters the animal is called a schochet and, according to Orthodox doctrine, must also be knowledgeable in Jewish law and a "pious" person. Because of this, the schochet is sometimes a rabbi, though he does not have to be.
The lawsuit does not name the meat-processing plant -- AER Services -- as a defendant. The plaintiffs are seeking unspecified damages and an injunction against further mislabeling. The lawsuit also seeks class-action status for purchasers of Hebrew National hot dogs and products over the past four years. Their beef?
People buy kosher meat for various reasons. The first and foremost,
obviously, is the fact that according to their religion, Jewish people
must eat only kosher meat. But people of all religions seek kosher
meat for its perceived higher quality and more stringent meat inspection
guidelines than those of the U.S.D.A. For that reason, kosher meat is
usually pricier. In addition, consumers rely on the word of
the store or producer that meat is kosher because it's difficult (or impossible) to tell by looking at your steak or chicken. The lawsuit
alleges that consumers were led to believe they were buying a
different, superior product (with a higher price) than what they
Hebrew National itself has used this very reasoning as
its primary advertising campaign. Its slogan, "We answer to a
higher authority," implies that someone higher up than the local
meat-plant inspector (God, perhaps) is looking over the company's shoulder.
spokesperson Teresa Paulsen said in a statement, "While we can't
comment on pending litigation, we stand behind the quality of Hebrew
National and its kosher status." God, however, could not be reached for
Here's the classic Hebrew National commercial, which shows Uncle Sam getting trumped by a "higher authority":