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Fraud Could Rise as Kosher Inspectors Dwindle, Experts Warn

By DNAinfo Staff on January 4, 2011 7:33am  | Updated on January 4, 2011 7:42am

The state has essentially eliminated its kosher inspection workforce.
The state has essentially eliminated its kosher inspection workforce.
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By Jill Colvin

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

MIDTOWN — The state's team of kosher inspectors has all but been eliminated, raising concerns among some religious Jews who fear unscrupulous businesses will try to pass off traif, or non-kosher food, as safe.

Howie Beigelman, deputy director of public policy at the Downtown-based Orthodox Union, which labels kosher food, warned that losing state oversight powers over food manufacturers, caterers, grocery stores and restaurants will likely open the door to fraud.

"Less state oversight means more opportunity for those who are looking to cut corners to do so," he said, noting that inspectors are responsible for making sure that rabbinical supervisors were present at all times and that stores did not open on the Sabbath.

"It’s going to be a little bit of a buyer beware," he said.

Beigelman added that in addition to religious Jews, Muslims, vegans and those with dairy allergies also rely on the kosher labels, making fraud a heath threat as well as a religious concern.

Sen. Carl Kruger described the cuts as the "de facto elimination of the kosher inspection division."

In a sharply-worded letter to former Gov. David Paterson, Krueger argued that eliminating oversight is an especially bad idea when the economy is weak, since struggling businesses are desperate to do what they can to survive.

But local Midtown business owners were split on the impact of the cuts.

Aaron Siegel, 49, the manager of Midtown’s Kosher Deluxe on West 46th Street said that state inspections were often a waste of time since he and other Orthodox restaurateurs already employ their own private supervisors to ensure they follow kosher dietary laws.

"The state telling me it’s kosher or it’s not kosher, it’s really no consequence to me," he said. "In a sense it’s really duplication."

Still, Siegel said that inspectors did serve a role in places like supermarkets that don't have on-site Rabbis to consult.

"I think supermarkets may be more liable to play around and find a way to not be as stringent," he said.

Ephy Uzan, 46 , the owner of Midtown’s Schnitzel Express at 1410 Broadway, agreed that business like his who have rabbinical staffers didn't really need the state's double-check.

But he said he strongly opposed the cuts.

"Every kosher establishment has to have someone checking up on them, so they don’t really need the other kosher certification from the state," Uzan said. "But there are some places that are maybe not 100 percent kosher… For those, they would be helpful for the city," he said.

New York is the largest kosher market outside of Israel, Beigelman said, and was the first state to write a kosher food law in the country, according to Sen. Kruger.

A spokesman for Gov. Cuomo did not immediately respond to a request for comment concerning the cuts.