Premier Kosher, the southern Ontario-based supplier of kosher poultry, has switched its kosher supervision from Agudas Shomrei Hadas to the Kashruth Council of Canada (COR).
Premier announced the step in a news release dated Dec. 5. The move came into effect on Dec. 10.
“As Premier Kosher continues to grow and pursue greater opportunities, we need a nationally recognized kosher certifier who is able to take us to the next level and service the needs of kosher consumers across the country. That is why we approached the Kashruth Council of Canada and ultimately obtained COR certification,” Premier stated in a news release.
“Kashruth Council of Canada will help us broaden the reach and reliability (of) the Premier Kosher brand. Premier Kosher remains committed to providing superior quality kosher chicken at a high kosher standard.”
The change in supervision comes only a few months after Premier Kosher, part of the Premier Family of Companies, began producing kosher chickens at its plant in Abingdon, Ont., about 30 kilometres southeast of Hamilton.
The move seems to have caught Agudas Shomrei Hadas by surprise. The organization responded to Premier’s announcement by issuing a statement of its own, saying: “Without our consultation or consent, the COR have taken over supervision of Premier chickens. Thank God we raised the standard of kashrus and the quality of the product while lowering the price to a reasonable level. We bear no responsibility that these benefits will continue.”
The statement seems to suggest that the organization would need to approve such a change, but does not specify whether that would be to comply with the terms of a contract, Jewish custom or both.
One industry insider who asked to remain anonymous noted that kosher chicken prices have, indeed, dropped between 20 and 40 per cent since Premier entered the market and began competing with Quebec producer Marvid.
Another insider stated that Premier had agreed to a five-year contract with Agudas to supervise kashrut at its plant.
Philip Davidovits, a spokesperson for Agudas, declined to confirm its agreement with Premier. “At this time, I am not allowed to provide any more information.” Agudas also declined to elaborate on their earlier statement.
Agudas is led by three prominent Orthodox rabbis: Rabbi Mordechai Ochs, a member of the beit din (rabbinic court) of the Orthodox Vaad Harabonim of Toronto; Rabbi Dovid Schochet, president of the Toronto Rabbinical Council and a member of the Vaad Rabbonei Lubavitch; and Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Lowy of Agudath Israel Congregation of Toronto, also a member of the Toronto beit din.
In a discussion on a popular Facebook forum about kosher food in Toronto, Davidovits stated the Agudas rabbis “all did this to serve the community for no money.”
Meanwhile, COR managing director Richard Rabkin explained that the decision to seek alternate kosher certification came from Premier.
“A couple of months ago, Premier Kosher approached COR requesting that COR assume responsibility for the kosher program at Premier Kosher. We in no way approached or solicited them. Premier was resolute that they needed COR certification and, as a not-for-profit organization that services the local community, we felt that it was our responsibility to offer it. This decision belonged to the company,” Rabkin stated.
Paul Tzellos, president of Premier Family Farms, did not respond to several questions from the CJN by deadline.
Interestingly, during the bidding process for the right to produce kosher chickens in Ontario, Premier relied on a letter of support from COR and initially indicated it planned to rely on COR to supervise kosher production at its plant.
Rabkin said COR had been working to help Premier get its plant ready for production and “after a time, we were advised that they had been engaged in discussions with another kosher certifier and had elected to obtain alternate certification.
“We were surprised by this development but respected the company’s decision. Because the kosher program at Premier was vouched for by a group of senior rabbis in the Toronto community, we accepted the Premier Kosher chickens in COR establishments without incident,” Rabkin said.
Rabkin added, “COR will have several shochtim (people who perform ritual slaughter) and mashgichim supervising the plant on a daily basis. We have constructed the kosher program at Premier so that it is in line with COR’s high standards.”