What are the risks that the kosher food you have just bought is in fact counterfeit and far from kosher?
A Google search for 'counterfeit food' should convince you that 'fake' food is a major world-wide issue.
Repeat with a search of 'counterfeit kosher food' and see the list of fake kosher cheeses, meats, drinks,
and lots more.
Indeed, why should anyone expect kosher food to be any different? Where there is money to be made,
counterfeiters will thrive!
Kashrus Organizations do a superb job ensuring that the foods produced under their names are indeed
kosher. But what they can't stop is the production of counterfeit non‑kosher foods dressed up in the same
packaging as the original.
Indeed, kosher food is a lucrative target for counterfeiters.
All supervised kosher food is sold at a price premium compared to regular non‑kosher equivalents.
This is inevitable, and is due to the extra staff costs of on-site supervision and the use of checked
and tightly controlled ingredients.
Often there are also significant travel and accommodation costs.
The actual production processes typically cost more as overall production speeds are slower
and the ingredients more expensive.
The 'premium' for kosher supervised food can be from just a few percent to several hundred percent.
Meat is the highest risk item with fish and milk products somewhere in the middle.
When one considers that a 20 kg (44 pound) box of raw kosher meat may have a retail value of
around $500 while the equivalent non‑kosher price would be just $200, the temptation to
pass‑off non‑kosher meat as kosher is virtually irresistible!
The profit margin for the sale of a 20 kg box of non‑kosher meat is in the region of $100 while
passing‑off that same meat as kosher could result in a $400 profit! Irresistible!
Fish and cheese products, while not providing such extreme profits to a forger, are still very attractive
targets as they are much easier to pass off and have a much longer shelf life.
We can all begin to see the phenomenal business opportunity that exists for the introduction of
non‑kosher produce into the regular kosher distribution chain.
We refer to this as a 'business opportunity' as it is exactly that! What for us is a terrible risk,
for the unscrupulous it is indeed a great business opportunity!
We spoke recently to an Australian importer who had just received a consignment of cheeses from Denmark
with a Hechsher from a premium kashrus authority.
Consider how he would have gone about ordering these items. Typically, an agent would contact him
about some new product, or he would contact an agent to find him a particular product he needed.
The agent would then track down one or more sources for such a product.
The Australian importer will then, either directly or via the agent, order the product from a distributor
or wholesaler. The deal is all done via the phone, email or fax. None of the people in this 'chain'
actually have any direct knowledge of the authenticity of the products that turn up in Australia.
They are all sincere and honest people, but they only know what they are told and they can only check
what is written on the packet, or the bulk packaging.
As for the consumer himself, what assurance does he have that the cheese he is taking from the supermarket
shelf is what the wrapper says it is?
With the global nature of food production today, it is impossible to determine the actual origin of a
product - unless the police or health authorities take a hand in the matter.
All a purchaser has to guide him is what is written on the package,
and what is written on the package is obviously no proof of authenticity.
You can get an idea of the issues by looking at frauds detected regularly in Israel - which obviously
is only a small part of the total picture.
The Rabanut in Israel publishes regular Kashrus bulletins advising about breaches in Kashrus.
Current and recent Alert bulletins can be found
Each bulletin typically contains many alerts and in recent years there have been between 12 to 30 bulletins per year.
We all hear occasionally of cases where forgeries are discovered. [See the sidebar on the right]
When we do hear, we are upset, but we soon give a sigh of relief
- "the thief has been caught, the problem has been solved" - and move on.
Are we not being rather naive in thinking that these are isolated cases?
In the case of the Arak forgery detailed on the right, the differences on the back label was so great
that it must have been shear incompetence on the part of the forgers, strengthening the belief that
competent and careful forgers don't get caught - they thrive for a very long time.
The Vodka forgery was discovered via a tip-off- again an exceptional case - not as a matter of routine.
Experience of general counterfeit goods, and common sense, tells us that the vast majority of counterfeit
products go undetected, as otherwise the forgers would have been out of business a long time ago.
In countries other than Israel, such as USA and UK, where there is no central Kashrus authority to collate
such incidents, how many such forgeries are out there undetected by anyone!
Combine that with the reticence of individual Kashrus Authorities to publicise anything
other that essential warnings, the public is in blissful ignorance of the real risks.
Often ignored in these types of discussions is the fact that it is extremely rare (virtually unheard of) for a
kashrus counterfeiter to be prosecuted.
If the food is a danger to public health then the police or other authorities may prosecute, but this is hardly
ever the case.
Typically the forging activity is not deemed to be a crime. A civil prosecution is fraught with problems, with
a very low chance of success. Anyway, which Kashrus Authority has the funds to start such a prosecution!
A forger has very little to lose and a lot to gain.