When “Kosher, Vegan” is neither

By | October 16, 2005

Given the web of Federal and state laws and regulations surrounding food labeling and deceptive trade practices, you would think that a food manufacturer with a nationwide market wouldn’t survive for long if it outright lied about the ingredients in its products, intentionally deceiving vegans, vegetarians, and people who keep kosher. Alas, that’s apparently not the case.

A product called “Emes Kosher-Jel”, on the market for years, claimed to be kosher, pareve, and vegan. This should have meant that it contained no animal-derived ingredients whatsoever, and indeed, its package listed its ingredients as “carageenan, locust bean gum, and maltodextrin.”

Alas, it appears that Emes Kosher-Jel worked more like real gelatin than all the other kosher and vegetarian substitutes on the market because Emes Kosher-Jel was real gelatin.

The Web magazine Vegetarians in Paradise exposed this in articles published on June 1, 2005, August 3, 2005, and October 1, 2005. Their activism has apparently forced the distributor of this product, Emes Kosher Products, out of business, as described in the October 1 article.

This product was certified kosher by a Rabbi Leonard Bronstein of New York. Information for contacting Rabbi Bronstein is available on this page. The first telephone number listed there doesn’t work, but I spoke to Rabbi Bronstein at the second number. He said that the owner of Emes Kosher Products is observant, that the owner told him that the product contained no animal products, and that the product was tested and shown to be free of animal products. Rabbi Bronstein did not say whether he had at any time inspected the manufacturing facilities or supervised a manufacturing run. It would be highly irregular for a rabbi to certify a product as kosher without inspecting the manufacturing facilities and at least occasionally supervising the manufacturing of the product.

It might seem that this is a non-issue, since the company has gone out of business. However, if they indeed knowingly deceived a huge number of consumers for many years, then their deception has caused huge numbers of people to unknowingly violate strongly held moral and religious beliefs; it may have endangered the health of some consumers; it may end up destroying businesses that used Emes Kosher-Jel in their own products; and it may have a substantial financial impact on some observant Jews by forcing them to replace pots, pans and dishes which impermissibly came into contact with the Jel’s ingredients.

I therefore encourage anyone who is concerned about this to write to the Illinois Attorney General and encourage them to investigate, as suggested by Vegetarians in Paradise and as I’ve done:

October 16, 2005

Ms. Clara Cruz, Citizen’s Advocate
Consumer Protection Division
100 West Randolph Street
Chicago, IL  60601

Re: Emes Kosher Products
File No: 2005-CONSC-00129394

Dear Ms. Cruz,

The matter of Emes Kosher Products deceiving customers about the contents of Emes Kosher Jel has recently been brought to my attention.

As an observant Jew, I was extremely disturbed that this company may have sold a product with animal-derived ingredients while claiming that it contained none. If this accusation is true, then Emes Kosher Products and its officers have deceived a huge number of consumers; their deception has caused many people to unknowingly violate strongly held moral and religious beliefs; it may have endangered the health of some consumers; it may end up destroying businesses who used Emes Kosher-Jel in their own products; and it may have a substantial financial impact on some observant Jews by forcing them to replace pots, pans and dishes which impermissibly came into contact with the meat products contained in the Jel.

If the accusation is true, then Emes Kosher Products has defrauded many consumers over many years. Surely the perpetrators of a fraud on this scale must be brought to justice.

I look forward to a prompt and thorough investigation of this matter by your office.

Sincerely,

Jonathan Kamens

Furthermore, observant Jews who are concerned about the kashrut-related aspects of this incident may wish to consult with a competent halachic authority about whether the Jel should have been classified as meat and/or non-kosher; whether that has any impact on the kashrut of the kitchens where it was used; and what can and should be done to address how a mislableled product was certified and sold as kosher. I have done this and I will update this article with any results.

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8 thoughts on “When “Kosher, Vegan” is neither

  1. Aviv

    As a Vegan in Israel I am aware of that “Emek” product. it was a scandal here among the Vegan community when it was discovered not to be fully kosher and by vegan standards.
    What can you do though, there are so many products out there that still insist on their veganity which are not.
    we can always drown our sorry with kosher brandy , no 🙂

    Reply
  2. REUBEN ALLEN

    You might be interested in knowing about a CNBC report on their Business Nation program premiering May 2. The segment is called A Puff Piece and is about Emes Kosher Products.
    The segment will be repeated a few times during the month of May.
    Check the CNBC Business Nation home page that includes air times and has clips from the show.
    Also check Vegetarians in Paradise News from the Nest for updates on the story.

    Zel and Reuben Allen

    Reply
  3. jik Post author

    On around August 24, 2006, I got a form letter from the office of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. It’s the same form letter that Vegetarians In Paradise got after they complained (see http://www.vegparadise.com/news56.html). It reads:

    August 21, 2006

    Jonathan Kamens
    [address deleted]

    Re: Emes Kosher
    File No: 2006-CONSC-00158175

    Dear Mr. Kamens:

    The Consumer Protection Division, of the Office of Attorney General has received your consumer complaint. A copy of your complaint has been forwarded to the above named business for their review and response.

    The business may contact you about a possible settlement after they receive our letter. We encourage you to consider any reasonable offer. If the business responds directly to our office, a copy of their response will be mailed to you.

    This is an informal mediation process. We are unable to represent private citizens in legal disputes.

    Please direct all correspondence to my attention, Office of Attorney General, Consumer Protection Division, 100 W. Randolph Street Chicago, IL 60601. Please reference your file number on all correspondence.

    Sincerely,

    ATTORNEY GENERAL
    State of Illinois

    [fake signature]

    David Coleman
    Citizen’s Advocate
    Consumer Protection Division
    (312) 814-3812

    /mmg

    Ludicrous. Truly ludicrous.

    Reply
  4. jik Post author

    I got a postcard last week from Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan:

    Dear Consumer,

    Thank you for contacting the Office of the Attorney General regarding your consumer complaint. We have received your complaint and will be reviewing it over the next few weeks to determine what assistance we may provide. Once we have reviewed the complaint and made a determination, we will send you written notification of our decision. Please know that your concerns are important to us. We thank you in advance for your patience.

    This postcard arrived over nine months after I wrote to them. Apparently justice isn’t so swift in Illinois.

    Reply
  5. jik Post author

    Elka: Comments are visible on my blog. They just aren’t visible in LiveJournal, because syndicated LiveJournal feeds don’t include comments. So if you want to discuss my blog entries, please use the original blog rather than LiveJournal.

    Merril: It took me five minutes to set up my blog software. It would take me considerably longer than that to support sending email when people respond to comments. If/when the maintainers of WordPress enable it, I’ll turn it on. Note, however, that since comments in WordPress are not threaded, you wouldn’t be able to subscribe to email about responses to a particular comment; you’d only be able to subscribe to email about any comments being attached to a particular blog entry. Unless, of course, the WordPress folks add support for threaded comments.

    Reply
  6. Angwantibo / Merril

    Wow. Please post your findings anew or place a new link if you’re updating this article so that we know when it arrives.

    Also, LJ has settings to send an e-mail when a comment receives a response. Care to add that capability to your blog?

    Chag Sameach!

    V’samachta, v’chagecha, v’hiyata ach sameach…

    Reply
  7. Elka

    That’s really scary…

    BTW, will you ever have comments visible on your blog? You might get more responses if it was also possible to converse with another commenter.

    Reply

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