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.
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.