The agro-food sector has been undergoing a revolutionary upheaval in its global environment and market conditions. Several major drivers can be distinguished behind these changes, including shifts in consumer demand and technology, changes in national policies, and globalization. These drivers favor the emergence of large, integrated multinational firms.
The changes in food availability, induced by the changes in modern society, initially relied on constant efforts to increase productivity. But the unrestrained pursuit of continuous increases in productivity led to excesses which resulted in the safety crises of the 1990s. This eroded consumers’ confidence in their food. The globalization of the food industry, traditionally restrained by customs barriers, technological limitations and transportation costs, is now currently in full swing. The agriculture and food industries have now joined the list of “global” sectors, supplying a worldwide marketplace through a mutually supportive network of institutions that transcends national boundaries. At the same time, new risks, such as increasing microbial drug resistance and viral zoonoses, have arisen. These risks are partially related to globalization of the food and agricultural sectors. At times, this delocalization is carried out in countries where veterinary monitoring and general food safety institutes are less sophisticated than in developed countries.
The market for kosher foods is booming. The kosher food market is currently riding a “health and natural food” wave that is growing by more than 10% annually. Taking full advantage of this market can be extremely lucrative financially. The market of consumers intentionally buying kosher products amounts to tens of millions, in a market representing a substantial sales turnover.
In our multi-cultural and multi-ethnic society, only a small part of these consumers are Jewish. In fact, various religions and groups, such as Moslems, Buddhists, Seventh Day Adventists, vegetarians, vegans, and other ecologically-minded groups, represent the majority of the customers. Allergy sufferers, as well as those in search of a guarantee of certified quality, complete the contemporary picture of kosher-food consumers.
The surging consumer passion for kosher products rests today not only on the motivation to be healthy but also on the concern for conditions of production in the agricultural sector. This trend is the logical consequence of recent global food crises and fears of ones looming on the horizon.
The rigorous, reliable, and continual inspections to which kosher-certified products are subjected strengthen consumers’ perception of their value and quality. This convinces many consumers to choose kosher.
The various food crises of the 1990s (dioxane, listeriosis, and Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (“mad cow” disease or BSE) as well as the fear of an impending pandemic of Asian Bird Flu (H5NI) has resulted in a further decrease in consumer confidence. There is thus a greater concern for information on the origin and the composition of food products.
The kosher certification process makes food traceable. Traceability, once a constraint, has been transformed into a marketing asset. Kosher certification differentiates a product for consumers who want reliable information about their food. The traceability afforded by the kosher certification allows the companies in the food sector, including small and medium-sized enterprises, to market niche products in bulk.
Traceability plays a key role in the standards of the BIR Kosher Certification. Information is gathered and processes are monitored at every step of the production process. Facilities are checked with increasingly precise methods.
The BIR label of Badatz Igud Rabbonim constitutes the mark of inspection and certification for a product meeting BIR Kosher requirements and standards. Approved producers commit themselves to adhere strictly to a series of guidelines governing the usage, production, packaging, and labeling of food products.
The Food Industry has become a Global Sector. This process of globalization itself has strong implications for trade policy. It gives these industries a cosmopolitan outlook on policy issues, which is in contrast to the often inward focus of national agricultural sectors. The liberalization of the agricultural sector trade within the framework of the World Trade Organization (WTO) is not always compatible with food safety and health and national food safety policies.
The current trend in world trade does not seem to privilege food safety, for instance by issuing new food inspections regulations or enforcing controls at the point of importation. World food standardization can lag behind on technological advances. In the context of globalization, the system of controls privileges the fluidity of the logistics of exchange, to the detriment of food safety. Its architecture relies on the delegation of the safety controls to the producers.
Certification by food safety inspection laboratories located in foreign countries supposes that these countries have equivalent levels of control and transparency as Western countries. However, revelations on the management of the recent crisis of Bird Flu in Asia cast serious doubt on this assumption. The experience with this disease and SARS is a serious cause for worldwide concern.
In this context, the certification service BIR offers is an objective guarantee of quality. BIR’s approach is absolutely neutral and independent of any country or food industry-specific entities. The monitoring is conducted purely in relation to the product and its ingredients through all the phases of its development, without consideration of the geographical location of their inception.
The BIR standard of certification formally prohibits use of these animal ingredients. The BIR Pareve line of products goes even further, eliminating milk products as well. BIR requires the total elimination of all animal components in the production process and rigorously and stringently verifies this throughout. Unvarying kosher quality control “from field to table” is achieved through adherence to a detailed set of kosher specifications by all involved. Third-party bodies, chosen for their high kosher standards, monitor the whole food chain, “from farm to fork”! We are able to achieve this goal through our commitment — from both BIR Badatz Igud Rabbonim and the food sector – to a shared goal: HIGH-STANDARD KOSHER QUALITY PRODUCTS that satisfy our customers in every way. The commitment of the industry to the highest kosher standards is designed to reduce the negative impact caused by certain production methods.
For example, in the milk industry, cheese is made by coagulating milk to produce curds. These are then separated from the liquid (whey), after which they can be processed and matured to produce a wide variety of cheeses. Milk is coagulated by the addition of rennet. The traditional source of rennet is chymosine, produced from the stomach of slaughtered newborn calves. The safety of chymosine cannot be assessed. More recently, a recombining enzyme produced by yeast has provided a substitute for chymosine in dairy cheese production. The majority of cheeses manufactured in Europe and the United States now use this enzyme. They are recommended by vegetarian associations. The BSE crisis increased its use, due to the extra food safety assurance this manufacturing process provides. This type of enzyme would be kosher, whereas the original, calf-based rennet would not. A kosher certification would ensure that the safer rennet is used.
Consumer confidence is very fragile. Each successive crisis – dioxin, sludge, BSE – undermines the public’s trust in the capacity of the food industry and the public authorities to ensure the safety of their food. Kosher certification is a potent means to boost eroded consumer confidence and brand loyalty.
Under the increased pressure of globalization, the food industry constantly innovated according to an economic equation presupposing a quasi-constancy of the prices. The intangibility of the end-product and the market constraints gave priority to profits and productivity. Innovation in the food industry can increase risks. Crises of food safety are not connected to scientific progress but to a perverted use of industrial technologies.