Uriel Heilman did something I’ve always wanted to do: he spent a day touring the Empire kosher chicken... empire.
His piece follows the life and death of a kosher chicken— he names it Bob—- as it makes its way from the company’s fully integrated supply chain.
Empire is making a play to expand into the beef market, and part of that means establishing its reputation as company that looks after its animals, its workers and its product. It hired a smart East Coast PR firm, Rabinowitz/Dorf Communications, to help the company tell its story in the Jewish world. (Full disclosure: Rabinowitz/Dorf consults with The Jewish Journal. Super full disclosure: A web search reveals that Rabinowitz/Dorf is pretty web savvy—it’s the owner of the domain EmpireKosherSucks.com. Talk about protecting your client).
The fact that a kosher company needs to establish its credibility is a sad commentary on how much damage the Rubashkin scandal has caused. By Heilman’s account—and the guy is a good reporter and writer—Empire really does take its ethical obligations seriously. Heilman quotes a Conservative rabbi’s opinion that Empire achieves the highest standards in its treatment of its animals and its workers. The story doesn’t go into the debate over whether kosher slaughter is the mopst humane form of chicken slaughter, but he does describe a killing floor that is quick, quiet and efficient.
This is good for Empire and good for the kosher “brand,” especially just as news comes out of Cargill Corporation’s recall of 36 million pounds of ground turkey for possible salmonella contamination. One telling detail in Heilman’s story is that the kosher inspectors—the mashgiachs—pull six times more birds from the line than the USDA inspectors. Hey, they answer to a higher authority.