Kosher Law Protection Act

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last month in Commack Self-Service Kosher Meats v. Hooker that New York’s Kosher Law Protection Act of 2004 does not violate the US Constitution, rejecting a First Amendment challenge by the plaintiff Long Island butcher shop and delicatessen. The three-judge panel affirmed a US District Court for the Eastern District of New York rulingthat upheld the law, which replaced an earlier version the court overturned in 2002. Applying the Lemon test from Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971), the court stressed the fact that “kosher food” is not primarily a religious commodity.  In deciding the “secular purpose” prong, the Court found it important that unlike the prior version, the 2004 Kosher Act does not adopt a definition, interpretation or standard for the term “kosher.”  As for endorsement, again, the Court distinguished the prior Act: there is no preference in the 2004 Act for one sacred text over another; it only requires labeling. “The Kosher Act merely requires food products marketed as kosher to be labeled as kosher” U.S. Circuit Judge Christopher Droney wrote. “The Kosher Act does not entangle the state with religion because it does not require the state to enforce laws based on religious doctrine or to inquire into the religious content or religious nature of the products sold.”

The New York State Department of Agriculture & Markets says that “Outside of Israel New York has the largest population of kosher consumers and more than 135,000 products are available on the market shelves. The Department continues to conduct kosher surveillance inspections to make sure all products are registered and all establishments that sell kosher are in compliance with the kosher laws.” The Kosher Law Protection Act of 2004 requires those who market their products as kosher to label the foods as such and to identify in a filing with the NY State Department of Agriculture the individuals certifying the food as kosher. Despite the “victory,” kosher food law inspectors who worked for the Division of Kosher Law Enforcement of the state’s Department of Agriculture were laid off in the waning days of the Paterson administration. Large-scale abuses of kosher continue in the second largest market for kosher outside of Israel. One rabbi said: “Walk into any supermarket in New York and you’ll see mislabeled products, co-mingling of kosher and non-kosher products on kosher labeled shelves, and even some products with a k or d that are problematic.”

The Brooklyn Law School Library has in its collection Guide to Food Laws and Regulations by Patricia A. Curtis (Call #KF 3870.C87 2005) with a chapter titled An introction to kosher and halal food laws. For both students and experienced professionals, knowledge of US food law is the foundation that supports an understanding of all industry regulation. Based on a popular Internet course, the Guide to Food Laws and Regulations informs students on the significance, range, and background of food laws and gives tools for finding current regulations.