Kosher Pickle

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Tomorrow the Supreme Court is expected to decide whether to hear an appeal in defense of New York's kosher labeling law. The law was overturned by the 2nd Circuit last year as a violation of the Establishment Clause.

Constitutional questions aside, this is a case where government intervention is demonstrably unnecessary. Jews have managed to eat kosher food for thousands of years without help from government inspectors or prosecutors. The system relies on trust and reputation, with Jews putting their faith in organizations that monitor food manufacturers, restaurants, and stores. There is considerable competition, so each organization has an incentive to maintain high standards. As long as no company claims to have a stamp of approval it did not really earn (which would be a kind of fraud), there is no reason for the state to be involved.

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  1. One could make the exact same argument for the silly California and, now, federal “organic” food labelling rules.

  2. Larry:

    Yes! As an organic gardener (and occasional seller of produce) myself, I’d love to get the USDA out of the business altogether. Then agribusiness couldn’t set the USDA labelling standards, or outlaw those who want to include special information (i.e., “We’re REALLY organic–no GMO’s or sewage sludge”).

    Do away with the government restrictions on labelling, and just ALLOW labelling of GMOs, and the whole issue would disappear as fast as farmers could shift back to non-genetically modified crops.

    As always, the solution is MORE freedom and information, not less.

  3. Labelling something as kosher when it isn’t is fraud, and it’s the government’s job to prevent the initiation of force or fraud. This doesn’t mean that there’s a great need for the state kosher inspector, any more than other inspectors are necessary. But where fraud is reported, it’s the state’s job to prosecute it, and when a particular kind of fraud is widespread it’s the legislature’s job to write laws defining the rules for that sector, so that people can more easily determine what is and isn’t fraud.

    When NY State’s kosher laws were written, there were few private certifiers, and the consumer was left to rely on the manufacturer’s claim; fraud was rampant, and the legislature responded appropriately with a law. Now that there are private certifiers, discerning consumers tend not to trust any manufacturer who isn’t certified by one or another of these, and just makes an unsupported claim that his products are kosher. Still, those who do rely on such a claim, and turn out to have been defrauded, deserve the protection of the state, just like any other victim of fraud.

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