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Prof. Timothy Lytton, Albany Law School – History of the Kosher Food Industry

In today’s Academic Minute, Professor Timothy Lytton of Albany Law School reveals how stringent self-regulation has allowed the kosher food industry to thrive over the past century.

Timothy Lytton is the Albert and Angela Farone Distinguished Professor of Law at Albany Law School where he teaches courses on administrative law, the philosophy of law, and regulatory law. His latest publication is Kosher: Private Regulation in the Age of Industrial Food. He earned his law degree at Yale Law School.

About Professor Lytton

Prof. Timothy Lytton – History of the Kosher Food Industry

Kosher food is big business. There are more than 10,000 kosher-producing companies in the United States alone, making over 135,000 kosher products for over 12 million American consumers who purchase kosher food because it is kosher. Surprisingly, only 8 percent of kosher consumers are religious Jews; the rest choose kosher food for reasons related to health, food safety, taste, vegetarianism, lactose intolerance, or non-Jewish religious dietary practices such as halal. The U.S. kosher market is worth over $12 billion in annual retail sales, and more products are labeled kosher than are labeled organic, natural, or premium.

Kosher food certification by independent private agencies is highly reliable, assuring compliance with religious standards of food production and preventing deceptive marketing. But kosher food certification in America was not always so reliable. Fraud plagued the U.S. market from the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s. In 1925, it was estimated that more than half of the meat sold as kosher in New York City was actually nonkosher.

My research identifies a number of factors that account for the successful evolution of kosher certification. First, consumer demand for certification gives food manufactures incentive to pay for reliable, independent inspection of their production facilities. Second, competition between certifiers makes them vigilant to avoid mistakes in their own operations and leads them to scrutinize the operations of their competitors. Third, a shared sense of mission promotes cooperation among rival certifiers that often produces common standards and commitment to abide by them.

The success of kosher food certification offers a model of reliable independent, private certification that provides an effective means of assuring that the products we consume—from the food on our table to the investments in our retirement plan—meet rigorous quality standards.

Production support for the Academic Minute comes from Newman’s Own, giving all profits to charity and pursuing the common good for over 30 years, and from Mount Holyoke College.

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