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Mike Myers
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“Kosher” Is More Than a Marketing Gimmick

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The law is a living organism. It’s continually evolving.

At one time courts took a dim view of food labeling lawsuits. They had a caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) attitude. But times and judicial attitudes have changed.

Dannon touted Activia and DanActive yogurt products as "clinically" and "scientifically" proven to regulate digestion and boost immune systems. But those claims weren’t true.

Consumers filed a class action against Dannon. In 2010 a judge in Cleveland approved a $45 million settlement. The terms of the settlement also require Dannon to change its health claims for Activia and DanActive.

But health claims aren’t the only important labeling issue. More and more foods are labeled "kosher" or with a "k" to suggest that they are kosher. The importance of a kosher designation was indirectly addressed by the California Supreme Court (in a case arising from an erroneous "Made in U.S.A." label). The Supreme Court explained:

"[S]imply stated: labels matter. The marketing industry is based on the premise that labels matter, that consumers will choose one product over another similar product based on its label and various tangible and intangible qualities they may come to associate with a particular source…."

The court elaborated with a couple of analogies: whether food is kosher or halal "may be of enormous consequence to an observant Jew or Muslim."

"Nonkosher meat might taste and in every respect be nutritionally identical to kosher meat, but to an observant Jew who keeps kosher, the former would be worthless."

One of the sources of contention is going to involve yogurt. Yogurt uses gelatin. Gelatin is made from beef (or even pork). Some great information about the use of gelatin in yogurt appears at the Kashru website:

Gelatin serves a number of useful functions in a yogurt product. It forms a creamier product and keeps the fruit suspended in the yogurt. It also serves as a bulking agent, reducing the calorie content, by replacing the yogurt with water. Non-fat yogurt has 130 calories per 8 oz. without any sweeteners. To get 100-calorie yogurt, less yogurt is used.

Unfortunately there are a number of kashrus issues in the use of gelatin. Gelatin, is by definition an animal product. The gelatin used in current yogurt products is produced from pork or non-kosher slaughtered beef. Since there are rabbis who give kosher certification to these gelatins and the products produced from them, manufacturers call this gelatin "kosher" gelatin and put a "K" on the products. The major certifying agencies do not consider this gelatin to be kosher.

If you’ve eaten "kosher" yogurt but have some questions about whether it contained gelatin made from beef or pork give me a call. I’d be happy to help you investigate and, if it was labeled "kosher" but wasn’t, help you (and other consumers) make a change in the way the manufacturer labels its products.