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In Melbourne Shabbat begins Fri 24 Jan 2020 08:21 PM and ends Sat 25 Jan 2020 09:20 PM
כ"ט אדר א' ה' אלפים תשס"ח
I suppose it was to be expected.
For years we have listed all Twinings teas as being acceptable for use by the Kosher consumer. As they were made in the United Kingdom and listed as Kosher by the London Beth Din, we were comfortable with this assessment.
Then it happened. As part of our routine double checking for the 2008 Kosher Australia Food Guide, we noted that Twinings were not listed by the London Beth Din in their Kosher guide. In response to our query, London Beth Din responded that while some Twinings varieties sold in the US, Canada and Israel were Kosher certified, they were not the varieties available in the UK and as such they did not list product not available for the English Kosher consumer.
They were unable to confirm that the Twinings products sold in Australia were acceptable.
Okay, we thought, maybe we could get some information from Twinings-Ovo themselves to confirm that the product in Australia is acceptable? No such luck. In fact, the company confirmed that products in Australia may be different to the Twinings sold in the US and elsewhere.
After discussions between Rabbanim, mashgichim and staff, it was felt that it would be wrong not to advise consumers against using Twinings teas with added flavours until we could get more information.
The main challenge with tea - other than for Pesach - is the use of flavours that are either dry powder added in the blending of the tea or sprayed onto the tea leaves as they are being dried. Hence the requirement to avoid tea with flavour. However, we note that many tea flavours - like coffee flavours - are actually natural tea leaves grown in different regions in the world combined with dried crushed leaves from other plants.
So how did the community respond? Mostly, with understanding. We received emails for clarification from a number of people - perfectly understandable.
But what was disappointing was the response from people who we would have expected to take Kashrut seriously.
"How much did the other tea companies pay you?" demanded one Kosher retailer who had decided not to pull Twinings products from his shelves. While this may have been suggested tongue-in-cheek, the raising of such a question is insulting.
"You're making Kosher too difficult," wrote another, missing the point that we don't make the products but certify them and notify customers. That consumer also failed to acknowledge the more than 1000 new Kosher retail products in the last 3 years!
These responses imply that the perception of Kashrut authorities is something between Government and private enterprise and that it's all about power, money and control. (Maybe we should have a ‘Kashrut Toward 2020' gathering this Pesach to discuss things?)
So conspiracy theories aside, recall that:
Kosher Australia is a communal organisation that came into being to ensure that people could keep kosher in Australia, with confidence, and without pandering to consumer requests to certify a product that doesn't make the grade. Over time, our activities extended beyond checking some manufacturers for minimally kosher standards to the supervision of caterers, restaurants, butchers and bakeries as well as over 250 manufacturers all in line with world-class standards of Kashrut.
For certified companies, the average cost to a manufacturer is between $1100 and $1500 p.a. to cover time expended in investigations and site auditing (each facility is visited, at the very least, annually). Some of these facilities are in rural Australia. Those facilities beyond Australia ordinarily pay the cost of the airfare as well.
In addition, we produce a Kosher Australia Food Guide which is sold at a price which reflects printing costs of both the Guide and Pesach Guide, cost of distribution at the start of the subscription and through the update cycles and the cost of human resources to produce these guides and maintain them during the year.
We also check over 1500 medicines for Pesach use, provide seminars for schools and community groups, subsidise kashering services and offer a free hotline for consumer enquiries. And we are prepared to take calls on Kashrut related issues pretty much 24/7. (I really enjoy that call as I'm drifting off at 10:30pm asking if the dried fruits for the kid's lunches tomorrow were kosher.)
All permanent employees are on fixed salaries and the Rabbinic staff have no say nor any involvement in the financial side of the organisation. Additionally, under a new Conflict of Interest Policy, issued early this year, Kosher Australia staff are precluded from receiving gifts or benefits other than those in the salaries.
I would like to think that when we approach a manufacturer to go kosher, the entire Jewish community in Australia stands behind us.