By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for the Five Towns Jewish Times
It was an innovative way of saving money. The municipality worked it out that they would outsource the financial cost of the Department of Health inspectors. From now on, it would be the restaurants themselves that would hire the health inspectors. The restaurants would pay them, they would take out the FICA taxes, the worker’s comp –– the restaurant would handle it all.
The move “worked wonders” for the state of health in the restaurants. Eateries that were previously designated with a C minus rating were now rated A plus and health violation write ups were down too.
The astute reader will detect an obvious problem here. This is what is called a classic conflict of interest. The upgraded rating and lowered violations are probably due to the unique financial arrangement.
In 2009, researchers Bernard Lo and Marilyn Field published a book called, “Conflict of Interest in Medical Research, Education, and Practice.” In the book, Lo and Field defined a conflict of interest as “a set of circumstances that creates a risk that professional judgement or actions regarding a primary interest will be unduly influenced by a secondary interest.”
When an inspector is paid by the people he supervises there is a risk that his judgment and actions will be unduly influenced. The safety of the restaurant consumers has been placed at risk. Indeed, the general public has also been placed in danger.
SAME FOR KASHRUS
The same should be true in the field of Kashrus. The mashgiach is there to protect the public from eating non-kosher or questionable items just as the health inspector is there to protect the public from anything that can compromise their health and safety.
RAV MOSHE FEINSTEIN ZT”L
Indeed, last generation’s Gadol haDor, Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l, in his Igros Moshe (YD Vol. IV #1:8) writes that the Mashgiach should not be paid by the facility receiving the hashgacha, but rather should only be paid by the Vaad HaKashrus itself. Indeed, he should have no direct monetary business dealings with the company.
The above story of the health inspectors that were paid by the restaurants was fictitious, of course. But the situation with Kashrus organizations is not. Kashrus agencies coordinate the supervision in a manner that is in direct violation of this Igros Moshe and of common sense.
A HISTORY OF FOUL UPS
In recent years, there have been numerous instances of kashrus foul-ups. Indeed, the situation is somewhat akin to the Wild West. Most people remember the treif chickens at Shevach Meats in Monsey, N.Y. Jin Glatt Chinese Kosher in Passaic, N.J. was selling non-kosher meat for years and no one caught it. Stan and Pete’s, the main caterer in Johannesburg, South Africa, was found to be serving treif, as was Doheny Glatt in Los Angeles, Calif. Incidents such as these are happening again and again and again with no respite in sight.
WILL IT HAPPEN AGAIN?
Will this happen again or have these incidents taught us a lesson? An expert in the Kashrus industry remarked, “It is not a question as to whether it will happen again. It is rather a matter of when will happen again.” The community at large needs to speak up to prevent this from happening. Feeding tarfus to Klal Yisroel is not something that we should sit by and accept.
MAY BE A VIOLATION OF DVARIM
The situation needs to be rectified. Allowing a conflict of interest to continue may be a violation of the Torah prohibition of “v’asisa hayashar v’hatov,” You shall do the just and the good (Dvarim 6:18).
The Ramban explains that the Torah gave this general mitzvah because it cannot relate all cases and eventualities that might arise. Therefore, the Torah covers all situations with a general instruction of acting in fairness and justness. In all his ways, the individual is bound to the “just and the good.” Many poskim point to this pasuk as being the source of the obligation of acting lifnim mishuras ha’din – above and beyond what strict halacha dictates. How can there be an obligation of going above and beyond the law?
In explanation as to why the situation in kashrus remains in a state of built-in conflict of interest we turn to a position paper presented by an Executive Rabbinic Coordinator, at the ASK RCA Yom Iyun held at OU Headquarters in New York City on May 1, 2007.
The position paper stated as follows:
It is self-evident that it is preferable that a Mashgiach be paid by the Kashrus organization and not by the supervised facility.
Unfortunately, this is generally not a viable option for semi or full-time Mashgiachim of establishments because of insurance considerations.
It is unclear what is meant by insurance considerations. This author knows of at least a dozen insurance brokers who would gladly offer any hechsher insurance for a full staff of mashgichim. What is probably being referred to is that the kashrus agencies cannot underwrite the payroll and insurance if the restaurants are late in paying. But this can be rectified if the restaurant is made to pay these fees in advance.
THE PEO OPTION
There is also another option. In the United States and elsewhere there are companies called PEOs, professional employer organizations. A PEO is a firm that provides a service under which an employer can outsource employee management tasks. These include employee benefits, payroll and workers’ compensation, recruiting, risk/safety management, and training and development. A PEO could be contracted to take over all of a hechsher’s mashgichim.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org