The Return of Heritage Kosher Chicken

Since JIFA’s inception we’ve received hundreds of inquiries about where to find higher welfare kosher chicken, and we’ve never enjoyed having to break the bad news: only hybrid poultry is available on the kosher market. While the gold standard in higher welfare—heritage poultry—is available to the non-kosher consumer, kosher heritage poultry has been unavailable for over 50 years. After months of hard work and collaboration JIFA is proud to be responsible for bringing kosher heritage chicken back to consumers in all lower 48 states!

In 2015, JIFA transported 161 heritage chickens to a kosher slaughterhouse in NY. When they arrived, several people at the facility who had never seen a heritage chicken asked if the animals were kosher. But when the head rabbi of the slaughterhouse looked at the birds he knew exactly what they were, exclaiming: “These are the chickens we ate when I was a kid!”

Heritage birds were once the standard in the poultry industry, but their availability changed dramatically with the emergence of the hybrid chicken in the 1950s. Hybrid birds grow three times faster than their heritage counterparts, and on half of the feed. While heritage chickens reach a live weight of five pounds in about four months, hybrid birds do so in less than six weeks. The rapid growth of hybrids wreaks havoc on the birds’ bodies, causing painful problems with skeletal development, heart and lung function((J.C. McKay, N.F. Barton, A.N.M. Koerhuis, and J. McAdam (2000). The Challenge of Genetic Change in the Broiler Chicken. BSAS Occasional Publication: 1-7.)), obesity((Y. Wang et al. (2009). Modern Organic and Broiler Chickens Sold for Human Consumption Provide More Energy from Fat Than Protein. Public Health Nutrition 13(3).)), and more. Hybridization also created an unusually cheap meat product that now makes up over 99% of the American poultry market. The much smaller kosher chicken market got swept up in and eventually adopted the very same breeding and confinement practices that we now know as factory farming.

Over the past 10 years, as higher welfare kosher meat companies have emerged, consumers have become increasingly aware of where their meat comes from and how farmed animals are treated. This new wave of interest in welfare inspired the creation of JIFA and compels us to empower caring kosher consumers with more humane kosher food choices. One way we’ve done this is by re-introducing animal products that are not produced within or contribute to the success of a destructive industrial farming system.

JIFA worked with Frank Reese of the Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch— the country’s foremost breeder of heritage chickens and turkeys—as well as kosher meat distributors like KOL Foods who have established reputations for the quality of their higher welfare products. KOL Foods has shown a consistent commitment to animal welfare and has been an excellent partner to JIFA by helping provide heritage chicken to the marketplace.

In 2016, we  worked with higher welfare kosher companies to bring a run of over 1000 heritage chickens to kosher processing facilities in Pennsylvania. With JIFA representatives overseeing the welfare of the birds during gathering, transport, and slaughter, this partnership has made heritage kosher chicken available again for the first time in half a century.

While this is great news, we still need your support to help ensure continued success. In order for higher welfare kosher chicken to become more widely available, it’s crucial that we create demand. Our goal with KOL Foods is a long term partnership and commitment so that kosher consumers will continue to have access to more humanely-raised poultry.

As we work to foster the growth of and demand for higher welfare kosher products, we encourage you to consider your values when making food choices. By choosing heritage, you’re supporting farmers outside the factory farming system and a significantly better quality of life for farmed animals. Together, we can create a better kosher meat industry, and the Jewish community can be at the forefront of transforming the way our nation eats and farms.

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