December 21, 2014 · 29 Kislev

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Where's the Pork? Reform Jews Press Agriculture Department For Clarity In Sausage Labeling

WASHINGTON, August 4 - It is said that you can't judge a book by its cover. Well, it seems that you can't judge a sausage by its casing either. The Agriculture Department agrees wholeheartedly, and in response to a petition by a Jewish woman from Connecticut and Reform Judaism's Washington-based Religious Action Center (RAC), it plans to revise its labeling guidelines so that sausage packages must wear the content of their sausage casings on their labels not only on their butcher's sleeves.

Distressed by the news that her purchased chicken sausage may have been delivered in pork casings, Marion Stone, a Reform Jew in Stamford, Conn., took action. First, she contacted public officials at the state and federal levels and petitioned the USDA to make the change without getting "bogged down in bureaucratic minutia." Then, she contacted the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, who instructed its Washington office to investigate the issue.

The RAC added the voice of 1.5 million Reform Jews to the slowly-developing sausage caper, with a petition of its own and regular communication with USDA officials, including Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman. In its August 1995 letter to the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), the RAC emphasized that "labels are the only means of preventing consumers from unknowingly consuming prohibited food products and removing uncertainty regarding the origin of food products."

Three years have passed since Stone first voiced her concerns, but now, finally, there is good news: The FSIS has proposed a rule to require the source labeling of sausage casings. Following the sixty-day comment period, and consideration by the USDA, the rule can be finalized.

RAC Director Rabbi David Saperstein lauded the proposed rule as a service to the "hundreds of thousands of Jews and Muslims who want to follow their religious dictates in not eating pork." "This proposed rule is a major contribution to the ability of Americans to exercise their religious freedom," he added.

"As an individual acting alone, it's difficult to press for change," said Stone. "My theory of social action is that you contact everyone who is even remotely interested with the hope that they may collide in a hallway and resolve to act," she added.

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The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, representing 1.5 million Reform Jews and 1700 Reform rabbis in 870 congregations throughout North America.

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