My usual personal disclaimer off the top: While I eat meat, I am against animal cruelty. I don't eat veal, for instance, and try to avoid certain companies I have been told use cruel practices to slaughter their animals. While I support the use of animal in medical experiments that serve to develop treatments for serious diseases, I am opposed to their use in other trials.
It is with this in mind that I read that the Conservative movement has once again decided to push forward with its "hechsher tzedek", its ethical hechsher. The idea behind it is simple and sounds great:
to be given to food produced in a manner that meets certain environmental and labor standards, including worker safety and fair wages.
What concerns me is that this will all be turned into politically correct window dressing and that it misses the point of kashrus. Simply put, kashrus is a set of rules telling us what we can eat and what we can't. Period. It has nothing to do with animal treatment. As Rav Menachem Gemack notes later in the article:
concern for the environment, workers’ rights and animal welfare are all part of biblical and rabbinic law, and it is correct for Jews to be concerned about them. But, he added, it’s not something the religious movements should regulate
In other words, there is a Jewish obligation to be kind to animals and raise them without cruelty. There is certainly an obligation to minimize their suffering during shechitah. However, these obligations have nothing to do with whether the food on the table is kosher or not.
What's more, who defined ethical working conditions and fair wages? Will non-unionized plants be turned down? If the company doesn't offer a health plan, will it be rejected?
What really strikes me as funny, though, is that the vast majority of Conservative Jews already do not keep the basic set of mitzvos that define Judaism, such as Shabbos and kashrus. What makes them think that a new standard is going to be any more observed? Will the same Conservative Jew who currently has no problem eating a Big Mac suddenly turn around at the counter and say "Well, hand on, not only isn't it kosher, it doesn't have a Hechsher tzedek!"
Instead of creating new rules that won't be followed, all parts of the Jewish community should join together to ensure that the existing stringent rules against animal cruelty are fully observed by the kosher food industry. That's also a mitzvah: Dina d'malchusa dina.