Q: Good Morning Rabbi,
I was curious: I am interested in bringing a particular processed food into my kitchen, which are not supervised under kashrut authorities. However, they are under supervision of Indian national food authorities, which do have accurate labeling for vegetarian food items (denoted by a green dot, whereas foods with animal products have a red dot) as a significant portion of their population has dietary restrictions from eating animal products (Brahmin/priestly caste). Given the existence of an established supervisory body forfood products, is it permissible to bring them into a kosher kitchen? Or, is it considered permissible by some to bring them in to a kosher Sephardic kitchen, such as one that follows such guidances like those of Rabbi Abadi (http://www.kashrut.org, an example, he permits the consumption of certain "gelatin" products as truly non-problematic)?
A: Dear Tzahi,
The answer to your question depends on the reliability of the food classification system in India. If a company would be fined or otherwise penalized for falsely labeling an item "vegetarian", then we may assume that the classifications they assign to their products are accurate. If, on the other hand, there are no consequences attached to such misrepresentation, then there is no basis upon which to trust the labeling process. We would have to be concerned about the possibility that business owners will make fraudulent claims about their foods simply in order to increase their profits.
Even if a product is reliably certified as vegetarian, one would still need to be sure that it contains no grape juice or wine. Grape juice and wine are not kosher unless they have been prepared under rabbinical supervision.
In our country, the halachic reliability of ingredient labels is based upon this very principle; namely, we assume that a company will provide accurate information to the consumer for the purpose of avoiding law suits, fines and liabilities of various kinds. If not for the careful monitoring of the food industry here, we would continue to harbor a healthy skepticism toward the representations made on product labels.