Call for Help from Strange Quarters

The FDA recently announced that meat and milk from cloned animals are safe for human consumption. We all know the FDA is hardly an expert guide these days, and I’m sure someone will have (non-cloned) steaks on his/her table for the rest of his/her life for scratching the agribusinesses’ backs like this, but there it is. We also know that this country — and these same agribusinesses — is very unlikely to ever mandate a meaningful labeling law. It just goes contrary to the whole spirit of free marketeering (somehow…).

So what hope do we have? I have a suggestion, and a plea for help from what might seem an unlikely political force: America’s rabbis. All food, in order to be considered “kosher”, must be inspected and approved by a specially-certified rabbi, who declares the food itself and the methods of producing and processing it in accordance with Toraic law. Among the restrictions that must be adhered to are that an animal must be treated humanely, and must be fully healthy at the time of its slaughter — sick and deformed animals aren’t kosher. Now, while the kosher market in this country isn’t very large (although add in Muslim “halal” rules and you have maybe 3-5% of the adult market), it’s a market that tends to be a) highly visible, b) highly affluent, and c) mostly liberal. Food producers have worked hard in the past to earn and retain their kosher certification.

Although abuses can be somewhat common in the food certification process, I think that Jewish food inspectors might become a powerful ally in whatever happens down the line when cloning becomes an affordable option for food production. I don’t know enough about Muslim halal certification, but that might also be an important aspect of this struggle. Cloning could (and probably should) be seen as an inhumane practice (and possibly even a sin in the “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” vein) and its products as deformed — given the complexity of natural reproduction, it is unlikely that any human-directed process is going to hit the mark consistently. While some might object to the politicization of what is essentially a religious function, I doubt many rabbis will be among them — Jews know, from our history and from our traditions, that religion is inherently political. The hijacking of our ability to choose what we put into our bodies is an injustice, and at their root, kosher laws exist to assure that both animal and human life is treated justly.

No comments yet to Call for Help from Strange Quarters

  • Anonymous

    Good job – this is an important issue – and a nice take on it.
    Probably getting Kosher, Hallal and “Organic” ( if we can save that term from being totally gutted) may give a large enough market share to limit this .
    Best Wishes- Mike Pavlik

  • Anonymous

    Actually, down the road in Postville, IA another clash of civilaztions are coming to a head: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A61419-2004May2.html. Residence have long been pitted against those strange hasidic interlopers (the Rubashkin family has a stronghold on the industry,) and this time it’s over the environment. While the kosher meat industry follows the letter of the law, the spirit is somewhat lacking… you will find your melange of antibiotics, suffering chickens and corn feed. Luckily, there are Kosher Organic options–but you’ll need to be in a higher tax bracket for that meat…

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