November 28, 2010

The Shame and Scandal of Our Mismanagement of Antibiotics

    The public has so many problems to think about concerning food that one hesitates to raise another problem, but there is currently  a law before Congress that could have the most valuable long-term impact on our health.   This is the  Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA), a bill  that would ban the use of seven classes of medically important antibiotics in livestock and poultry.
    The use of antibiotics in farm animals began some time shortly after the Second World War.  While there are good reasons for using antibiotics on farm animals, there are some very bad reasons.  These include using antibiotics  to promote growth in the animals,  and as a sub-therapeutic method to mask poor husbandry. No one knows why, but antibiotics cause cows to grow faster.  A cow which traditionally took four years to reach slaughter weight, may reach reach slaughter weight in eighteen months, if fed antibiotics.  This can save the farmer substantial money in feed and care.  Additionally, farms which raise their cows and chickens according to the CAFO system (Confined Animal Feed Operation) continually  face conditions which threaten disease  outbreaks because they are controlled by constantly feeding  antibiotics to the animals.  The dangerous  effect of this “industrialized farming” of animals is that it weakens the use of antibiotics for human health and increases what has come to be called antibiotic resistant bacteria.

    My first introduction to this problem was reading Orvile Schell’s book, Modern Meat, published in 1983, while working on an article for a local magazine. Through his book, I was introduced to  the work of Dr. Stuart Levy of the Department of Microbiology at Tufts University, who heads the Levy Lab---The Center for Adaptation Genetics and Drug Resistance, and who probably knows  everything you never wanted to know about  microbial life.  In an interview I asked him why we couldn’t just assume that medicine can continually discover new drugs and stay ahead of drug resistance.   “Up to a point,” he said, “but we don’t know what that point is.   Doctors now often feel they are racing to find the next effective antibiotic for a patient  with pneumonia recovering from a heart operation.  Medicine can perform astounding surgery which often goes to waste because of a bacterial infection we have no antibiotic for.”
    Since 1983, there have been continual calls to stop the overuse of antibiotics on farm animals.   In 1985, The Harvard University Medical School Health Letter headlined its article: “Antibiotics and Life Stock: Feeding A Controversy.”  In January, 2001, Science Magazine  dedicated its editorial to the problem.  In 2006,  the European Union banned the use of antibiotics as a growth promotant,  as well as the use of those antibiotics useful in human health.  Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, has sent emails to its members asking them to contact their  representatives to pass PAMTA.  The Union for Concerned Scientists has some excellent articles on the subject.   Several large meat and chicken manufacturers in the United States, such as  McDonald's,  Tyson  Perdue,  Foster, and Gold Kist have volunteered to stop using antibiotics for growth promotion.
    But this may be too little and too late, and  our government remains timid in passing the legislation to end the promiscuous use of antibiotics in animals---because the CAFO system of raising animals  depends on the massive use of antibiotics, and the CAFO system  would have to be dismantled.  That is not only an agricultural and human health  problem, but a political headache with powerful agricultural lobbies weighing in.

    The use  of antibiotics in animals in 1985, when I wrote my first article,  was about 48%.  It is now about 70%   Yes,  the CAFO system must be dismantled with deliberate speed.    We have not even calculated the impact of global warming on the disease profile of the future, but global warming will inevitably cause changes in microbial life  that will cause changes in  our disease patterns that we have not dreamed of  in our pharmacology.   The discovery of antibiotics was a miracle that we have wasted on frivolous use, and to feed an irresponsible industry that was based on a wanton appetite for meat.   I am haunted by the implications of  Jared Diamond’s book, Collapse---that we may have eaten ourselves into death.

Copyright (c) Roberta Kalechofsky, 2010.




10 October 2010
Diet As A Philosophical Inquiry
In the biblcal Genesis, diet plays a unique and transformative role in the transmission of history and the formation of a people.  Two  contrasting positions are presented.  The first is stated in Genesis 1: 29:  “See, I give you every  seed-bearing plant that is upon all the earth, and every tree that has seed bearing fruit: these shall be yours for food.”  This is the great vegetarian commandment which has influenced much Jewish mysticism and thought. Also, the second sentence in this passage appears to extend the vegetarian commandment  to all animal life as well: “And to all the animals on land, to all the birds of the sky, and to everything that creeps on earth, in which there is the breath of life, I give all the green plants for food.”  The passage suggests that Genesis envisions that predation or predatory life did not exist in the beginning of creaturely life on earth, and was not part of God’s plan.  But  humankind (and anthropology) does not know of a time when  predation on earth, among animals at least, did not exist.  By Genesis 9:17, which depicts events after the flood, predation emerges as the dark flaw in creation which is to haunt the work of Isaiah, and influence the way rabbis viewed human life vis a vis animal life.

This double stranded commandment exemplifies how anthropological contingencies interpenetrate moral concerns.  The Bible is made up of prescription and description, and it is frequently difficult to tell which is which, for the concern of the new developing religion was to  justify the created world to the pagan world as the work of the “Lord of Creation.”  This is apparent in the repeated statements,  “And God saw that it was good,” in the blessings that are reiterated throughout the opening of Genesis, and in the commandment “be fruitful and multiply.”  At all times life was to be protected.  This reads Genesis in the light of the culture it was struggling against. As David Rosenberg states in "A Poet’s Bible: Rediscovering the Voices of the Original Text: “To imagine any biblical poet as human--to make him or her personal--I have to consider what conventions he is called to struggle against.” (p. xiii).  This is the position of this blog:  that the Bible was, at least partly, written as a revolutionary document, revolutionary about what it had to say about human and animal life, about the Creator of the world, about the value of life. 

Most of us read the Bible proscriptively, as a series of dictats---and often it is, but often it is working against the historical background out of which it was born.  Unfortunately these two perspectives are often closely braided.  Thus, the line in Genesis, which causes animal rights people in the West much consternation, “Let us make man in our image,” was a leap forward in the conception of humankind.  Behind this line is the millennial tradition of pharaohs and kings who claimed to have been  made in the image of God.  Now every ordinary human being would  participate in the divine image.  Only pharaohs and sun-gods had images made of them, cast in gold and bronze fifty feet high.  The sculptures of the pre-biblical world testify to the magnitude of rulership and the inconsequential nature of the individual. The referral of humankind as made in the image of God also meant that the control over  life and living creatures that had heretofore been the province of pharaohs and sun-gods was now the province of everyman.  The passage reads:

"And God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.  They shall rule over the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the cattle, the whole earth, and all the creeping things that creep on earth.” And God created man in His image, in the image of God He created them, male and female He created them. "

This pregnant passage  precedes the commandment to eat fruits, herbs and seeds, pertinently suggesting that “dominion”  did not include the right to eat the fish and the cattle, etc.  Of all the relationships between humans and animal life, eating them is the most intimate and  daily relationship.  If eating animals and fish was not contained in the right of dominion, what then did  “dominion” mean to the biblical writers: 

Biblical humans shared with other cultures of the biblical world the use of animals as draft animals, for sacrificial purposes, for food and for clothing, but these uses are post-edenic, not contained in the original understanding of  “dominion.” 

It is also important to note, as Rabbi Elijah Schochet points out in his book, Animal Life in Jewish Tradition, that "Biblical terminology reflects the unity of man and beast. Ruach Hayyim (spirit of life) can refer to both man and animal, as can nefesh hayyah ("living creature"). (p. 53).  He also points out that humans and the creatures of the earth are made from the same substance.  Thus, "image"is but image, while substance is substance.

The variant readings of  “dominion” are many,  ranging from benign interpretation, such as “to care for,” “to lead,” “shepherding God’s creatures,”  etc. as well as “to subdue and conquer.”  (see Yoel Arbeitman’s article, “In All Adam’s Domain,” Judaism and Animal Rights: Classical & Contemporary Responses, Micah Publications), but does not include their consumption.  Evidence suggests that early biblical man experienced the animal foremost as a laborer, a draft animal, someone used to plough and to carry. A significant reference to this is the law in Deuteronomy 25:4,  which states that,  “You may not muzzle the ox when it treads out the corn in the fields, ”  with its concern for the welfare of the laboring beast.  This law is in the same passage as the one which stipulates that you must leave the second shaking of the olive tree and the second shaking of the grape vine for the poor, suggesting a resonance between the poor and animals in the demands of social justice.  Noah J. Cohen, in his study of Jewish legislation concerning animals, Tsa’ar Ba’ale Hayim: The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: Its Bases, Development and Legislation in Hebrew Literature (Feldheim Publishers) writes:

"The Hebrew sages emphasized the doctrine that providential solicitude for the lower animals was not unlike that for man, [that] the wall of partition between man and beast was rather thin and the legal rights and privileges of the latter must neither be neglected nor overlooked." (p. 1)

Cohen’s description suggests the view of animals as “lesser brethren” as held by the Rev. Humphrey Primatt in his nineteenth century work, A Dissertation  on The Duty of Mercy and the Sin of Cruelty to the Brute Animals (1838). The view embodies an inheritance from the Bible as not only the obligation of mercy to animals but that of  kinship, and was not infrequently  expressed down to the Enlightenment, when it was afterward considered quaint to have such a view.

 By the time of St. Paul, who was  Greek by birth, allegory had become fashionable and the  view of the animal as one “who came under the providential concern of God,” was no longer acceptable to the new Christian communities, many of whom came from the surrounding Greek civilization and had inherited the Aristotelean  view, which divided the animal world between “rational” and “irrational” creatures.   In his insightful essay, “The Relevance of Animal Experimentation to Roman Catholic Ethical Methodology,” (Tom Regan, ed, Animal Sacrifices: Religious Perspectives on the Animal Use in Science, Temple University Press), James Gaffney examines how Paul changed the meaning of the passage concerning oxen, by interpreting it allegorically:  “Is it for oxen that God is concerned?  Does he not speak entirely for our sake?” (1 Corinthians 9.9-10).  Gaffney’s response clears away two millennia of misinterpretation:

"The passage about the ox was as nonallegorical as everything else in the Book of Deuteronomy, where it is found as part of the law of Moses. Like other passages in that same book, it is plainly intended to be read precisely as a piece of divine legislation in behalf of animals, despite some inconvenience to human greed....It is indeed “for oxen that God is concerned”  and to at least that extent he does “not speak entirely for our sake.”  The Mosaic law does envisage animal interests, does legislate animal rights, and to that extent, does represent animals as moral objects." (p. 150-151)

We arrive at an understanding of  “dominion” from such legislation, plus a myriad of later laws concerning and defining the relationship between humans and animal, including the sublime, “A Jew knows the soul of his beast. ” Combined with the fact that in Eden  “dominion”  did not involve the consumption of animals, dominion appears to have been descriptive of  a relationship between animals and humans found as an anthropological fact, for nowhere in the world, certainly not in the  Babylonian and Greek worlds in which the Bible was born, is there evidence that anything other than an asymmetry between animal and human life exists. The vegetarian commandment is a reverential gloss on this, one that developed a curious history with respect to later messianic hopes.  Mystical Judaism and even standard rabbinic interpretations of what Edenic vegetarianism means, assumed that the Messianic world will be vegetarian.  For Christians, this raises the question of Jesus’ vegetarianism. (see Keith Akers, The Lost Religion of Jesus).  Be that as it may, Jesus’ brother James, and many of the early Christian communities, notably the Ebionites, a bridge community described as “Christian-Jews,” who existed until the twelfth century, were vegetarians.

Between Eden and Noah’s descent from the ark, history changed and its change is dramatically underscored by a change in the permitted diet.  Martin Buber observed that in Genesis, history is created with a blessing; after the flood it is created with a curse. The trajectory from the ideal to the real is reflected in the two dietary conditions that are laid down, from vegetarianism to carnivorism.  Noah descends from the ark after the flood has subsided and his first act is to build a slaughter site for the purpose of sacrifice, and to consume animals.  The process  is initiated by a human, the subsequent codification of the sacrificial system is made by God.  As Rabbi Elijah Shochet emphasizes in his book, Animals in the Jewish Tradition,  neither animal sacrifice nor eating meat is commanded by God.  (Judaism posits a God who is available for dialogue, interchange and interface with the human, which perforce places the human race at the center of the cosmological drama.  A good case in point is the dispute Abraham has with God about punishing S’dom). 

The change in the human relationship to the natural world after the flood is dramatic.  It registers a change in human history which  is reflected in the new diet.   Humans may now eat flesh, but they must not eat flesh as animals do, that is as predators who tear the flesh from animals and drink  their blood.  Eating flesh will not integrate humans back into nature.  In fact, it will deepen their alienation, for we are told that all animal life will now flee from humankind. Moreover, humankind, which has now tasted blood, will hereafter be a creature in fear for its life.   Humankind has entered into a new pact with the natural world.  Predation is the “heart of darkness,” and rules of dietary engagement will evolve to distance Jews from this universal tragedy: man is not a natural animal and his diet should reflect this, not only in what he eats but how he eats it.  Isaiah referred to this early commandment not to “tear the limb from the living animal” (an act of obvious predation) as “the ancient covenant” and cursed those who broke this covenant.  Was it meant as an “animal rights” condition?  Concern for the animal is probably secondary here; primary is the quest for an identification of the human to lift from him the curse of predation under which the rest of the animal kingdom suffers. 

Throughout cultures, there are marked efforts to identify the distinctness of the human in contrast with animals, such as in the development of burial rituals.  (Carrion is the mark of human degradation. Crucifixion was the punishment intended, after three days on the cross,  to reduce the  body of the victim to carrion. Antigone martyrs herself to rescue her brothers from the fate of being reduced to carrion.) This curse is lifted in Isaiah in the beloved passage, “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,” (11: 6-9) which has become for generations of Christians and Jews the promise of Edenic restoration, but often overlooked is that this promise is fulfilled in a vegetarian world---the only way it can be fulfilled.
The commandment “not to eat the meat of strangled animals” had an enormous effect on the development of Jewish life.  Hereafter the “pure” animals are the vegetarian animals, the “impure” animals are the carnivores; Jews are to eat the “pure” or vegetarian animals.   Newtol Press in his article “Kosher Ecology,” (Commentary, Feb., 1985) believes that the Hebrews understood the principle of  economic ecology in the commandment that they eat the meat only of vegetarian animals, but the demand also accommodated the model of distancing human life from predatory life, and it had consequences for the historic development of the Jewish people.   Wherever Jews went, they took their diet with them, though needless to say, few understood the origin or meaning of it; however,  it served as an identification marker, as a force for group cohesion and consolidation and, eventually, as a cause for the division between the new Christian communities and the Jews.

This principle is  already present as Noah  ascends into the ark: “Of every clean animal you shall take seven pair, males and their mates, and of every animal that is not clean, two, a male and its mate.”  The ratio of seven to two would be consistent with Newtol Press’ observation that carnivores are much fewer in number: “Herbivores are many, carnivores are few.”  Noah descends from the ark, already in possession of the ecological value of herbivores. God’s  permission to “to eat everything with which the earth is astir--except for the strangled animal, “flesh with its life-blood in it” might not only be a reference to abstention from strangled meat or meat killed in the field,  but is also a reference to the necessity for abstention from carnivores---the flesh “with its life-blood in it.”  Since Noah descends from the ark already in possession of the important principle in husbandry,  attempts to build an historic anthropological  chronology between the pre- and the  post-Flood worlds becomes questionable.  Nevertheless, the vegetarian criterion functioned as vision, and the division between “clean” and “unclean” animals was not only a principle of good ecological husbandry, but a commentary on the predatory world which haunted biblical man and shaped his way in the pagan world.
A social standard throughout the Roman empire was called “The fellowship of the table,” understood as an important conduit of hospitality, sociability, friendship, and social life. The table created a structure for communication among peoples, very important in the Roman empire which was host to diverse ethnic groups.   Since Romans and Greeks (and other Pagans) frequently ate the meat of “strangled animals,” which were also sometimes sacrificed on religious altars within the Roman household, Jews were forced to exclude themselves from this comradeship, much as vegans today often find that they cannot share meals at a common table, particularly college people in dormitory life, or people in the armed services.  Food is  as often a force for separating people as for binding them.

This problem became acute for Jews in Judea during the time of the Roman occupation  in the first Christian century, when possibly half the population of Judea were Greek or Roman.  Robert Eisenman, in his book, James, the Brother of Jesus, claims that James was a vegetarian as much as a political protest against the presence of Romans and Greeks in Judea, to spare himself contact with them,  as the fact that he was  a Nazirite.  (Vegetarianism was a tenet of Naziritism.) Most importantly, he was the head of the Jerusalem Church, which led the nascent Christian or Jewish-Christian communities in Judea.  But Paul, having been  born and raised in Corinth, understood the  determining ethic of “the fellowship of the table, ” and that unless he could find a way to dispense with the laws of kashrut, with the distinction between “clean” and “unclean” meat, his mission would be greatly compromised.   Two  commandments were barriers to his conversion of the Gentile people, circumcision and the laws regarding the eating of kosher meat.  His decision to  abandon both of them changed the course of history in the Roman world.  This was not achieved without great struggle with James and with  the other apostles.   The struggle about food is recorded in a dream by Peter in Acts 10,  11-14 which illustrates the intensity of the issue at the time.

"The next day, as they were on their journey and coming near the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray about the sixth hour.  And he became hungry and desired something to eat; but while they were preparing it he fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened, and something descending, like a great sheet, let down by the four corners upon the earth.  In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air.  And there came a voice to him, 'Rise, Peter; kill and eat.'  But Peter said, 'No Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.'  And the voice came to him a second time.  “What God has cleansed you must not call common.”  This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven." (The Oxford Annotated Bible)

Peter later interprets the dream allegorically, that it is about human beings, that none should be called “impure.”  The presumption is that he remains kosher, but Paul dispenses with the rule of the  “ancient covenant” which now allows the admission of new Christians into a “fellowship of the table” which will heretofore exclude those Jews who remain faithful to the “ancient covenant.”  Diet became a  driving engine of the historic division between Christian and Jew.

There is currently a debate concerning the status of meat in the New Testament, much of it on the Internet in which Peter’s vision and even the word for “meat” is being rigorously re-interpreted, as an old dispute about meat is being re-visited.   Richard Angelin  writes,

"Abstention from unclean flesh was one of the most characteristic marks of the Jew, and a distinction to which Peter held rigorously.  It had been one of the basic issues between the Jews and the Syrians during the Maccabbean War, an issue over which staunch Jews willingly laid down their lives.  To suggest that Christian Jews gave up their deeply rooted conviction on dietary regulations without so much as a whimper is without comprehension, so where is the support for this suggestion?....Those who attempt to point to the cross as the removal of dietary regulation also ignore that the designation of clean and unclean animals was not made at Sinai but was made long before and at an undeterminable time.  All the way back to the time of Noah there has been a distinction between clean and unclean animals (Gen. 7:22) and there is no good reason to believe that the distinction does not go all the way back to Eden.  Thus there is no good basis for the position that the ban upon unclean foods was removed when the Jewish ceremonial law ended at the cross."

Angelin accepts Peter’s revulsion that he eat “impure” food  and his interpretation that what God meant by the   offer of “traif”  (impure) food, was that there was no such thing as an “impure” person.   However, we know from many passages in the New Testament  that one of the conflicts that Paul was frequently called upon to resolve was the conflict over meat.  Eventually, he resolved the conflict by dismissing the distinction between “pure” and “impure.”  It is believed that Paul’s resolution (together with his dismissal of circumcision) caused the final divorce between the Jerusalem Church and Paul, whose new converts now turned Rome-wards, while the other nascent Christian-Jewish communities became vegetarians or followed the law laid down in the Noachic passage.

 Vegetarianism and carnivorism went on to have different subsequent careers for  Western Christians and Jews.  Carnivorism became the standard diet for Christians in the West (except for protesting individuals and for the desert Fathers who embraced vegetarianism as an ascetic practice.  Newtole).  For the Jewish people, carnivorism remained the legacy of the sacrificial cult and came to dominate the Western Jewish diet,  but the vegetarian commandment remained enshrined as the ideal, not only for a messianic age but as a daily ideal to be striven for.  The seven sacred foods of Israel, do not include meat; they are grains, date honey, figs, dates, pomegranates, olives and grapes. There is no specified blessing for eating meat in a religion which has a blessing for almost everything else.  The rabbis concur that Torah and Jewish law suggest a continuing uneasiness about the eating of meat.  The first chief rabbis of mandatory Palestine were vegetarian.  Rabbi Avraham Kuk, in his pamphlet,  "A Vision of  Vegetarianism and Peace,"  believed that the commandment “to eat herbs, seeds and green things” is a rebuke to the generations which followed---and a promise that justice to animals will be restored.  In the passage in Exodus, where the Hebrews rise up against Moses and demand that they be given meat to eat and God sends a  rain of  quail “to satisfy their gullets,” whereupon they sicken and die of plague after stuffing themselves,  the great eleventh century Torah commentator Rashi, wrote next to this passage, “It was right of God to punish the Hebrews for eating this meat for one cannot live without bread, but one can live without meat.”

Genesis may be the only creation myth in which diet plays such a prominent role, where the history and destiny of human beings is created, defined, and transformed by their diet.

Copyright (c) Roberta Kalechofsky



Posted by rkalechofsky at 12:00 AM in Diet As Philosophy | Link

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