Humane Religion Magazine
March - April 2008 Issue
WORSE THAN MAD COW DISEASE - “MAD PEOPLE DISEASE”
by Richard H. Schwartz
In the Torah's story about Joseph, Pharaoh has a dream in which seven sickly cows consume seven healthy cows. Joseph interprets this, and Pharaoh's other dream of seven withered ears of corn consuming seven full ears of corn, to indicate that there will be seven years of plenty in Egypt followed by seven years of severe famine. Today, we do not have a Pharaoh's dreams to warn us of impending dangers, but we have a somewhat comparable situation in which cows with “mad cow disease” in England, Canada, the United States, and other countries are having devastating effects on cattle industries in these countries. Just as Pharaoh's advisors were unable to interpret his dream, today's “experts ” assure us that people have little to fear from mad cow disease and that everything is under control. Kosher meat industry representatives assure us that the risk from eating kosher beef is especially small because the laws and practices of kosher slaughter, such as not stunning animals prior to slaughter and not slaughtering sick animals, reduce the risk of Jews who eat kosher beef getting the human form of mad cow disease.
As Joseph recognized Pharaoh's dreams as a wake-up call to take steps to save people from a future severe famine, perhaps we need a modern day Joseph to recognize that recent instances of mad cow disease should lead us to recognize the many ways that the widespread production and consumption of meat and animal products threatens humanity.
I believe, respectfully, that a major reason that we are not able to foresee the potentially devastating effects of modern intensive livestock agriculture and the widespread consumption of animal products is that many people today, including many Jews, are afflicted with what I call, with some writer's license, "Mad People Disease" (MPD).
MPD enables many intelligent people to be greatly concerned about eating meat after one "mad cow" is found in the US, while they ignore the many scientific studies that link heart disease, stroke, many types of cancer, and other chronic degenerative diseases, as well as various digestive problems, to animal-based diets
MPD enables otherwise compassionate people to ignore the fact that ten billion animals in the U.S. alone are raised for food annually under cruel conditions, in crowded, confined spaces, where they are denied fresh air, exercise, and any natural existence.
MPD enables people normally concerned about the well being of their fellow human beings to disregard the fact that 70 percent of the grain grown in the United States and over one-third of the grain grown worldwide is fed to animals destined for slaughter, as an estimated twenty million of the world's people die annually because of hunger and its effects.
MPD enables people who are concerned with the sustainability of the planet to ignore the significant contributions of animal-based agriculture to air, water, and land pollution, species extinction, destruction of tropical rain forests and other precious habitats, shortages of water and other resources, global climate change, and many other threats.
MPD enables Jews, many of whom are very knowledgeable about Judaism, to ignore the inconsistencies between animal-based diets and agriculture and important Jewish mandates to preserve human health, treat animals compassionately, protect the environment, conserve resources, help feed hungry people, and pursue peace.
Consistent with our charge to be a “light unto the nations,” a holy people,” and “rachmanim b'nei rachmanim” (compassionate children of compassionate ancestors), and with the wise advice of the biblical Joseph, I hope that the current mad cow disease publicity will awaken the Jewish community to the need to shift from current dietary and agricultural practices. This challenge to “mad people disease” would be a tremendous kiddush Hashem (sanctification of G-d's Name) and would greatly improve the health of Jewish and other people and our imperiled planet.
Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D.