SRILA PRABHUPADA TAUGHT that the purpose of all religions is the same: to help people develop love of God. And to aid in achieving this end, the basic principles of religion are also the same: truthfulness, cleanliness, austerity, and mercy. All religions encourage people to develop these qualities to help them awaken their love of God.
The Srimad-Bhagavatam explains that four sins gambling, illicit sex, intoxication, and meat-eating destroy the four principles of religion. In particular, animal slaughter and meat-eating destroy mercy. To cut the throat of a living, feeling animal, one must repress any natural inclination toward mercy. At first glance, it might seem like modern meat-eaters are exempt from the cruelty of animal slaughter. After all, what do a couple of kids chomping down hamburgers at a fast-food outlet have to do with cruelty and violence? But the truth is, mass marketing, modern agribusiness, and centralized slaughterhouses dramatically escalate the cruelty and suffering. The miserable animals are only the first in a great network of victims who suffer in a slaughterhouse society.
Material Pleasure and Safety
When sinful activities destroy the principles of religion, people cannot succeed in spiritual life, nor can they be happy or peaceful. By luring us into temporary sense pleasure, sinful activities reinforce our misconception that we are our material bodies and make us forget the spiritual purpose of life. Therefore, Krsna has attached dangers to sinful activities to discourage us from seeking pleasure in them. To a certain extent, everyone knows the risks involved in sin. Responsible parents try to keep their children from gambling, intoxication, and sexual promiscuity. So it seems ironic that they expect meat-eating to be safe.
Jack in the Box A Horrible Surprise
These things are on my mind because of an outbreak of E coli bacteria poisoning in Washington State in January. Four hundred people were poisoned by hamburgers sold by the Jack in the Box fast-food chain. Three children died, and 125 people had to be hospitalized. An article in The New York Times (February 9) stated, "The outbreak was the largest and most serious of a dangerous bacterium that has struck before and will surely strike again." News of the poisonings brought an immediate outcry that the government, cattlemen, and meat packers should take steps to protect meat from contamination.
People blamed confinement cattle operations for increasing the spread of the pathogens among cattle. Ranchers and meat packers were put on the defensive. A Farm Journal editorial (mid-February) bemoaned the crisis: "Beef's place on the consumer dinner plate is no longer secure. The status of beef in the American diet has enough challenges without food safety issues."
Remedies for Unsafe Meat?
The public demanded solutions to the problem of unsafe meat. "At the moment, the U.S. is losing the food poisoning war," said a science article in The Wall Street Journal (March 16). "The way food is produced and eaten today is making life a picnic for microorganisms." Bad meat is blamed for 150 deaths and 150,000 illnesses counted in the U.S. in the past 10 years. In response to the Jack in the Box crisis, the new secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture appointed 160 more meat inspectors, bringing the total to 7,200. But in a country where millions of animals are slaughtered yearly, how much inspecting can 160 more people do?
According to The Wall Street Journal (February 12), "Meat inspection has changed little since reaction to Upton Sinclair's 1906 book The Jungle on dirty packinghouse conditions got the federal government into the watchdog business." Current inspection methods at high-speed processing plants mean that inspectors usually have time for only a quick look at a fraction of the carcasses a plant turns out.
Even if more sophisticated inspection methods were used, inspectors "would be able to keep track only of the number of microorganisms in meat not whether they are harmful. Nor can they detect pathogens such as the virulent E. coli strain blamed in the tainted-hamburger episode in time to keep it from reaching consumers; it typically takes days for that pathogen to show up in tests." (The Wall Street Journal, February 12)
Another method offered is to kill pathogens in meat by irradiation. But according to Christine Klaehn, director of the Food Irradiation Project, "Irradiation causes chemical alterations in food leading to formation of radiolytic products. Radiation biologists say some of these new substances are known carcinogens, such as formaldehyde and benzene, while others are totally unknown." Other problems include shipping and storing radioactive waste. Not a very promising solution.
Still another suggestion is to inject healthy animals with friendly bacteria that will drive off attacks from harmful bacteria. But some scientists worry about those supposedly friendly germs. We know too little, they say, about whether a strain friendly in the lab might go toxic in the wild. (The Wall Street Journal, March 16)
The problem is, bacterial contamination in meat is natural. Most meat contains millions of bacteria. According to nature's plan, bacteria are supposed to break down meat and make it spoil and decay. If they didn't, the landscape would be littered with dead animal carcasses.
Many bacteria don't discriminate between one kind of flesh and another. They grow just as well in human bodies as they do in the bodies of hogs or chickens. It makes sense that pathogens that thrive inside cattle are likely to do well inside humans, because the bodies are so similar.
Children at Risk
Sadly, these pathogens are the most toxic to young children, who have the least knowledge of dietary hazards and the least control over what they eat. In an article in The New York Times (Feb. 9), Lawrence K. Altman, M.D., wrote, "Epidemiologists are finding that the ailment hemolytic uremic syndrome [caused by E coli bacteria] can strike anyone at any age, with the highest rates in children under 5, especially for the kidney complications."
To compound the tragedy, children are prime targets of advertising by fast-food chains. Millions of conscientious parents who carefully guard their small children from playing with electric outlets and running in traffic think nothing of taking them to eat hamburger or chicken at McDonald's or Colonel Sanders.
Of course, contamination from E coli bacteria is only one of a long list of dangers from eating meat. Dr. Walter Willet, professor and chairman of the department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, declared in 1991, "If you step back and look at the data, the optimum amount of red meat you eat should be zero." The conclusion is, if I feed my children meat, I'm teaching them habits likely to shorten their life. (See "Tainted Meat Deaths," p. 22)
Leadership Example Needed
In view of the detrimental effects of animal slaughter and meat-eating, some people think government leaders should speak out against the destructiveness of a meat-based culture and back up their words by personal example. It's hard to see how leaders can push for lower health-care costs, lower farm subsidies, and higher environmental awareness and then leave their offices at night and go home to a dinner of steak or chicken.
It's hard to change old traditions, even when they're dangerous. But the health and environmental costs are continually escalating. We need our modern leaders to should set the right example get meat off the table because the slaughterhouse culture we live in hurts everyone, rich and poor, present and future generations.
Business leaders seem to think that spreading hamburger stands around the world represents economic progress, but in fact these businesses are harbingers of disaster. As Srila Prabhupada explains, "These greatly sinful acts are responsible for all the trouble in present society. People do not know what they are doing in the name of economic development." (Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.17.3, purport) The karmic reactions for animal slaughter are so grave that a meat-eating society can never be safe, let alone merciful or peaceful.
Numbed to Spirituality
The final tragedy of meat-eating is that it is tantamount to spiritual suicide. For human beings to kill innocent animals requires them to subjugate their feelings of mercy and humility feelings essential for spiritual progress. When these finer human sentiments are obliterated, people become so dull they can no longer understand the true desires of Lord Krsna, the dearest friend of every living entity. And without understanding His will, there is no chance of peace or brotherhood.
Only the animal killer cannot relish the transcendental message of the Supreme Lord. Therefore if people are to be educated on the path of Godhead, they must be taught first and foremost to stop the process of animal killing…. It is nonsensical to say that animal killing has nothing to do with spiritual realization. [There is a need] to save the poor animals from the slaughtering process of their big brothers who clamor for universal brotherhood, peace, justice and equity. There is no justice when there is animal killing.
Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.3.24, purport
Hare Krsna Devi Dasi, an ISKCON devotee since 1978, spent several years on the Gita Nagari farm in Pennsylvania. She is co-editor of the newsletter Hare Krsna Rural Life.
Tainted Meat Deaths Teach Obvious Lesson
(Letter to the editor of The New York Times, March 2, 1993)
Your Feb. 9 Science Times article seeking lessons in the outbreak of illnesses from tainted meat in Washington State misses the most important lesson: avoid meat entirely.
The facts speak for themselves. Salmonella infects one in three poultry products bought in this country's supermarkets, and millions of flulike maladies are the result. Salmonella is hardly the only hazardous bacterium that finds its way into meat. Campylobacter, yersinia and listeria are all common, and produce many infections a year.
More important, the rates of cancer, heart disease, stroke and diabetes practically drop off the chart in cultures that eat little or no meat. A national meat-free diet would save more in health care costs than any reform plan being considered. …[emphasis added]
We should all heed the lessons of modern medicine and kick the meat habit.
David B. Wasser
Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine