04/09/2012 12:02 EDT | Updated 06/09/2012 05:12 EDT

Give Me Kosher Meat Over "Pink Slime" Any Day


Pink slime, arsenic and antibiotics, oh my! Are these the secret ingredients of the nation's tastiest and most notorious burgers?

Whether you're a nutrition fanatic, a born-again vegan, or a shameless carnivore, it's hard to ignore the meat scandals that have erupted of late.

Last month, ABC reported that 70 per cent of the beef found in American supermarkets contained "pink slime." The name "pink slime" is surprisingly more appetizing than the process by which the slime is created: cow carcass scraps are first collected and centrifuged to remove the fat, before being treated with ammonia to kill off pesky bacteria. This "pink slime" is then added -- in substantial quantity, as we now know -- to ground beef, which in turn becomes the everyday hamburgers consumed by the masses.

Now, if that weren't unappetizing enough, researchers at the Johns Hopkins University Center for a Liveable Future have discovered that animals -- particularly our fine-feathered poultry friends -- are being fed all sorts of chemicals, the effects of which on humans haven't been thoroughly explored. These chemicals include banned antibiotics and ingredients found in Benadryl, Tylenol and Prozac.

Given the potential consequences for the meat industry and people's health, the debate surrounding the release of this new evidence has centered on one issue: What are the effects of eating this meat? While some consumers might be tempted to switch to organic meat or vegetarianism, others have pointed out that these studies do not suggest causal links to health problems (visit the eminent science writier Gary Taubes' website for more detailed critiques of "bad science" in the food industry).

Yet the outbreak of these stories also highlights the parallels between this "secular" meat crisis and the ongoing "religious" meat crisis in Quebec, France and other parts of Europe. The Quebec and French governments have recently attacked Jewish and Muslim slaughter practices, deeming them to be an affront to "secular" values.

Notwithstanding the fact that these "religious" slaughter practices (which proponents would argue are less inhumane when done right than the practices that occur in enormous slaughterhouse complexes) are transparent and conform to governmental health regulations, they remind us of the importance of treating animals properly before slaughter.

The neglect of animal life, rather than slaughter, is what enabled the pink slime and arsenic stories to emerge. Kosher meat, for example, cannot be meat that comes from a sick or diseased animal. A higher level of kosher meat, called Glatt Kosher, requires that the lungs be inspected for illness. In order to ensure good health, animals are only fed vegetarian food. In other words, the animals slated to be killed using kosher slaughtering are not fed animal by-products, by-products that often contain the diseased or hormone-treated remains of other animals. There are also more restrictions about the hormones and antibiotics they can receive.

No system is perfect and I am not making the claim that religious slaughter is.

Nevertheless, "pink slime" and "arsenic chicken" stories suggest a lack of oversight that is less likely to occur under circumstances where the life and health of an animal, even one bound for slaughter, still has an intrinsic value.

If the Francophone governments can resist the urge to further exclude Jews and Muslims by forbidding their dietary practices and calling them offensive, they might be able to avoid the slimy political mess the meat industry and the American government have found themselves in.