Since this is a work in progress and is somewhat controversial, your comments and suggestions are especially welcome.
There has been much interest recently in issues related to animal rights. Many animal rights groups have become increasingly active in efforts to end what they regard as the mistreatment of animals on factory farms, fur farms, laboratories, and other areas. Supporters of animal experimentation assert that an end to animal experimentation would hinder progress in finding cures for many diseases.
This position paper strives to look at the issues related to animal experimentation and health from a Jewish perspective.
1. Judaism teaches that animals cannot be equated with human beings. But, one need not believe that human beings and animals have the same value to protest against the extremely cruel treatment that animals are subjected to today. The insanity of current policies toward animals can be summarized as follows: First millions of animals are killed to protect our livestock. Then billions of animals are slaughtered for our food. As a result of our animal-centered diets, millions of people contract degenerative diseases. Then millions of additional animals are tortured and killed seeking cures for these diseases, which people generally wouldn`t get in the first place if we had more sensible diets.
Fortunately, we generally do not have an "either- or" situation here; when we mistreat animals, we generally also worsen conditions for people and violate basic Jewish teachings. Animal-centered diets have been associated with: heart attacks, strokes, various types of cancer, and other diseases; the feeding of over 70 percent of the grain grown in the U.S. to animals destined
for slaughter, while an estimated 20 million people die annually due to hunger and its effects; extensive soil depletion and erosion, air and water pollution related to the widespread production and use of pesticides, fertilizer, and other chemicals, and the destruction of tropical rain forests. and other ecosystems; as well as the use of 20 times more land, ten times more energy and water, and far more pesticides, fertilizer, and other resources, than vegetarian diets.
2. Kindness to animals and humane treatment of animals are fundamental tenets of Jewish religion. We believe in going beyond just giving lip-service to these words. We believe in challenging conditions when the beautiful and powerful Jewish teachings on compassion to animals are violated. Certainly we must speak out against excessive statements and actions of some in the animal rights movement. But we should also recognize that the treatment of animals on factory farms and in laboratories and meat- based diets are inconsistent with Jewish teachings related to compassion for animals, preservation of human health, protection of the environment, conservation of resources, and sharing with hungry people.
Because we believe that dietary and other lifestyle changes can have a greater effect on human health than animal experiments, it is important to consider how the mistreatment of animals on factory farms violates basic Jewish values.
The conditions under which farm animals are raised today are completely contrary to the Jewish ideals of compassion and avoiding tsa'ar ba'alei chayim (the injunction against causing unnecessary pain to animals). Instead of animals being free to graze on the Sabbath day to enjoy the beauties of creation, they are confined for all of their lives to darkened, crowded cells without air, natural light, or the ability to exercise. Whereas the Torah mandates that animals should be able to eat the products of the harvest as they thresh in the fields, animals today are given chemical fatteners and other additives in their food, based on computer programs. Where Judaism indicates consideration for animals by mandating that a strong and weak animal not be yoked together, veal calves spend their entire lives standing on slats, their necks chained to the sides, without sunlight, fresh air, or exercise.
Jews who continue to eat meat raised under such conditions would seem to be helping to support a system which is contrary to basic Jewish principles and obligations.
Because humans are capable of imagination, rationality, and moral choice, we should strive to end the unbelievably cruel conditions under which farm animals are currently raised. The test of our behavior toward animals should be, as the British philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748 -1832) put it, "not can they reason, nor can they talk, but can they suffer?" And, the great Jewish philosopher Maimonides felt that animals are like people in fleeing from pain and death.
3. Judaism teaches that there should be great concern about the saving of human lives. But,since the consumption of meat has been linked to heart disease, strokes, several forms of cancer, and other illnesses, we can improve human health far more through dietary and other lifestyle changes than from continuing to pour billions of dollars into animal experimentation. Also, we believe that people should not have a diet that is so wasteful of land, grain, water, energy, and other agricultural resources at a time when so many people, most of whom are children, die annually due to lack of sufficient food. Why do supporters of animal experimentation seem to ignore the many lives lost due to poor diets and wasteful agricultural and consumption practices?
Since, as indicated before, we put higher priority on human life than on animal life, we would not on principle be against all uses of animals, if it had positive effects on human health which could not be obtained in any other way. But we believe that animal experimentation is a flawed methodology and represents poor science, for the following reasons:
a. It is difficult, if not impossible, to gain insight into a human disease by studying an artificially induced pathology in nonhuman animals, no matter how superficially similar the two may be.
b. Because of differences between species, studies conducted on non-human animals cannot reliably be extrapolated to humans. Many times, animals reaction to medicines is completely different than that of people. There is an ever-growing list of drugs that were deemed safe after very extensive animal testing, which later proved to be carcinogenic, mutagenic (causing birth defects) or toxic (poisonous) to humans. Examples of differences in human and animal responses to medicines include: guinea pigs generally die when given penicillin; aspirin causes birth defects in rats and mice but not in people; thalidomide works the other way around; insulin produces deformities in laboratory animals but not in people.
c. Contrary to the views of supporters of animal experimentation and most people, medical historian Brandon Reines has documented that key discoveries in such areas as heart disease and cancer were achieved through clinical research, observations of patients, and human autopsy; at best, results of animal tests gave results that paralleled findings in humans. In other cases, improved hygienic approaches led to the greatest medical advancements As medical historian Brian Inglis concludes: "The chief credit for the conquest of the destructive epidemics . . . ought to have been given to the social reformers who had campaigned for purer water, better sewage disposal, and improved living standards."
d. Misleading animal tests can be devastating for human health. In a number of cases, effective therapies have been delayed because of misleading animal models. For example, the animal model for polio resulted in a misunderstanding of the mechanism of infection that delayed the discovery of a vaccine.
e. Reliance on animal experiments and transplants from animals keep people from considering their prime responsibility for their own health. If the billions of dollars spent on animal experimentation were instead spent on educating people about better nutrition and other positive lifestyle changes, there would be far greater benefits for human health.
Because of the above factors, in spite of years of animal experimentation there has been little progress in many areas of medicine. For example, whereas 20 years ago, one in eleven women on the average could be expected to have breast cancer sometime in their lifetime, that figure is one in eight women today. In spite of (or perhaps because of) extensive animal experimentation for many years, there has been an increase in medical costs in the U. S. from $80 billion in 1970 to $1,060 billion in 1995, and this has led to major budgetary problems from the local to the national level, with the result that spending for many human needs has had to be reduced. Health expenditures have been increasing more rapidly than any other constituent of the federal budget; total health costs have changed from 6% of total GNP in 1960 to 15% in 1997. Medical experts have projected that total U. S. medical expenditures will double in the next decade. 4. Many laboratory experiments on animals are completely unnecessary. Must we force dogs to smoke to reconfirm the health hazards of cigarettes? Do we have to starve dogs and monkeys to understand human starvation? Do we need to cut, blind, burn, and chemically destroy animals to produce another type of lipstick, mascara or shampoo
A reduction of animal experiments does not mean that experiments have to be done on people. As indicated, healthier lifestyles would avoid the need for many experiments. Also many new approaches to advancing scientific knowledge have been developed. Dr. Fred Rosner, a modern expert on Jewish medical ethics, states that if alternate means, e .g. tissue culture studies, are available for obtaining the same information, animal experimentation might be considered as unnecessary cruelty to animals and be prohibited. Dr. Rosner also indicates that animal experiments should not be permitted simply to satisfy intellectual curiosity.
In summary, we believe that human health can best be advanced by improvements in hygiene, better diets and other lifestyle changes, and clinical studies. As the poet, Alexander Pope put it, "The proper study of mankind is man." We can't believe that advances in human health depend on the torture and killing of animals in laboratories.
5. We condemn violence against animal experimenters and laboratories. We believe that it is counterproductive to the cause that animal rights activists wish to promote, and even if it were not, it is not proper to try to reduce violence by using violent means. We urge all parties to engage in constructive dialogue, and we urge the Jewish community to facilitate this dialogue through the setting up of forums, debates, and other programs..
6. We share the concerns about potential threats to Jewish values from some elements of the animal rights movement. In spite of the brutal ways in which animals are raised on factory farms, we condemn comparisons to the treatment of Jews in Nazi concentration camps. However, while there is some extremism and probably anti-Semitism in the animal rights movement, as there is in almost every movement, we have found most vegetarian and animal rights advocates to be people of good will who are rightfully appalled by how our society treats animals today and by the many negative effects of livestock agriculture with regard to pollution, hunger, and human health. The fact that many people have misconceptions about Jewish practices is all the more reason for greater involvement by knowledgeable and committed Jews.
We believe that a continuation of current practices related to animals on factory farms, laboratories, and other areas is a threat to Jewish values because they are contrary to so many Jewish teachings. If we expect Judaism to be taken seriously, it is essential that basic Jewish mandates that we treat animals with compassion, guard our health, share with hungry people, protect the environment, and conserve resources be applied with regard to our diets and other ways in which we interact with animals.
We believe that it is important that the Jewish community engage in respectful dialogue with animal rights groups so that our teachings and our religious needs become better known to them. When Rabbi J. David Bleich of Yeshiva University spoke at an international conference on religion and animals several years ago his ideas were respected and his talk was published in a book along with those of representatives of other religions. While the tactics and statements of some people and groups in the animal rights movement can justly be condemned, their essential message about the mistreatment of animals cannot be ignored.
In summary, we believe that the Jewish community should consider how cruelty to animals can be minimized or eliminated while meeting halachic requirements. Perhaps a commission of scholars and rabbis should be set up to consider how modern technology related to animals impinges upon Jewish teachings. We hope that this position paper will lead to a long overdue extensive and open discussion and debate in the Jewish community related to human health and the treatment of animals. Let the debate begin!
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