You're at the grocery store and there just isn't an organic option available for that cut of meat you really wanted to cook tonight. But, you notice there's a kosher version. Thinking to yourself that it has to be better than "regular" meat, you pick it up and go on your merry way. But, is kosher or halal certified meat any better for you or the environment than conventional options? Are either certifications comparable to organic?
In short, the answer is no. Halal and kosher certifications have little in common with organic certifications--and they don't have any more positive impacts on the environment, nor do they mean better nutrition, or fewer pesticides, antibiotics, or growth hormones in your food than conventionally raised meat options. Yet, according to a recent study, three in five people who purchase kosher products do so for food quality reasons rather than religious ones. Additionally, 51 percent purchase kosher meats for health reasons and 34 percent for food safety reasons. So, why do consumers believe kosher is healthier or safer than standard products?
“Kosher food has gained the reputation of being more carefully produced and thoroughly inspected than non-kosher food,” Marcia Mogelonsky, Ph. D, senior analyst at Mintel, said in a press release. “With recent food safety scares causing people to rethink even the most familiar food products, we can expect more adults to turn to kosher food as a way to ensure food safety and quality.”
But, is it any healthier? No.
The rules for producing kosher meat don't specify how to raise the animals or what to feed them, like organic standards do. While halal meat rules show a preference for feeding the animals "clean" foods in their final days, the Muslim method does not specify anything about the animal's origin or feeding prior to those final days. So, even if it's marked halal or kosher, it's not necessarily true that the animals were fed organic grasses or raised humanely. It's possible to find meat products labeled as both kosher or halal and organic, but it is less common.
Animals destined for kosher or halal food are killed more humanely than conventional methods, and the facilities are blessed by a member of the religious organization. But after that, halal foods are processed according to the same standards as any food. Kosher foods go through a bit different processing, including an inspection for unblemished organs and soaking in salt water prior to packaging. The carcasses are also salted inside and out to remove the last remains of blood from the meat.
There's no evidence to show that this additional kosher inspection has any safety or health benefits to the consumer. There is some evidence that the salt water cleansing can reduce salmonella risks, and perhaps rid the meat of other harmful microbes. But, this risk reduction might be counteracted by the increased contamination risk caused by the inability of butchers to use steam to pluck chickens. The meat can't risk cooking prior to deveining, so kosher butchers are forced to use stronger plucking machines, which may open up sites for infection on the carcass.
Okay, so it's not likely better for you or any cleaner than traditional meat and it's more expensive (about double the cost of traditional meat). Is it better for the planet? Not really.
Kosher, halal and traditional meat all come from the same types of farms, with the same pesticides and waste, and the same harmful effects on the planet. The final days and the slaughter of the animals are more humane, so if that's a concern, kosher and halal meats are a better choice for your conscience. But, as far as production, economy and impact, kosher and halal meats can actually be harder on the environment in terms of travel efficiency. Since the products are less popular than conventional meats, transportation and distribution is less efficient--meaning the meats are less likely to be locally raised and can log more miles on the road than standard production meats.
If you do often choose kosher or halal meats, you're not alone; the demand for organic halal or kosher meats is growing, and there has been a rise of eco-friendly kosher and halal meat producers recently in the U.S. In Pennsylvania, the high demand for humanely raised animals for kosher and halal meats led to a somewhat unlikely partnership between a humane kosher producer and a humane halal producer. Not only is the demand large, but the profit is as well. With traditional halal and kosher meats bringing in double what standard meats do, and humanely and naturally raised kosher and halal meats adding 50 percent on top of that, the large market and the public's willingness to pay a premium make the business a profitable one. That means consumers will likely continue to see an increase in availability for organic or all-natural kosher and halal meats.
If you're looking for the best meats to buy for your health and the planet's, while all halal and kosher meats aren't organic, some organic meats are now kosher or halal.*
So, yes, there are some conscientious benefits in choosing kosher and halal meats. But, overall, the non-organic meats are certainly no less damaging to the environment, and no better for your safety or nutritional benefit than standard meats.
*Note that halal meats, which are grown according to standards similar to organic, are often marked "Tayyib" or "wholesome" rather than organic.
Keep in touch with Kristi on Twitter @VeggieConverter