Magazine article Tikkun

Do You Eat Fish?

Magazine article Tikkun

Do You Eat Fish?

Article excerpt

Jewish vegetarians argue that Jews should eliminate, or at least sharply reduce, their consumption of animal products because the realities of animal-based diets and agriculture are sharply inconsistent with basic Jewish mandates to take care of our health, treat animals with compassion, preserve the environment, conserve resources, share with hungry people, and seek and pursue peace.

However, many people who abstain from eating mammals and birds continue to eat fish, sometimes arguing that problems associated with the production and consumption of other animal products do not apply to fish. After all, they reason, fish are not raised under extremely cruel, confined conditions on factory farms; unlike the raising of livestock, fishing does not cause the erosion and depletion of soil, require the destruction of forests to create pastureland and land to grow feed crops, and require huge amounts of pesticides and irrigation water; also, fish is generally lower in fat than other animal products, and is often thought to be a healthy food.

Let us consider vegetarian arguments as they apply to the "production" and consumption of fish:

1. Compassion for animals

Too often, we tend to class fish with plants rather than with animals. Yet, unlike edible plants, fish are vertebrate animals with highly developed nervous systems. Dr. Donald Bloom, professor of animal welfare at Cambridge University, reminds us that "the scientific literature is quite clear. Anatomically, physiologically, and biologically, the pain system in fish is virtually the same as in birds and mammals." Fishing is not painless for fish by any means. When fish are hauled up from the deep, the sudden change in pressure on their bodies causes painful decompression which often leads their gills to collapse and their eyes to pop out. As soon as fish are removed from the water, they begin to suffocate. Hooked fish struggle because of physical pain and fear. As Dr. Tom Hopkins, professor of marine science at the University of Alabama describes it, getting hooked on a line is "like dentistry without Novocaine, drilling into exposed areas."

Fish that are "farmed," as opposed to caught, do not have an easier existence. Most trout, catfish, and many other species eaten in the United States are raised in modem "fish factories," where they are subject to the same intensive, crowded conditions as land farm animals. Modern aquaculture trends involve large-scale, highly mechanized fish production, much like the chicken industry. Like crowded broiler chickens, fish are crammed in enormous pools called "raceways," where they are pushed to gain weight far faster than is natural. Experiments aim to find the greatest number of fish that can be raised per cubic foot of water in order to maximize profits. Under these very crowded, unnatural conditions, fish suffer from stress, infections, parasites, oxygen depletion, and gas bubble disease, akin to "the bends" in human beings. To prevent the spread of diseases among the fish, large amounts of antibiotics are used.

It's also worthwhile to point out that fish are not the only animals to suffer because of people's appetite for their flesh. Egrets, hawks, and other birds who eat fish are often shot or poisoned to prevent them from eating fish at large open pools where fish are raised. In one documented case, a California company with a U.S. Fish and Wildlife permit to shoot 50 birds annually in the late 1980s was estimated to kill 10,000 to 15,000 birds, including many species not listed on the permit. Many non-target animals, including sea turtles, dolphins, sea birds, and other fish, also die horribly in commercial fishing nets.

2. Health

Fish is often considered a healthy food. However, while fish is generally lower in fat than other animal products, it has no fiber and virtually no complex carbohydrates or vitamin C, contains excessive amounts of protein, and has none of the protective phytochemicals and antioxidants found only in foods of plant origin. …

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