God's Health Laws Vindicated, Part 1

Ellen White tells us that:

“the distinction between articles of food as clean and unclean was not a merely ceremonial and arbitrary regulation, but was based upon sanitary principles. To the observance of this distinction may be traced, in a great degree, the marvelous vitality which for thousands of years has distinguished the Jewish people.” PP. 562.

If we re-examine the Bible's guidance on food, we soon recognize that the ceremonial laws were based upon important health principles. To the extent the Israelites abided by these laws, they would be blessed with good health and long life. God wanted his children to avoid the diseases that result from eating the wrong kinds of flesh foods. (Ex. 15:26; 23:25; Deut. 7:15).

These laws evidence a greater than human wisdom which has now been verified by modern scientific research and constitute a compelling evidence that Scripture is what it purports to be: divinely inspired. (2 Tim. 3:16-17)


Clean and Unclean Animals in the Bible

In Leviticus 11, God instructed Moses regarding which animals may be eaten. Of land animals, those that both (1) have a cloven or split hoof and (2) chew the cud (ruminants) could be eaten. This restricts the edible land animals to a class of herbivore that includes cattle, sheep, goat, deer, and gazelle. (Deut.14:4-5) It excludes some animals that have commonly been used for food, such as rabbits and pigs, as well as predators (canines, felines, and ursines) “creeping things” (reptiles, amphibians, and rodents) and any animal that feeds on carrion. (Lev. 11:4-8, 27-31, 41-42)

Of water-dwelling creatures, the requirement for edibility is that it have both fins and scales. (Lev. 11:9-12) This excludes catfish (a bottom-feeder having no scales), bivalves (clams, oysters, scallops, etc.), crustaceans (crabs, lobsters, shrimp, crayfish, prawns, etc.), and cephalopods (squid, octopus, cuttlefish), as wells as sharks, rays, skates, eels, congers, sturgeon, swordfish, etc.

Of flying animals, the unclean animals were birds of prey or raptors (eagles, owls, hawks, kites, etc.) carrion eaters (vultures, condors), water birds (ospreys, cormorant, stork, heron, etc.), and the bat (which is not a bird but a mammal of the order Chiroptera—hand-wing). (Lev. 11:13-19) (Ducks are not specifically mentioned, and there are arguments for and against them; some Jews consider them clean, some do not.) All insects are unclean, except for those with jointed legs for hopping, including the locust, katydid, cricket and grasshopper (so John the Baptist was within the law to eat locusts and wild honey). (Lev. 11:20-23; Mat. 3:4)

These laws were part of Israel's religious or holiness obligations (Lev. 11:43-45), but they are clearly based upon scientific principles of health and safety. God outlawed the consumption of scavengers and carrion eaters that feed on decaying flesh. Likewise, He forbade the consumption of predatory animals, which typically eat the weakest and slowest among a group of prey animals, which often are weakest because they are diseased. As to marine animals, bottom dwellers that scavenge for dead animals or consume decaying organic matter that sinks to the sea floor are excluded from human consumption. These animals fill a vital ecological niche—cleaning up dead things and waste matter—but in His love and wisdom, God directed His children not to eat these animals.


Diseases Caused or Spread by Unclean Animals

Many deadly diseases have taken their toll on mankind because humans use unclean animals for food. The 1918 influenza epidemic killed an estimated 50 to 100 million people (between three (3%) and six percent (6%) of the world's population); it has been called “the mother of all pandemics.” It is believed to have been caused by a near ancestor of the H1N1 flu virus, which originates in birds and then mutates in pig populations. Humans are at risk of infection with this virus when they handle pigs and pork. The H1N1 virus, and various closely related mutations of it, regularly break out into the human community because of our insistence on having contact with pigs and other unclean animals.

Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), which has killed an estimated 30 million people worldwide, is believed caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).  The HIV virus has been traced to “bush meat” activities, the hunting and selling of monkeys for food in Africa. It is believed that the simian version of the virus (SIV), if repeatedly transmitted to a human host, will mutate into the human strain. Like AIDS, Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever (commonly known as just Ebola), is also believed to come from “bush meat,” particularly the handling and eating of fruit bats. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), an airborne viral disease that during a 2003 outbreak killed 775 people, was traced to the handling and eating of unclean animals in China, such as the civet cat and the horseshoe bat.

Cholera causes over 100,000 deaths per year, and historically has had outbreaks that have killed millions. The bacterium that causes Cholera, Vibrio cholerae, is typically found in marine estuary ecologies with brackish water. Although it is usually transmitted to humans through contaminated drinking water, it is also spread to humans by the handling and eating of animals that live in estuary environments, particularly shellfish and crustaceans.

In the wake of a recent Ebola outbreak, the U.S. Government requested $600 million for the Center for Disease Control to implement a “Global Health Security Agenda,” which aims to shore up disease detection in high-risk countries and guard against, or provide an early warning of, the next epidemic. But that money would be better spent in an international advertising campaign aimed at raising awareness of the problems associated with handling and eating unclean animals. We should at least warn against “bush meat,” and convince farmers not to feed birds to their pigs, thus transferring the H1N1 and variant flu viruses to the animals and then to humans.

We are not even to touch the unclean animals. (Lev. 11:8, 24-25, 28). Scripture is explicit in stating that such animals must not touch cooking pots or utensils, nor with water used for cooking. (Lev. 11:32-35) With our modern knowledge of microbiology and epidemiology, it is easy to see how God intended these regulations to prevent the spread of diseases like Swine Flu, AIDS, Ebola, and many others. If these regulations had been widely embraced, instead of being treated as the Jews' private patrimony, untold suffering and death could have been avoided. Even today, new epidemics are continually erupting because of the refusal to observe God's sanitary principles.


Health Problems Caused by Eating Unclean Meat

One of the risks of eating pork is Trichinosis—becoming the unwilling host to the parasitic roundworm Trichinella. Laws regulating commercial pig-farming have reduced Trichinosis in the U.S. to fewer than 20 new cases a year, but worldwide there are many thousands of new cases a year, including a reported 10,000 per year in China, and a high incidence in Eastern Europe. It is estimated that over 11 million people are infected with Trichinella worldwide. Trichinosis is rarely fatal (a World Health Organization study attributed only 42 deaths to Trichinosis between 1986 and 2009), but the infection causes serious discomfort; symptoms include swelling around the eyes, bleeding under the nails, gastroenteritis, muscle pain, fever, soreness, and bleeding from the conjunctiva and eyes. Trichinosis is frequently misdiagnosed, because in its early stages its symptoms track with those of many other diseases and conditions.

The problems with pork are not limited to Trichinosis. According to a 2012 investigation by Consumer Reports, 69% of all raw pork samples tested were contaminated with Yersinia enterocolitica, a microbe that causes fever and gastrointestinal illness, with diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach cramps. A fifth of the pork tested positive for ractopamine, a controversial agent for boosting lean muscle growth that is banned in several countries. Likely due to the widespread use of antibiotics in commercial farming, many of the bacteria that Consumer Reports found in the pork were resistant to multiple antibiotics, making any infection of humans difficult to treat.        

There are serious problems with eating shellfish. Over 7 million people in the U.S. are allergic to shellfish, with most allergies developing in adulthood. Those who are allergic and who are exposed to shellfish can go into potentially fatal anaphylactic shock. In the U.S., shellfish allergies kill 150 to 200 people each year, and cause over 30,000 emergency room visits. Anyone diagnosed with shellfish allergy should always carry an epinephrine syringe with them.

In addition to shellfish allergies, there is shellfish poisoning, which is caused by a buildup of toxins from the tiny sea creatures shellfish eat. The toxins responsible for most shellfish poisonings are water-insoluble and heat and acid-stable; hence ordinary cooking methods cannot eliminate them. Shellfish poisoning can cause anything along the spectrum from diarrhea and mild abdominal discomfort to death.


Is it Always Safe to Eat Clean Meat?

The health laws in Leviticus 11 contemplate the animals' natural diets. Ruminants with split hooves eat grass and have stomachs with four compartments, and hence are among the clean animals that Scripture deems safe to eat. But God's instructions are not idiot proof. Wanting to fatten their cattle more quickly, British farmers supplemented the cattle's herbivorous diet with animal protein, some of which came from ground up cows, thus making cannibals of their cattle.

The result was an outbreak of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, better known as “Mad Cow Disease.” The pathological agent behind Mad Cow is a misfolded protein crystal known as a “prion,” found in the brains, central nervous systems, and pituitary glands. Prions cannot be killed by cooking the beef at high temperature. Spongiform encephalopathy causes thousands of tiny voids to form in the cerebral cortex, turning normal brain matter into a sponge-like material. It is invariably fatal. So far, 228 people have died from Mad Cow Disease (the human variant of which is called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease or Kuru and which is also caused by cannibalism).  Over 4 million cows had to be destroyed to eradicate the disease in Great Britain.           

We have been warned that as the end approaches even the consumption of “clean” meat will become increasingly dangerous:

Flesh was never the best food; but its use is now doubly objectionable, since disease in animals is so rapidly increasing. . . . Often animals are taken to market and sold for food, when they are so diseased that their owners fear to keep them longer. And some of the processes of fattening them for market produce disease. Shut away from the light and pure air, breathing the atmosphere of filthy stables, perhaps fattening on decaying food, the entire body soon becomes contaminated with foul matter.— MH 313, 314 (1905)

Incredibly, the government is still allowing producers to make cannibals out of cows. Most newborn dairy calves in the United States are separated from their mothers within 12 hours so that the mother's milk can be sold for human consumption. The calves are then fed “milk replacer,” which often contains spray-dried cattle blood as a cheap source of protein. This practice is likely what caused the case of Mad Cow Disease discovered in 2012 in a dairy cow in Hanford, California. Moreover, dead cows are fed to chickens as chicken feed, then poultry litter—floor wastes that include chicken feces, spilled chicken feed, and dead chicken parts—is fed to cattle. Poultry litter is vastly cheaper than alfalfa and other plant-based feed, and producers feed millions of tons of the stuff to cattle every year. Hence, prions could be cycled from cattle remains to chicken feed to poultry litter back into cattle feed, a cow cannibalism circuit that could spread Mad Cow Disease.

Such foolish, greed-motivated actions are making even clean animals unsafe. When we alter nature's plan regarding an animal's diet, we will change the equation regarding what is safe to eat. This process might work in reverse, however: If, for example, catfish were farmed in a clean water environment and fed a vegetable-based diet, the meat would be safer and better-tasting than catfish taken from pond bottoms.



Two facts emerge from this study of Scripture’s counsel on clean and unclean animals.  First, there is no way Moses could have known, more than 3,500 years ago, of the scientific principles of health and sanitation embodied in these laws.  These precepts evince a greater than human wisdom, which argues eloquently that the source of these laws was not Moses, nor any other human being, but the eternal and omniscient God of the universe.  The scientific knowledge embodied in these precepts is compelling evidence that Scripture is what it purports to be: divinely inspired. 

Second, the God who conveyed these instructions to Moses is a loving and merciful God.  In teaching His people about the animals that could be eaten and those that should be avoided, God intended to protect the health and well-being of His people.  The good news is that He still wants to protect our health today. Just as unclean animals were not suitable for sacrifice (Gen. 8:20, Lev. 27:11), they are not suitable food for the Christian who seeks the best possible health, and would glorify God in his body.