Many American consumers, both Jewish and non-Jewish, purchase kosher animal products because they erroneously believe the label guarantees better animal treatment. According to the results of two national surveys released by Farm Forward, both the general population and Jewish Americans believe a kosher certification means products such as chicken, beef, dairy, eggs, and fish come from animals who were treated better over the course of their lives than non-kosher. Additionally, Jewish Americans are more likely to hold false beliefs about kosher-certified animal products than the general population of Americans.
The data confirms what JIFA has inferred from previous research that shows people think kosher food is inherently better: consumers, both Jewish and non-Jewish, extend this belief to the way farmed animals are bred and raised, despite the fact virtually all kosher and non-kosher meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs come from animal raised on factory farms. This phenomenon is called kosher humanewashing.
The two identical surveys asked people about their purchasing behaviors and understanding of kosher labels on animal products. Below is a summary of the key findings, including comparative findings of the two populations (1,500 adults in the general population and 500 Jewish adults).
- Nearly half of Jewish Americans falsely believe that animals in kosher production are better treated than non-kosher: 48% of Jewish adults nationwide said a kosher label on an animal product such as beef, chicken, fish, dairy products, or eggs means that over the course of an animal’s life, it was better treated than an animal raised for non-kosher products. In reality, nearly all animals used in kosher farming are bred and raised on factory farms.
- In some cases, Jewish consumers are more likely than the general population to believe untruths about kosher certification: In contrast to 48% of Jewish adults, identical research conducted of 1,500 US adults showed 34%, roughly two-thirds as many, said a kosher label meant an animal had been better treated. 53% of Jewish respondents agreed that a kosher label on an animal product guarantees that the animal “did not suffer much in its life,” and in the general population, 39% agreed with the same statement. Similarly, 48% of Jewish adults agreed that a kosher label guarantees an animal “was treated humanely during its life,” compared to 40% of all adults. Kosher certification does not ensure any of these claims.
- Many Americans have faulty notions about what kosher means for specific aspects of farmed animal welfare: For example, many shoppers think a kosher label on an animal product means the animal used was not treated with antibiotics except for therapeutic purposes (41% Jewish pop.; 44% general pop.), had healthy genetics (38% Jewish pop.; 40% general pop.), was not confined for much of its life, and lived its entire life on an outdoor pasture (36% Jewish pop.; 37% general pop). Jewish and general population respondents displayed similar beliefs about these topics, except that considerably fewer Jewish adults (26%) believe a kosher certification means animals lived their entire lives on pasture than the general population (34%). Kosher certification has no relationship to antibiotic use, healthy genetics, confinement, or access to pasture.
- 74% of Americans purchase kosher out of concern for food safety: Of the general population that buys kosher products, the majority of shoppers cite food safety as a key concern (previous research has shown that 34% of Americans believe kosher food is safer). A kosher certification in actuality does nothing to safeguard public health from the effects of common factory farming practices such as overuse of antibiotics. Antibiotics are often used in conventionally raised poultry, beef, and farmed fish to prevent rather than treat illness, and can give rise to antibiotic resistant bacteria. A 2013 study found that kosher chicken had the highest rate of antibiotic resistant E. coli, compared with organic and conventional chicken. Some people’s food safety concerns may pertain to allergens—kosher certification ensures, for example, no cross-contamination with non-kosher allergens such as shellfish, and also ensures no cross-contamination with dairy when a product is labeled Pareve or contains meat such as chicken or beef—while other people may associate a lower risk for food-borne illnesses from consuming kosher products. The health risks associated with the unregulated use of antibiotics and their virus-producing potential in intensively farmed animals is receiving increasing attention, particularly given their role in pandemic outbreaks in humans.
- There may be widespread misconceptions about what a kosher label means beyond animal welfare: In addition to animal welfare and food safety, consumers were asked how often they buy kosher products out of a concern for other values such as environmental protection, workers’ rights, and public health. More than half of all adult shoppers for kosher food are concerned about at least one of these three issues, with 66% saying they buy kosher animal products out of concern for the environment (compared with 58% in Jewish pop.), 65% out of concern for public health (59% Jewish pop.), and 54% out of concern for workers’ rights (48% Jewish pop.). Given shoppers’ high level of concern for practices around labor, environment, and health, it is possible that many Americans are confused or misinformed about what a kosher label guarantees, as a kosher certification does not dictate standards for these areas.
Kosher certifications in and of themselves wield significant humanewashing and healthwashing power among both Jewish and non-Jewish adults, whether or not companies intend to deceive consumers. Just as a high percentage of Americans trust kosher to mean that a product is of superior quality, many Jewish and non-Jewish Americans associate kosher certification with better overall treatment of farmed animals compared to non-kosher. Previous survey work demonstrates the majority of Americans are committed to broad anti-cruelty principles. Kosher-certified animal products, like ones that bear other humanewashing labels and claims, often fall short of consumer expectations such as regular access to outdoor pasture. Significantly, the Jewish community—which is best positioned to influence kosher production and educate consumers about the realities of the industry—is even more likely to hold false beliefs around whether a kosher certification ensures better animal treatment and prevents suffering during an animal’s life.
Over 200 Jewish clergy are already responding to the issue of kosher humanewashing by calling on Jewish institutions to adopt more sustainable and ethical food policies. View the full list of signatories and here.