For many of us, Shabbat dinner wouldn’t be Shabbat dinner without chicken on the table. Kosher chickens sit on grocer’s shelves, and then on our tables, and finally in our stomachs, all parts of the festivity and tradition of a Friday night. Very rarely do we consider the complex food system that brought the chicken to that grocery shelf. For almost all kosher chicken in the United States, the journey from egg to Shabbat table passes through a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO), a factory animal farm that calls into question the practices we support and the ideals we reach for when we buy kosher meat.
Last week, a bill in the Maryland legislature that would have banned the use of arsenic in chicken feed was killed. Since the introduction of the bill in February, a public controversy has arisen over this little-known poultry industry practice. The months of debate, culminating in this week’s disappointing defeat, force us to closely question what goes into the food that we eat and whether industrial kosher meat production truly upholds Jewish values — ethical treatment of animals, protection of the environment and care for our own bodies.