Plate that pig! - CB pressing Jamaicans to ignore biblical references and eat more pork
"So the devils besought him, saying, if though cast us out, suffer us to go away into the herd of swine.
And he said on to them, Go. And when they were come out, they went into the herd of swine: and behold the whole herd of swine ran violently down a steep place into the sea, and perished in the waters."
- Mathew 8: 31-32
More than 2,000 years after the animals depicted in this biblical story died, the imagery of their sudden and violent death continues to impact the consumption of pork, with a number of religious groups using this to justify their decision not to eat this meat.
However, for members of the Seventh-day Adventist faith, Rastafarians, Jews and Muslims, it is the advice given to Moses and Aaron, in their capacity as leaders of the Israelites by their God, as recorded in verses seven and eight of eleventh chapter of Leviticus, which, more than anything else, has solidified their religious resistance to consumption of pork over the centuries.
"And the swine, though he divide the hoof, and be cloven-footed, yet he cheweth not the cud; he is unclean to you.
Of their flesh shall ye not eat, and their carcase shall ye not touch; they are unclean."
For Dr Keith Amiel, though, this advice that the meat of the pig is unclean no longer holds true, given the significant technological advances since these instructions were given, as well as the phyto-sanitary procedures governing the way these animals are now reared.
A veterinarian by training, Amiel, who is the corporate affairs manager with the Caribbean Broilers (CB) Group of Companies, says this religious constraint which continues to hinder the marketing of pork needs to be re-examined, in the context of a detailed and comprehensive public-health guideline.
"It's amazing the power that religion has had over our marketing - it's not based on logic, it's not based on science or technology. It's just based on blind belief of something written several thousand years ago, when the earth was flat and the sun went round the earth and the world ended at Gibraltar, if you sail too far you drop off the end off the edge - that's when that was written," he told The Sunday Gleaner.
The CB Group, which markets its pork under the Copperwood brand, has embarked on a 'Know Your Pork Campaign' to raise public awareness about the high standards under which its pigs are reared.
The company has made it clear that the aim is to boost pork consumption by helping consumers to understand that it does the necessary checks and balances along the production chain, to ensure that its pork is produced to internationally acceptable standard.
In Jamaica, consumption of pork and products such as ham and bacon continues to lag behind other countries in the region, a situation Amiel links to the difference in disposable incomes across the region.
"If you look at disposable incomes across the Caribbean, Trinidad's GDP (gross domestic income) is three times ours, Barbados is four and Bahamas is probably five, and it parallels the consumption of further-process pork because to eat ham and bacon sausage requires disposable income.
"We eat about six to eight kilograms and Cuba next door eats 45, per capita per annum, and the United States is 48 and southeast Asia is more than that ... 56, and Europe is somewhere in-between."
While he admits much needs to be done in terms of marketing to get Jamaicans to incorporate bacon, ham and sausages in their everyday meals, outside of seasonal boosts such as Christmas, Amiel also wants to see the stranglehold of blind religious adherence removed from the minds of affected adherents.
The CB Group senior executive is convinced that a rigorous re-examination of these age-old beliefs, in light of the advances in veterinary medicine, phyto-sanitary and public-health standards which impact traceability, could render them invalid.
Admitting that substandard living conditions contributed to the spread of three major diseases which affect livestock in North Africa and the Middle East during biblical days, Amiel insisted that those days and diseases are long gone.
"The Jews noticed that those tribes that ate those products were weaker and easier to beat up and them can bully them every day. If you turn on the news tonight is the same thing, how Israel beat up some Palestinians ... they noticed that they didn't live as long, and so on. So for the thousands of years ago the constraints were real and the elders wrote into the belief system those things, that thou shall not ... which included hold back on pork and so on," argued Amiel.
"There is also a paradigm shift in the way pigs are fed. Pigs were kept as scavengers to clean up the rubbish and swill, the leftovers from the kitchen.
"In our system, it's based on human consumption - grade corn and soya bean; the corn and soya beans fed to our pigs is the same as people would eat directly, so that the concept of pig rearing is outdated.
"Unfortunately, they have pigs in the rubbish dump out at Riverton and that perpetuates that sort of thing, but the entire pig industry is based on these feeds, based on our technology, based on our extension services, and so on. So that dirtiness concept that is perpetuated through religion cannot be sustained."