By Dirk Anderson1
This article will examine Ellen White's prophecies regarding the safety of consuming animal products. In 1896 Ellen White prophesied that in a "short time" it would soon be unsafe to eat any animal product.
"The LORD would bring His people into a position where they will not touch or taste the flesh of dead animals. Then let not these things be prescribed by any physicians who have a knowledge of the truth for this time. There is no safety in eating the flesh of dead animals, and in a short time the milk of the cows will also be excluded from the diet of God's commandment-keeping people. In a short time it will not be safe to use anything that comes from the animal creation. Those who take God at His word, and obey His commandments with the whole heart, will be blessed."2
Three years later, in 1899, she wrote:
"The light given me is that it will not be very long before we shall have to give up any animal food. Even milk will have to be discarded. Disease is accumulating rapidly."3
In 1901 she continues hammering the vegan message:
"Soon butter will never be recommended, and after a time milk will be entirely discarded; for disease in animals is increasing in proportion to the increase of wickedness among men. The time will come when there will be no safety in using eggs, milk, cream, or butter."4
Notice the following from the above statements:
- It is unsafe to eat meat, and Adventists should not eat, or even touch, animal flesh.
- Milk will soon be unsafe and will have to be discarded.
- Any animal product will be unsafe "soon," "in a "short time," and "not very long" from now.
She was so alarmed about the "soon" coming dangers of animal products that she taught her followers to teach the people to cook without animal products.
"Let the diet reform be progressive. Let the people be taught how to prepare food without the use of milk or butter. Tell them that the time will soon come when there will be no safety in using eggs, milk, cream or butter, because disease in animals is increasing in proportion to the increase of wickedness among men."5
In the late 1800s Mrs. White said the time would "soon" come when animal products would be discarded. She described it as "a short time." What is a good definition of a "short time"? One year? Two years? Five years? She was telling her followers to teach people not to use milk or eggs, so she must have expected the time to come within those people's life spans. Well, it has been well over 100 years. The time has come to put Mrs. White to the test to see if what she said was true.
"The diet reform should be progressive. As disease in animals increases, the use of milk and eggs will become more and more unsafe. An effort should be made to supply their place with other things that are healthful and inexpensive. The people everywhere should be taught how to cook without milk and eggs, so far as possible, and yet have their food wholesome and palatable."6
Is Eating Meat More Unsafe Today?7
There are literally billions of people on this planet that eat meat. What are the facts about meat? Is it really unsafe for human consumption?
Meat quality and safety has improved dramatically over the last century. The truth is that meat eating in developed nations is safer now than at any time in human history. Why is that? Let us look at some of the changes that have taken place after Ellen White's era:
Some Adventists point to the mad cow disease outbreak in England as evidence of Mrs. White's accuracy in warning of the danger of meat products. Sadly, there were some human lives lost, but the Europeans took quick action to kill the infected animals and change their practices to prevent future outbreaks. Aside from this limited outbreak, if one were to analyze the overall safety of meat over the last 100 years, one would be forced to concede that tremendous advances have been made in meat quality and safety.
- Inspections - Meat plants are under strict quality controls and inspected regularly by government inspectors.
- Testing - Meat is regularly tested for a wide variety of bacteria, pesticides, antibiotics and hormones. If danger is detected, the meat is withdrawn immediately from market.
- Refrigeration - Refrigeration is the foremost method of controlling the growth of bacteria. Refrigeration was not widely available in Mrs. White's era. It is today, and as a result, meat is much safer today.
- Irradiation - In the 1980s and 1990s, irradiation was approved by the United States to kill bacteria in meat. A major advance in meat safety, very low levels of radiation are used to kill all bacteria in meat products.
- Education - The U.S. Department of Agriculture has designed a comprehensive microbiological control and prevention program covering all
steps from farm to table. The Department of Agriculture requires labels that give instructions for safe handling and cooking on all packages of meat and poultry.
Let us examine some of the current concerns about meat:
Pesticides - Recent analyses by the Food and Drug Administration, Department of Agriculture, and other agencies show that the levels of pesticide residues in foods sold in the United States are well within acceptable limits. Many of the samples tested had no detectable residues.
What is good about meat? Meat is a major dietary source of protein, vitamins, and minerals. These are essential for human growth and development. For example, meat is a major source of bioavailable zinc; in the U.S., it provides 50 percent of total dietary zinc, and beef is a principal source. Some foods derived from plants, particularly whole grains, also provide zinc, but these foods also contain phytate and dietary fiber, which inhibit the bioavailability of zinc. Meat does not contain these components.
Antibiotics - Antibiotics are generally fed to beef cattle only for short periods of time immediately after the animals arrive in feedlots. These drugs are not commonly used anytime close to slaughter, and government monitoring programs show that the drugs do not cause antibiotic residue problems. Contrary to popular opinion, there has never been any conclusive evidence that the feeding of subtherapeutic doses of antibiotics to farm animals is a hazard to human health. The most recent review of this subject by the National Academy of Sciences has concurred with earlier evaluations by concluding that it was not possible to find direct evidence establishing the existence of a human health
hazard from the feeding of subtherapeutic doses of antibiotics to livestock. This conclusion applies to the relatively extensive use of antibiotics in poultry production as well as the much more limited use in the production of beef cattle.
Hormones - The use of hormones (such as estrogens) to promote growth in cattle is under strict government control. The amount of hormones present in cattle that have been castrated and then treated with replacement hormones is actually lower than that in intact cows or bulls. Hormone levels in beef
(whether treated or untreated) are lower than in many plant foods. In fact, foods of plant origin contribute more estrogen to typical diets than beef does.
Microbiological Contamination - This is a real threat to the health of the public. Proper cooking and good sanitary practices can minimize this type of contamination.
Colon Cancer - According to the Nurses Health Study, women who ate meat daily had an increased risk of colon cancer. However, those who consumed it up to four times weekly did not have a statistically significant increase in colon cancer risk when compared with those who ate meat less than once a month. When the women were divided into five equal groups, ranging from the lowest to the highest meat intakes, only the group with the highest intake showed an increased risk of colon cancer; the others did not. (The women in the highest one-fifth
consumed at least four and a half ounces of meat per day, every day.)
The facts, proven by science, show that eating a moderate amount of lean meat does not pose a statistically significant health risk to humans. Furthermore, for those who choose to eat meat, it is an important source of critical proteins, vitamins, and minerals. But what about Ellen White's prediction about meat becoming unsafe?
- Meat safety has greatly improved over the last century.
- Meat is much safer now than in the 1800s when Mrs. White was eating it.
Is Drinking Milk Unsafe?8
Ellen White implied it would soon be unsafe" to drink milk. Was that prediction accurate? On the contrary, milk has never been safer to drink than it is today.
Again, government inspections and testing, along with refrigeration, have greatly improved the quality of milk. But nothing has improved the quality of milk as much as pasteurization. Unfortunately for Mrs. White, she never saw pasteurizations in any of her "visions". If she had, she might not have made all of the claims about the soon-coming dangers of drinking milk. Before the widespread introduction of pasteurization about 75 years ago, milk was a vehicle by which infectious diseases were frequently transmitted. Pasteurization and improved sanitation have virtually
eliminated this problem.
Dr. Ronald Kleinman, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, writes:
"Milk and dairy products are safe and nutritious foods for growing children, and parents should make use of them unless there's some specific
medical reason to avoid them."
"dairy products are not perfect foods, but they are concentrated with many of the forms of nutrients that children
need to grow well."
Let us examine some of the current concerns about milk:
Saturated Fat - This is a legitimate concern, but is easily resolved by the widespread availability of low fat and reduced fat milk products.
What is good about milk products? Milk is a good and wholesome food. Milk provides many nutrients, especially calcium, high-quality protein, riboflavin and vitamin B12 (and vitamins A and D, if the milk is fortified). Preliminary scientific evidence suggests that certain
components of milk and other dairy foods may reduce the risk of cancers of the breast and colon. These components include calcium, vitamin D, bacterial cultures, and a type of fatty acid known as CLA (conjugated linoleic acid).
Pesticides - Residues in milk are not a significant health
threat. As is the case with other food commodities, the
minute quantities of pesticides occasionally found in milk
are well below the tolerances set by the government and
do not pose a health hazard. Both the cow's digestive system and the milk secretion process provide a measure of screening which protects
the consumer of milk from many potentially harmful
substances. For example, milk contains far lower concentrations
of arsenic, cadmium and mercury than are found
in the cows' feed or in most other foods consumed by
Antibiotics - As with pesticides, drug residues are not a major
problem. It is true that there have been instances in the
past in which dairy farmers have violated regulations and
allowed milk containing antibiotics to be sold. (The milk
is supposed to be discarded until drug treatment ends and
the cow stops secreting the drug in her milk.) Such incidents
have always been rare, however, and they are now
being prevented by better enforcement efforts. A nationwide
milk quality program is in place that prevents milk
containing illegal antibiotic residues from entering the
marketplace. All loads of milk are tested for these
residues, and any load that contains them is rejected and
cannot be sold.
There are some people who are allergic to milk or have difficulty digesting milk, and it makes sense for these people to avoid milk. Aside from these cases, drinking low fat milk does not pose a significant health risk to humans. Besides, milk is an important source of proteins, vitamins, and calcium. Now, what about Mrs. White's predictions about the need to soon discard milk?
- Milk safety has greatly improved over the last century.
- Thanks to pasteurization, dairy products are much safer now than in the 1800s when Mrs. White was using them.
What about Eggs?9
Much of what has already been said about refrigeration, education, labeling instructions, and government inspection and testing applies to the quality and safety of eggs.
Let us examine some of the current concerns about eggs:
Cholesterol - Eggs yolks are high in cholesterol. They are, in fact, the largest single source of cholesterol among the foods commonly eaten in the U.S. Extensive scientific research, including major studies completed within the last few years, shows that dietary cholesterol has only a small effect on blood cholesterol and that little if any relationship exists between egg consumption and heart disease risk in healthy people. In response to these findings, experts have stopped recommending a specific limit to the number of egg yolks consumed per week but have instead advised people to use eggs in moderation as part of a diet that meets the established guidelines for saturated fat and cholesterol intake.
What is good about eggs? When we eat eggs, some of the cholesterol gets absorbed into the bloodstream and used by the body. Indeed, we need cholesterol in order to survive. Cholesterol helps build membranes for new cells in the body and is an especially important constituent of nerve cells. Some cholesterol is converted to bile acids, which help fats and fat-soluble vitamins get absorbed from the digestive tract into the bloodstream. Cholesterol also provides the building blocks for vital hormones such as estrogen, testosterone and cortisol as well as for vitamin D.
Bacteria - Concerns have also been raised about the microbiological safety of eggs. The presence of Salmonella bacteria in a small proportion of the eggs on the market need not be a problem if the eggs are handled and prepared properly. Adequate cooking destroys Salmonella and makes the eggs safe to eat.
One large egg provides about six grams of protein, about half of which is in the egg white. The white of an egg is considered an ideal protein — the one by which all others are measured — because it contains all the amino acids needed for human nutrition and offers them in the proper balance. As for other nutritional benefits:
- Eggs are significant source of iron, riboflavin, folate, and vitamins B12, D, and E. An egg's contribution of vitamin D is noteworthy because eggs are one of the very few foods that supply this nutrient.
- Eggs are easily digested, making them valuable dietary components for people who are ill or convalescing.
- While eggs do not provide an abundance of any one nutrient, they offer substantial amounts of a wide variety. That quality elevates eggs into the ranks of "nutrient-dense foods," which means they provide a relatively high proportion of essential nutrients while supplying only a relatively small number of calories.
- Eggs contain the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, which are being investigated to determine whether they have health benefits.
Recent research indicates that egg eaters are more likely than non-egg eaters to have diets that provide adequate amounts of essential nutrients.
Eggs are nutritious food, providing high-quality protein, vitamins and minerals. Even Mrs. White said that eggs contain "remedial properties" and recommended her followers get their eggs from healthy hens. But what about her warning that "soon" eggs would be unsafe to eat?
- Thanks to government inspections, refrigeration, and testing, eggs are safer now than ever.
- Ellen White's dire warnings about animal products are yet another example of her many failed predictions.
Mrs. White's prophecy regarding the safety of animal products has proven to be a monumental failure. If anything, the safety and quality of animal products have improved dramatically over the last 100 years. While a carefully planned and implemented vegetarian diet may be sufficient, a moderate amount of lean meat, low-fat milk, and eggs can provide proteins, vitamins and minerals essential for human growth and development.
For Further Research:
1. The author is a life-long vegetarian for health, environmental, and humanitarian reasons. He believes a carefully planned vegetarian diet, supplemented by an occasional fish, is the best diet for humanity, both physically, mentally, and spiritually. However, he believes some Ellen White followers have vastly overstated the risks of eating animal products in order to convince others she was a prophet. These followers sometimes fail to tell people that a moderate use of low-fat animal products will not result in a statistically significant increase in the risk of acquiring cancer or other diseases, and will not markedly reduce their life span. In fact, the longest-living people in the world, the Hunzas of Pakistan who live to be 120 to 140 years old, out-live the average SDA vegetarian by over 30 years. The Hunzas eat a moderate amount of lean meat in their diet. The author does not believe any person should be judged for what he eats or drinks: "For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs [Greek: lacanon = vegetables]. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him." (Romans 14:2,3).
2. Ellen White, Counsels on Diet and Foods, p. 411, from a letter written to a physician from Stanmore, Sydney, N. S. W., July 26, 1896.
3. Ellen White, Union Conference Record (Australasian), July 28, 1899.
4. Ellen White, Letter 14, 1901, p. 3. (To Dr. S. Rand, January 22, 1901.) Also found in Manuscript Releases, vol. 8, p. 384, para. 2.
5. Ellen White, Testimonies, vol. 7, p. 135.
6. Ellen White, Ministry of Health, pp. 320-21.
7. Much of the material in this section is extracted from the document The Beef Controversy (PDF format).
8. The material in this section was extracted from Much Ado About Milk (PDF format) .
9. Kathleen Meister, "Eggs: Not as Bad as They're Cracked Up to Be".