Questions From Readers
How concerned should Christians be that blood components, such as dried plasma, might have been added to food products?
If there is valid basis to believe that animal blood (or a component of it) is definitely being used locally in food products, Christians should exercise due caution. Still, it would be unwise to be upset by mere suspicion or live with unfounded worry.
Early in man’s history, our Creator ruled that humans should not eat blood. (Genesis 9:3, 4) He stated that blood represents life, which is a gift from him. Blood removed from a creature could be used only in sacrifice, such as on the altar. Otherwise, blood from a creature was to be poured on the ground, in a sense giving it back to God. His people were to avoid sustaining life by taking in blood. He decreed: “You must not eat the blood of any sort of flesh, because the soul of every sort of flesh is its blood. Anyone eating it will be cut off.” (Leviticus 17:11-14) God’s prohibition on the eating of blood was repeated for Christians. (Acts 15:28, 29) So the early Christians needed to avoid food containing blood, such as meat from strangled animals or blood sausage.
In practical terms, though, how would those Christians act on their determination to ‘keep themselves from blood’? (Acts 21:25) Should they simply apply the apostle Paul’s words: “Everything that is sold in a meat market keep eating, making no inquiry on account of your conscience”?
No. Those words at 1 Corinthians 10:25 refer to meat that might have been from an animal sacrificed at an idol temple. Back then, excess meat from temples was disposed of by being sold to merchants, who might include it among their supply of meat for sale in their stores. Paul’s point was that meat from a temple was not intrinsically bad or contaminated. Evidently it was customary to drain and use on the pagan altars the blood of animals sacrificed there. So if some of the excess meat was sold in a market, with no obvious link to a temple or the misconceptions of pagans, Christians could simply buy it as commercial meat that was clean and that had been suitably drained of blood.
It would have to be different, however, if those Christians knew that meat from strangled animals (or blood sausage) was one of the choices at local shops. They would need to exercise care in choosing what meat to buy. They might be able to recognize the meat products that contained blood if such had a distinctive color (even as today blood sausage can usually be recognized in lands where it is common). Or Christians might inquire of a reputable butcher or meat merchant. If they had no reason to believe that certain meat contained blood, they could simply buy and eat.
Paul also wrote: “Let your reasonableness become known to all men.” (Philippians 4:5) That could apply to the matter of buying meat. Neither Israel’s Law nor the decree of the first-century Christian governing body indicated that God’s people had to go to great lengths in inquiring about meat, even becoming vegetarians if there was the slightest doubt about blood being in available meat.
An Israelite hunter who killed an animal would drain its blood. (Compare Deuteronomy 12:15, 16.) If his family could not eat all the meat, he might sell some. Even in a properly bled carcass, a small amount of blood would remain in the meat, but nothing in the Bible suggests that a Jew buying meat needed to go to extremes in getting such facts as the number of minutes between killing and draining, which artery or vein was cut to let the blood flow, and how the animal was hung up and for how long. Furthermore, the governing body did not write that Christians had to take extraordinary precautions in this regard, as if they needed ultimate answers before eating any meat.
In many lands today, the law, custom, or religious practice is such that meat products (except for unusual items, such as blood sausage) are from animals that must be drained of blood when slaughtered. Thus, Christians in those areas normally need not be preoccupied with slaughtering or processing methods. In an extended sense, they may simply ‘keep eating commercial meat, making no inquiry,’ and they can have a clear conscience that they are abstaining from blood.
There have occasionally been technical reports, though, about commercial blood use that have disturbed certain Christians. Some in the meat-processing industry reason that large amounts of blood from slaughtered animals can be collected for practical applications and profit, such as in fertilizers or animal feed. Researchers have studied whether such blood (or components) might be used in processed meats. A few commercial plants have even turned out limited amounts of liquid, frozen, or powdered plasma (or decolorized red-cell material) that might be substituted for a small percentage of meat in sausagelike products or pâté. Other studies have centered on using powdered blood derivatives as a filler or to bind water and fat in ground meat, in baking products, or in other foods and drinks to add protein or iron.
It is worth noting, however, that such research has been going on for decades. Yet, it seems that use of such products has been very limited, or even nonexistent, in most lands. Some typical reports help to show why:
“Blood is a source of nutritional and functional proteins. However, beef blood has been used only in limited quantities for direct human consumption because of the intense color and characteristic taste.”—Journal of Food Science, Volume 55, Number 2, 1990.
“Blood plasma proteins have useful properties such as high solubility, emulsifying activity and hydrophobicity . . . and their use in food processing offers great advantages. However, no effective system to sanitize plasma, especially after dehydration, has been established in Japan.”—Journal of Food Science, Volume 56, Number 1, 1991.
Some Christians have occasionally checked the labels on packaged foods, since many governments require that ingredients be listed. And they may choose to do so regularly with any product that they have reason to believe might contain blood. It would be right, of course, to avoid products that listed things such as blood, blood plasma, plasma, globin (or globulin) protein, or hemoglobin (or globin) iron. Marketing information from one European company in this field acknowledged: “Information concerning the use of globin as an ingredient must be marked on the package of the food in such a way that the consumer is not misled as to the composition or value of the food.”
However, even as to checking labels or making inquiry of butchers, reasonableness is needed. It is not as if every Christian worldwide must study the labels and ingredients on all packaged food or should interrogate employees at restaurants or food stores. A Christian might first ask himself, ‘Is there any verified evidence that blood and its derivatives are used in normal food products in this area or country?’ In most places the answer is no. Hence, many Christians have concluded that they personally will not divert a great deal of time and attention to checking on remote possibilities. A person who does not feel this way should act in accord with his conscience, without judging others who might resolve the matter otherwise but in good conscience before God.—Romans 14:2-4, 12.
Even if food products containing blood can be produced, it may well be that this is not widely done because of cost, legislation, or other factors. For example, Food Processing (September 1991) noted: “For those processors that have any problems with the less than 1% (in the finished meat patty) of hydrolyzed beef plasma in the blend, an alternate mix replaces it with whey protein concentrate and could be certified as Kosher.”
It bears emphasizing that law, custom, or taste in many lands is such that blood is normally drained from slaughtered animals and that such blood is not used in other food products. If there is no substantial basis for thinking that the situation is different locally or that a major change has occurred recently, Christians should guard against becoming disturbed by mere possibility or rumor. When, though, it is certain or highly likely that blood is widely used—whether in food or in medical treatment—we should be determined to obey God’s command to abstain from blood.