This is not the case, unless there is mistreatment of the animal in some way, above and beyond the taking of the life. These creatures were produced as a source of food for one another, as well as for humans. In nature, there is a hierarchy of dominance, and the predators feed off the prey, all of which is entirely natural and a deliberate orchestration of natural balance to provide food for all and a way to survive and thrive. Humans as well are predators more than prey by virtue of intelligence and technology. They have the capability of utilizing many types of living things as nutrients. This is part of the natural order and has no karmic penalty, per se.
When animals are subjected to cruelty through factory farming type of conditions, where they are caged and never have fresh air, natural light, or freedom of movement, this is highly unnatural and stressful as well. There is a karmic payback in the discord of consciousness imbued in the foodstuff, and the consumption will cause problems for humans as a result. There may also be other forms of repayment from a karmic debt of carrying out acts of cruelty in the production of food, and the slaughtering of animals, in the housing conditions, and the transportation. If this is not done humanely, there is a karmic debt, and this debt increases continually with a continuation of the practice. In addition, there is a karmic debt to all who consume such products, whether they know about what happens behind the scenes or not. This is the way karma works. If you break the law, ignorance of the law is no excuse. This is the way human jurisprudence is organized—and for good reason. There must be a reason to become conversant. There must be often a consequence or penalty which encourages people to learn the rules first, before they make mistakes and a transgression of some kind. But even in situations of total ignorance, there is a karmic consequence for everything that happens—wittingly or unwittingly.
This means that there is a burden on each and every human to pay attention to how things are done at all levels—what goes into the manufactured goods being used. Is it exploitation of slave labor in a third-world country where people are deprived of basic necessities, and living under cruel oversight and horrible conditions that will effectively constrain them to the point that even future lifetimes will be impaired until much of this harm has been healed in some way? This karmic legacy extends through the products to the purchaser and the end user.
This is why everyone has a stake in everything that happens. You are all interconnected, and the unity of humans includes the divine. If you harm another person, you are harming all people, and that karmic sharing will have consequences. The use of meat in and of itself is not ‘karmically’ a negative. There is more likelihood that animals are harmed by harsh conditions more than plants. Therefore, the decision to be a vegetarian will sidestep any exposure to karmic consequences of the meat that is not consumed—to some extent. But there is still a karmic burden of being a human, nonetheless, because in making that choice, you are also opting out of your responsibility for those animals that may be abused along the way.
Therefore, you are not off the hook, whether you eat the meat or not, you are responsible for the pain of every other living thing that takes place— directly or indirectly to some degree. As a result, there is no escape for you being here. You are your brother’s keeper and your sister’s keeper in a karmic sense. In a functional sense, there is a limit to the amount you can share without depriving the self. That is not a requirement. You can save your life at the expense of another. That is basic soul management. One survivor and one dead victim are better than two dead sharers of misery. That is not overlooking the value of life or favoring one over another and honoring virtue over the reality of existence. One can carry obedience to even divine principles to a fault and go down with a ship unnecessarily. If one can be saved or save oneself, it may be a good thing.
It is difficult to parse all of this with great precision. Every individual has an individual path and exposure. What we are simply pointing out is—there are many, many involvements and karmic entanglements with everything that happens around you. Few people are aware that this happens, but you are in this whirling of energies and have a karmic connection to a vast number of issues beyond your day-to-day life.