Our food might be killing us

23 May

Nobody wants to hear bad news.

It took decades, countless studies, frightening real-life sagas and legislation to convince consumers that cigarette smoking could kill them. Even then, it hasn’t stopped enough people from smoking to put any of the giant cigarette companies out of business.

It’s no surprise that it will take several decades to drive home the fact that most of the meat – beef, pork and chicken – sold in supermarkets and butcher shops is unhealthy and that the methods used to feed, house and slaughter the animals are doing untold damage to the environment, not to mention treating the animals cruelly.

These disturbing facts are brought home in the recently published Animal Factory , a meticulously researched expose of the industrial animal farming industry by journalist David Kirby.

If consumers only read – and believed — the statistics compiled by Kirby, they’d be horrified, and would think twice about buying the packaged meat products neatly displayed in supermarkets’ refrigerated cases. It only looks good enough to eat.

The culprits, says Kirby, are the sprawling, high-tech megafarms housing hundreds of thousands of cows, pigs, chickens, and turkeys. These massive compounds are called concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, by government and industry. Packed tightly together, the animals are fattened and readied for slaughter.

Unlike traditional factories, there are no smokestacks or refineries. But there is pollution and contamination.

The result is that they’re a threat to human health and the environment. The numbers prove it.

Consider the adverse effects that factory farming has had on human health:

– Release of nitrates into well water in levels that may cause diarrhea, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, spontaneous abortion and blue-baby syndrome

– Excess nitrate exposure in pregnant women may cause central nervous system problems in children and neural tube defects, which has been linked to autism

– Breed hazardous levels of organisms such as dangerous E-coli, salmonella, listeria, viruses, protozoa, and worms

– One study found salmonella in 20 per cent of hamburger tested, of which 84 per cent was resistant to at least one drug, and 53 per cent was resistant to three or more drugs. Another study found airborne enterococci, staph, and strep bacteria with resistant genes; 98% was resistant to two or more antibiotics.

And the effects on the environment are just as scary:

– Animal feeding operations yield 100 times more waste than all US human sewage treatment plants

– Agricultural waste is the No. 1 form of well-water contamination in the US. At least 4.5 million people are exposed to dangerously high nitrate levels in their drinking water

– Feedlot odors contain some 170 separate chemicals; many of them cause respiratory ailments, diarrhea, depression, violent behavior, and other health problems

– Rearing cattle in factory farms yields more greenhouse gases than cars

One of the most disturbing statistics of Animal Factory is that 2 per cent of the population produces 100 per cent of the food.

Hard numbers, however, take on a powerful meaning if there is a disturbing human connection. It’s when real people — hardworking men and women trying to raise families and earn a decent living — are affected by horrific events that not only threaten their livelihoods and lifestyles but their health as well that Kirby’s investigative saga becomes frightenly real.

By spotlighting three American families – one in Washington state’s Yakima Valley, one in Illinois, and another in North Carolina – the author put a human spin on atrocious nationwide food processing methods.

Most of the families in these communities are farmers, and all of them were negatively impacted by industrial food processing plants. The family in Washington, for example, spent decades farming cherries and other fruits. When the mega-dairies rapidly dominated the farming arena in the late 1980s, the landscape quickly changed. Suddenly, there were serious pollution problems, the offensive smell of cow waste infiltrated homes, and the giant waste lagoons that hold liquefied manure leeched into the ground, resulting in high levels of nitrates in the ground water.

Variations on the human dramas that unfold in Animal Factory are taking place all over the US and Canada as well.

During the past few decades there has been massive consolidation of agro-industries in the US. Thousands of small, independent farms, once the backone and lifeblood of the American food industry, had no choice but to fold and declare bankruptcy because they couldn’t compete with the mega farms.

They couldn’t turn out enough product – beef, pork, milk, eggs, fruit, and vegetables — fast enough. It was impossible for them to compete with the slashed prices of their formidable foes.

In the timeless quest for profits, quantity becomes more important than quality, according to Doug Fox, a professor at Unity College, a small environmental college in Unity, Maine.

“Meat products were generally healthier before large-scale factory farms,” says Fox. “Grass-fed beef, for example, is higher in vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients, and lower in saturated fats and cholesterol than grain-fed beef. Grain-fed beef builds up high levels of E. coli not found in grass-fed beef.”

Fox also drives home the fact industrial farming is doing untold damage to the environment. “Pollution from runoff is a big issue,” he explains. “Runoff, largely from confinement agriculture and the grain production needed to support it, has created a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico the size of New Jersey. The quest for inexpensive corn for animal feed results in soil degradation and erosion. Production of nonmeat human food requires much less land for the same level of human nutrition. Grass-fed meat requires more land than growing animal feed, but it generally improves soil fertility rather than degrades it.”

By Bob Weinstein, Troy Media

2 Responses to “Our food might be killing us”

  1. Aruna May 24, 2010 at 8:45 am #

    Hi, Thx. for visiting my blog 🙂
    U too have a wonderful space with interesting information..

  2. Malar Gandhi May 24, 2010 at 2:56 pm #

    Very informative and thought provoking article.

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