Have you ever wondered how fast food joints can afford to sell a double cheeseburger for a dollar? It all boils down to the practice of industrial farming.
Industrial farming provides us with cheap but dangerous animal meats and products. The farming methods used on these factory farms do more than denature the animal products themselves.
- result in herbicide and pesticide pollution of our air, ground water and soil
- disrupt the food chain
- limit biodiversity of animal species
- increase antibiotic resistance, contributing to the development of superbugs
Factory Farmed Meats
Most of the beef, chicken and pork in our supermarkets come from industrial farms. The livestock are treated with hormones to make birth more efficient and productive. They’re manipulated to produce growth hormones that help them grow bigger at a faster rate. Or they are implanted with steroids that do the same thing. The animals are packed in battery cages or feedlots so crowded they cannot even turn around. They are inoculated with antibiotics to fend off disease in order to keep them alive just long enough to slaughter.
90% of American calves are treated with hormonal growth promoters. Every dollar spent on hormone implants increases returns for the manufacturers by $5 to $10 dollars.
Ohio State University researchers found that one of the hormones used to treat beef can increase tumor growth in human breast cancer cells at levels 30 times lower than what the FDA says is safe.
The European Union has banned the use of implants in beef and refuses to import American beef that is so treated even though trade sanctions have been levied against them for this action. They based their decision on more than a dozen studies that suggest implants may cause birth defects and disrupt normal sexual development.
The FDA does not require hormone use to be listed on labels either.
You Are What You Eat, What They Ate
If you are what you eat, then it stands to reason that you are also what your food has eaten.
Grain is used to feed livestock because it is easily obtainable, often subsidized and is a concentrated form of energy. But cows were not created to eat grains! They were created to eat grass. High-grain diets also lack the fiber that livestock need, creating acidosis. Animal scientist Jim Hayes explains that “a high grain diet blows out their livers.”
That’s why livestock are fed antibiotics in their feed. Antibiotics are also used because it has been found that they can increase the digestion and utilization of feed.
The antibiotics used on livestock are identical or just about identical to the antibiotics used to treat humans. This antibiotic overload increases chances that genetic mutations will produce resistant strains of bacteria and viruses against which medications will be useless.
Livestock are routinely fed “byproduct feed stuff” to stretch feed and lower costs. This can be chewing gum, heat-treated garbage or other junk food. The Wall Street Journal reported in 2007 that junk food feed increases as corn feed prices rise. One farmer feeds his cattle a feed mixture that is 17% stale candy and 3% “party mix,” says WSJ, and another feeds his cattle a 100% byproduct diet: French fries, tater tots and potato peels.
Some byproduct feedstuffs include vegetable tops and peelings. Many others contain additional sources of protein such as pet food, ground-up laying hens (“spent hen meal”) and urea.
Farms are not required to tell you what they feed their animals.
Grass-Fed vs. Grain-Fed
Grazing animals are meant to eat grass (and plenty of accidental protein in the form of insects). The lack of fiber in their diets not only affects the health of the animal: it lowers the nutritional content of the meat for human consumers.
Healthy fats and antioxidants are lower in grain-fed livestock. Calves lose omega-3 fatty acids as soon as they start eating grain, and the cancer-fighting conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) dissipates in animals that don’t graze.
Grain-fed animals have lower levels of calcium, magnesium and potassium, lower levels of beta-carotene and vitamins C and E.
These un-natural practices aren’t kept for cows alone. They happen with poultry as well.
Genetic engineering in animals is used for more than increased growth rates. Research is underway to produce featherless chickens with grossly enlarged breasts and thighs. They’re never meant to walk—just fatten up.
The FDA defines “natural” on a label as meat that is minimally processed. That definition has been stretched in ingenious ways. Tyson, for example, tried injecting chicken eggs with antibiotics and said they weren’t violating definitions of “raised without antibiotics” because the birds hadn’t been born yet.
Organic regulation is in real flux as corporate lobbying pressures government regulators to allow flexibility in many aspects and raise costs in others to shut out small, local organic farmers.
“Pasture-raised” doesn’t always mean livestock has grass to eat and “access to the outdoors” can mean only a small doorway in one side of a densely-packed barn. “Organic” chicken is routinely fed “organic corn feed.”
The American Grass-fed seal is one of the best assurances of quality meat, but nothing is as good as buying local where farmers are directly accountable and farming practices are generally sustainable.
Wall Street Journal (May 21, 2007)