Raise awareness of environmental health issues in order to better protect our children and future generations.

EMF Studies

30 April 2012

Industrial Methods of Raising Animals for Meat in the United States

The following article which originally appeared on this blog on 8 June 2011, is  being re-published to demonstrate the aberrations regarding industrial methods of raising animals for meat in the United States:  Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) and breeding of cloned and genetically modified animals.

Animals give us unconditional love.  They are also very healing.  They keep us company when we are alone;  they console us when we are down and sick.  There is however a huge DISCONNECT between the way we treat our pets and animals of company, and the way we raise them for food in concentrated animal feeding operations.

Cloned calves
A troubling aspect of modern food production is concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).  Michael Pollan has written an excellent essay, “Power Steer” about his experience purchasing a six-month-old calf which was sent from a ranch in South Dakota where it grazed beside its mother on prairie grass, to a feedlot in Kansas containing 37,000 cows.  There the calf was fattened up for the slaughterhouse and at 14 months, was rendered into those tender, marbled rib-eye steaks one finds in supermarkets and restaurants. 

Generations ago, cows lived at least 4 to 5 years before being slaughtered.  Today, they live 14 to 16 months.  Before being sent to the feedlot, Pollan’s calf spent two months ingesting feed comprised of corn and alfalfa hay, and containing Rumensin, an antibiotic which wards off illness caused by a grain-based diet and the stress of weaning.  A cow’s digestive system tolerates grass, not grain.  Once at the feedlot, which may contain up to 100,000 animals, cattle are fed protein supplements, liquefied fat, vitamins, synthetic estrogen and corn “flakes”.  Corn is cheap and produces well-marbled steaks with taste and texture.  These steaks contain more saturated fat than those from grass-fed cows.  Feeding cow parts to cows was banned by the FDA in 1997, however cows’ feed may still contain animal “blood products”, beef tallow, feather meal, pig and fish protein and chicken manure.  Bovine meat and bone meal are being fed to industrially-raised chickens, pigs and fish, raising the specter of infectious prions.  Pig and fish protein from animals that are ingesting cattle parts are in turn fed to cattle.  Cattle are eating cattle.

Antibiotics are added to the feed to inhibit gas production and reduce incidence of liver infection caused by a grain-based diet.  A synthetic estrogen used to fatten the animal is injected into the back of the ear.   Hormone residues pass into feedlot waste and into the meat that we eat, as well as E coli bacteria, more of which is produced by the acidity caused from eating corn.

At 14 months and weighing 1,200 pounds, the cow enters the slaughter area which is caked with manure.  Industry disinfects the manure through spraying with an anti-microbial solution that finds its way into the meat.

In addition to this inhumane way of raising cattle and the synthetic residues and saturated fat found in the end product, there are hidden costs to cheap beef:  growing human antibiotic resistance, human disease caused by eating saturated fat, environmental degradation from corn production and the waste of feedlots, the health impact on slaughterhouse workers who are often underpaid immigrants, and imported oil which is used to produce the fertilizers and pesticides required to cultivate corn and soy.

It is estimated that 18 per cent of green-house gas emissions comes from cows ejecting methane gas.  Their waste contaminates groundwater with hormones, nitrates, and antibiotics, affecting human health.  In the state of Idaho, there are twice as many cows as people.  Ten per cent of the inhabitants of one town where an intensive feedlot was located died of cancer.  The managers of the lot never evacuated its mud and excrement, leaving cows standing in toxic waste and contaminating the town’s water supply.  Repeated requests by the inhabitants to close the lot were ignored by environmental authorities.  Finally the lot was closed, leaving the surroundings polluted for many years afterwards.

This is just one aspect of industrial livestock production.  “Industrial” dairy cows, chickens, hens, pigs, and fish are almost all raised in unsanitary, crowded conditions. 

Regarding chicken feed, arsenic is added to industry-raised chickens to increase their weight, improve pigmentation and prevent being infested by parasites.  Arsenic is a known carcinogen and could contribute to other health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and impaired intellectual function.  Chickens ingesting arsenic in their feed, including “natural” or “free-range” birds, are not labeled.  An “additive-free” label will guarantee the chicken is arsenic-free.  The practice of adding arsenic to chicken feed is banned in the European Union, as well as injecting animals with hormones. 
There is also cloning and genetic engineering (GE) of animals which raises additional serious health and ethical issues.  Foods from cloned and GE animals are not yet labeled in the United States.

Cloned animals and their mothers suffer.  There are frequent spontaneous abortions, with only 3 to 5 per cent of mothers producing offspring that live to adulthood.  Many clones exhibit massive deformities and suffer a premature death.  Abnormalities and health problems are common in cloned animals:  liver failure, pneumonia, cancer due to genetic abnormalities, immune deficiency.  Abnormal gene expression could cause an imbalance in the animal’s hormone, protein and fat levels, resulting in questionable quality and safety of meat and milk.  (The FDA has declared meat and milk from cloned animals safe for consumption.)  Cloned animals receive greater amounts of hormones and antibiotics.  Their stress levels are higher than those of normal animals which increases pathogens such as E coli.  Defective cloned animals are allowed in animal feed, pet food and cosmetics without labeling.

Genetically-engineered animals are being produced to reprogram animals’ maternal behavior, transform their digestive systems to fit corporate feeding practices, and make them grow faster and bigger.  Some GE animals are altered to produce pharmaceutical and industrial chemicals.  In China, human genes are being inserted into dairy cows to produce milk similar to human breast milk.  GE manipulation can create new sources of allergies, and hormones and toxins in our food.  Animals may suffer from genetic defects.  Many GE animals are cloned or offspring of clones. 

What can we do?  We must educate the public about the inhumane treatment and unhealthy conditions of these types of industrial animal production.  We must demand more humane conditions for animals, label cloned and GE meat and other foods, enforce existing environmental laws, ban antibiotics and growth hormones given to animals, encourage local, organic animal production, and remove fossil fuels from the food chain.  Everyone should know how their food is produced, where it comes from and what it contains.  If the United States is so lax in its food safety laws, isn’t it better to renounce or eat less meat?  We as consumers can advocate against Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations through making better food choices.

by Meris Michaels
(Reference:  The CAFO Reader – the tragedy of industrial animal factories, edited by Daniel Imhoff, 2010, Foundation for Deep Ecology and articles from Care2, 2011.)

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