Most of us know by now that while a McDonald’s or Wendy’s burger tastes delicious, there is something about the quality of the meat (not to mention the other ingredients!) that wreaks havoc on our digestive system. I sort of knew about that aspect for a long time but that didn’t stop me from eating at fast-food joints, until I made some very concrete discoveries about the meat I was eating.
The whole concept of cattle-raising farms changed in the fifties with the advent of antibiotics, selective breeding, cheap pesticides, and nitrogen fertilizer – remnants from World War II. This was the dawn of a new era for the food industry. Farmers began raising animals fed on cheap genetically modified corn and soy. Meat products became a common staple food in American households. While before the 50’s meat was on the tables three or four times a week, after World War II it was the main source of protein three times a day plus snacks. This became the measure of success. The American populous, for the most part, didn’t know and didn’t want to know why the produce became so cheap. The propaganda that this new way of raising plants and animals was safe and modern won over for a while even the most inquisitive minds.
The 70’s brought with them the awakening of the public and the birth of “organic” food, as I mentioned in a previous post. There is a lot that has changed since then, but unfortunately much has stayed the same. In order to fully grasp the manner in which meat products are still being handled on conventional and even certain big organic companies, I will divide this post in three sections, explaining beef, pork, and poultry separately because they have all developed independent environmental and health issues.
The first time I had a piece of steak from a cow raised completely on grass I have to say I was severely disappointed. The meat was very lean, almost like a chicken breast. It tasted gamy and it was hard to chew. Later I found out that corn-fed beef steak is up to 30% fat as opposed to grass-fed beef. The reason for that is because cows fed corn gain weight faster and are slaughtered at a younger age. The other reason is that our palates have developed a taste for the corn-fed stakes due to decades of eating it. Real beef shouldn’t taste that fatty. It’s not pork!
Unfortunately the corn doesn’t just fatten up the cow and alter the taste of the beef. Since cows are ruminants they cannot simply digest the high amount of corn they are given on a regular basis. Grain gives the cows an acidic stomach that causes chronic illness in the animal and leads to E-Coli outbreaks in people.
In order to prevent the infection and speed the weight gain cows are given high amounts of antibiotics. The overuse of these drugs create drug-resisting pathogens, which means common antibiotics don’t work for humans anymore. In fact, the European Union banned human antibiotics in animals as growth promoters; the U.S. is not quite there yet.
The other “miracle drug” cattle are fed is growth hormones or steroids, which causes a whole myriad of diseases in the humans consuming the beef, such as tumors.
The natural hormones estradiol, progesterone, and testosterone and synthetic hormones zeranol and trenbolone acetate are typically implanted through the ear. Environmental estrogen are called endocrine disruptors because they alter the body’s natural hormone balance. Excess estrogen is linked to reproductive cancers including breast, prostate, and testicular cancer and since 1950, such cancers have risen sharply. Breast cancer is up 55 percent, testicular cancer up 120 percent, and prostate cancer up 230 percent. According to Dr Samuel Esptein, a professor of environmental medicine at the University of Illinois School of Public Health and the founder of the Cancer Prevention Coalition, “the risk of breast cancer and other cancers only increases with the uncontrolled use of hormones in meat.”
Nina Plank” Real Food”, Page 93
Yet cows eating corn is not half as bad as cows being fed parts of other cows, chicken feces, restaurant left overs. etc. Yes, in 1997 the Unites States banned feeding cattle bone meal, fearing an outbreak of mad cow disease of similar proportions Great Britain suffered a few years prior. However the cattle industry, on CAFOS (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) premises, has been able to cheat the system by feeding cattle bovine blood and fat, as well as parts of other non ruminant animals.
Though the industrial logic that made feeding cattle to cattle seem like a good idea has been thrown into doubt by mad cow disease, I was surprised to learn it hadn’t been discarded. The FDA ban on feeding ruminants protein makes an exception for blood products and fat; my steer will probably dine on beef tallow recycled from the very slaughterhouse he’s heading to in June. ( “Fat is fat”, the feedlot manager shrugged, when I raised by eyebrow.) Though Poky doesn’t do it, the rules still permit feedlots to feed non ruminant animal protein to ruminants. Feather meal and chicken litter (that is bedding, feces, and discarded bits of feed) are accepted cattle feeds, as are chicken, fish, and pig meal.
Michael Pollan, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”, Page 76
Cows fed this horrific diet are walking vectors for disease. The beef has a very small amount of omega-3 fats and a increasingly high amount of omega-6 fats which we have more than enough of already in our over industrialized diet. This imbalance leads to cardiovascular and auto-immune disease, inflammation in the body, and cancer.
Then there is the location of the CAFOS and what they to do the natural habitat surrounding them; the toxic waste in the air and the small space these wretched animals lead their short lives. One has to wonder where does it all go? Does the air really filter so much bacteria and disease without affecting the areas around it and the air humans breathe? Most cattle, chickens, pigs have blood shot eyes because of the black cloud of dust and fecal matter that comprises the oxygen these animals breathe on a daily basis.
Unlike beef, pork raised in crowded industrial setting tends to be leaner. However, they are still fed the same diet of corn, soy, and remnants of other animals. Due to the huge strain on their digestive system, most pigs will need high amounts of antibiotics to stay alive.
A huge strain of salmonella found in swine is resistant to an important antibiotic, fluoroquinolone. Under the stress of crowded conditions, pigs bite each others tails and cause infections. To preempt tail biting, factory farmers snip off the tails with wire cutters (without anesthetic), leaving a hypersensitive stump which pigs work to keep away from the teeth of other pigs.
Nina Plank” Real Food” Page 96
Pigs raised in these inhumane circumstances are depleted of Selenium, Vitamin E, and Antioxidants. Eating a piece of pork will force your body into emergency mode trying to flush the toxins. In exchange for all the work we put our bodies through, we get a tiny amount of nutrients and vitamins. While we are happily rubbing our tummies after feasting on some baby-back ribs from an industrial pork plant, our immune system is completely exhausted and more depleted than before the meal.
Chickens, similarly to cows and pigs, lead an unconscionable quality of life in CAFOs and some organic industrial farms. In fact, most broiler chickens are a genetically modified bred from Cornish chickens. Michael Pollan anecdotally claims that scientists have discovered the fastest way to convert corn and soy into a chicken breast. The birds are fed such gigantic amounts of food, containing such little nutrition, that the rubbery bones in their malnourished legs give away and break before it is time for them to be slaughtered. Like pigs, their beaks are clipped off the prevent them from pecking at each other out of stress.
If you are interested in more information and data about CAFOs watch the documentary Food Inc.
As with pigs and cattle, chicken are fed the whole array of antibiotics, genetically modified soy, corn, and the remnants of other animals.
To combat campylobacter, salmonella, and E-Coli, farmers feed broiler chicken antibiotics like fluoroquinolone, with the now familiar effects on antibiotic resistance. Strains of E-Coli and salmonella no longer respond to tetracycline, and some campylobacteria are resistant to Cipro, the antibiotic of choice for food borne illnesses. In 2000, the FDA proposed to ban fluorquinolone for use on poultry, but the effort has been stalled by drug companies. Meanwhile, two large chicken producers (Tyson and Perdue) stopped using fluoroquinolone voluntarily. If a bird does happen to carry pathogens, the meat can be contaminated on high-speed evisceration lines. Industrial agriculture, of course, has the answer: your chicken breast is bleached in chlorine. Nina Plank, “Real Food”, page 97
Indeed the solution to infected meat these days is to treat it with chlorine, ammonium, and other toxic substances that kill not only the pathogens, but also the nutrients and the people consuming them. Eating meat treated with ammonium can cause severe allergies, food poisoning, auto-immune diseases, cancer, and gut disorders.
This is the state of industrial meat products in our highly evolved technological society. It is not surprising that so many people choose to become vegetarians or vegans for both heath and ethical reasons. While the situation is sad, it is not hopeless. The more that people become informed, the less likely they will be to participate in this system. The less that people participate in this system, the more likely that they will be able to build a new system which can destroy and replace the old one. Fortunately, we have other choices besides buying meat on steroids and supporting a system that literally tortures animals till they reach our dinner tables. I will expand more on those options in my next post.
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