cows.jpgIn case you missed this week’s news story about the largest meat recall in history, I thought I’d use this terrifying example to elaborate on a reality of much greater horrors.  143 million pounds of beef, a full two-years of production from a large California meatpacker, was determined to be a possible risk to human consumption based on unsanitary and unethical production practices.  Cows that were too sick to stand on their own were electrically shocked, forced by high-intensity water sprays and otherwise moved by fork-lifts to be transported for final processing.  Basically, the Department of Agriculture was largely concerned with the negative impacts of eating these sick animals, even though the bulk of the meat produced from this plant had already been consumed.   

Far beyond the human health implications this article introduces, I am most disturbed by the systemic torture of animals to sustain the wasteful and socially-irresponsible high-meat diet of the average American.  If you honestly believe that the disturbing facts uncovered in this California beef farm are rare in this industry, check out a copy of “Slaughterhouse” by Gail Eisnitz or hop over to http://www.meatrix.com for a more comprehensive look at the torturous practices of factory farming.  Four meatpacking companies control an estimated 79% of cattle slaughter.  98% of all poultry is now produced by corporations.  Since 1986, the number of independent hog operations has declined by 72%.   

Wake up, America!  The vast majority of the meat available in our shopping markets does NOT hail from a happy family farm where cows and pigs graze in wide-open pastures with the warmth of the afternoon sun on their backs.  They are confined, depraved, processed and disassembled like emotionless widgets through a system that sees them as products to be consumed, not living creatures that share equal rights to this planet and the joys life has to offer.   Frankly, if you eat meat and you refuse to seriously consider the results of your diet, you willfully participate in an unhealthy, unethical, and unsustainable system of consumption and destruction.   

Read it and weep, folks (or continue to bury your head in the sand).  That beautiful steak you gnawed at Ruby Tuesdays and the succulent burger you enjoyed at the company picnic most likely came from a factory farm where the animals never see direct sunlight and their feet never touch the natural earth.  Many animals are packed so tightly that they cannot move around normally, some cannot even turn around.  And we’re not just talking about veal here.  Each full-grown chicken in a factory farm has as little as six-tenths of a square foot of space.  Because of over-crowding, the beaks are painfully removed to prevent the chickens from injuring each other and exposing them to infection.  debeaking.jpgbatteryhens1.jpgchickens2.jpgchickens.jpg

In fact, an estimated 70% of all antibiotics in the US are fed to pigs, poultry and cattle to compensate for the unsanitary and confined conditions of factory farms.  This process makes it possible, and far more lucrative, for corporations to process animals for consumption in unnatural and inhumane conditions and fosters the development of anti-biotic resistant bacteria that can spread in animals and humans, and contaminates our water supply.  Despite the widespread, medically unnecessary use of antibiotics, 70% of the 76 million annual cases of food borne illness in the US can be traced to contaminated meat.  It is also widely accepted in these industries to inject animals with articial growth hormones to increase muscle growth and milk production. The simple truth remains: eating any meat that is not confirmed (by your eyes or properly certified) to be humanely-raised and organic, can expose yourself and your family to all of the ills that result from these unhealthy types of treatments AND perpetuates a system of abuse that reduces the magnificent creatures of the planet into a tortured food source.   

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While we’re on the subject of cruelty… what does this massive torture and execution system say about the conscience of humanity?  Even if one believes that humans have a biological and spiritual RIGHT to consume the flesh of other creatures, does this authority rise to the level of full-scale, inhumane production to sustain a daily diet?  Should our entitlement include the regular enjoyment of meats, far disconnected from the gruesome realities of the process and the consequences?  Does it extend to consumption of animals we could not kill ourselves?   

These ethical problems stem from America’s artificially-created addiction to meat and an intentionally ignorant populace that would rather not know where their food comes from because they enjoy their meat, thank you very much.  In 2000, American total meat consumption (red meat, poultry, and fish) reached 195 pounds (boneless, trimmed-weight equivalent) per person, 57 pounds GREATER than the average US annual consumption in the 1950s.  Although Americans comprise only 5% of the world’s population, they consume 30% of the world’s meat.  This trend is no different than our greedy consumption of other resources, like the fact that we lay waste to 25% of the world’s oil, 27% of the world’s aluminum, and one-third of the world’s paper (oh, yes, and produce two-thirds of the world’s toxic waste).  Speaking of waste, the USDA estimates animals in the US meat industry produced 1.4 billion tons of waste in 1997- (that’s 5 tons of animal waste for every human) 130 TIMES the nation’s volume of human waste. This doesn’t even touch on the incredible amounts of methane and nitrous oxide (both potent greenhouse gases) that are produced by cattle feedlots and pig operations.   These numbers are offensive and speak directly to the elitist, entitlement mentality of our country.  

Unfortunately, EVEN when consumers make an effort to buy organic and humanely-raised meat products, the environmental implications of a high meat diet are staggering.  Throughout the world, forests are being destroyed to support the meat-eating habits of the “developed” nations. Almost 40% of the earth’s land surface has been converted to cropland or permanent pasture.  Between 1960 and 1985, nearly 40 percent of all Central American rain forests were destroyed to create pasture for beef cattle. More than four million acres of cropland are lost to erosion in the United States every year. Of this staggering topsoil loss, 85 percent is directly associated with livestock raising, i.e., over-grazing. Much of the excrement from “food” animals (which amounts to 20 times as much fecal matter as human waste) flows unfiltered into our lakes and streams. 

Raising animals for food is an extremely inefficient way to feed a growing human population. The U.S. livestock population consumes enough grain and soybeans to feed more than five times the entire U.S. population. One acre of pasture produces an average of 165 pounds of beef; the same acre can produce 20,000 pounds of potatoes. If Americans reduced their meat consumption by only 10 percent, it would free 12 million tons of grain annually for human consumption. That alone would be enough to adequately feed each of the 60 million people who starve to death each year. Eating beef produces 17 times the water-pollution and 16 times the land-use impact of eating grains.  On average, it takes 14 to 21 pounds of protein from sources that could be directly used as food to produce 1 pound of meat protein.  That means only 5 to 7 percent of the total protein consumed by a feed-lot steer or cow is returned for human consumption.  Similarly, only 12 % is returned by a hog as pork, 15 % by a chicken as meat, 22 % as eggs and 23% by a cow as milk.   

Vegetarianism is the ideal immediate solution to this grim reality. But addictions are hard to kick, so ANY reduction in meat consumption would be beneficial.  While the negative impact of daily meat consumption cannot be entirely eliminated by a switch to humanely-raised meat, it certainly provides TREMENDOUS improvement for the health of your family and the planet.     

Of course, the American meat addiction will not go down without a fight.  You’re sure to find numerous claims by well-meaning people that vegetarianism is unnatural and unhealthy.  But despite the powerful influence of the meat-industry lobby and the general unwillingness of gluttonous Americans to reassess their grossly-out-of-balance addiction to a high-meat diet, vegetarianism is a safe and socially-responsible trend that is fast-growing.  Research has shown that vegetarians are 50 percent less likely to develop heart disease, and they have 40 percent of the cancer rate of meat-eaters. Plus, meat-eaters are nine times more likely to be obese than vegans.  Scientists have also found that vegetarians have stronger immune systems than their meat-eating friends; this means that they are less susceptible to everyday illnesses like the flu. Vegetarians and vegans live, on average, six to 10 years longer than meat-eaters. 

Although the recent theories of Dr. D’Admano on blood type professes a biological need for some people to consume meat, the predominant consensus in medical research is that meat is not only unnecessary for human health, it presents far more health complications than a balanced vegetarian diet.  Thousands of years of Eastern diet traditions, as well as recent medical studies confirm that substitution of soy and other protein sources for meat protein does not impair human growth, development and general health in any way.    In fact, former champion bodybuilder, Bill Pearl is a vegetarian. So is the legendary 6’8, 320 pound wrestler, Killer Kowalski; fitness guru, Jack LaLanne; Olympic gold medalist, Edwin Moses; and 6-time Ironman Triathlon winner, Dave Scott, just to name a few. Burly vegetarians from the animal kingdom include bulls, elephants, rhinos, and gorillas. A silverback gorilla eats only raw fruits and vegetables and at only three times the weight of an average man, has thirty times the strength.  

I expect that this post will be met with much animosity, as honest evaluation of our diet practices can be a very personal and emotional experience.  Many may point to a handful of exceptions in the field of diet research to contradict the information presented here.  But much like the global warming hold-outs that deny mans influence in a fast-changing climate, exceptions always emerge when sufficient resistance to change renders truth painful and inconvenient. 

Sources:

Is Our Food Safe to Eat? by Leon & DeWaal, The Book of Tofu by  Shurtleff & Aoyagi, Diet for a Small Planet by Lappe, Slaughterhouse by Eisnitz, Facing the Future: People & the Planet by Goekler, www.facingthefuture.org,  www.FDA.org, www.meatrix.org, http://www.cnn.com/2008/HEALTH/02/17/beef.recall/index.html

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