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Factory Farms Breed Dangerous Food

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Factory Farms Breed Dangerous Food

The environmental and economic effects of factory farms on rural communities are well known. These facilities cannot process the enormous amounts of waste produced by thousands of animals, so they pour and pile manure into large cesspools and spray it onto the land. This causes health problems for workers and for neighbors. Leaks and spills from manure pools, and the run-off from manure sprayed on fields can pollute nearby rivers, streams, and groundwater. And the replacement of independently owned, small family farms by large factory operations often drains the economic health from rural communities. Rather than buying grain, animal feed, and supplies from local farmers and businesses, these factory farms usually turn to the distant corporations with which they’re affiliated.

But even if you live in a city hundreds of miles from the nearest factory farm, there are still lots of reasons to be concerned about who is producing–and how–the meat and dairy products you and your family consume.

Factory farm operators typically manage what animals eat in order to promote their growth and keep the overall costs of production low. However, what animals are fed directly affects the quality and safety of the meat and dairy products we consume.

Antibiotics
Factory farmers typically mix low doses of antibiotics (lower than the amount used to treat an actual disease or infection) into animals’ feed and water to promote their growth and to preempt outbreaks of disease in the overcrowded, unsanitary conditions. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, 70 percent of all antimicrobials used in the United States are fed to livestock. This accounts for 25 million pounds of antibiotics annually, more than 8 times the amount used to treat disease in humans.

The problem is this creates a major public health issue. Bacteria exposed to continuous, low level antibiotics can become resistant. They then spawn new bacteria with the antibiotic resistance. For example, almost all strains of Staphylococcal (Staph) infections in the United States. are resistant to penicillin, and many are resistant to newer drugs as well. The American Medical Association, American Public Health Association, and the National Institutes of Health all describe antibiotic resistance as a growing public health concern. European countries that banned the use of antibiotics in animal production have seen a decrease in resistance.

Mad Cow Disease
Animal feed has long been used as a vehicle for disposing of everything from road kill to “offal,” such as brains, spinal cords and intestines. Scientists believe that “mad cow disease,” or Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), is spread when cattle eat nervous system tissues, such as the brain and spinal cord, of other infected animals. People who eat such tissue can contract variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), which causes dementia and, ultimately, death. Keeping mad cow disease out of the food supply is particularly important because, unlike most other foodborne illnesses, consumers cannot protect themselves by cooking the meat or by any other type of disinfection. The United States has identified three cases of mad cow disease in cattle since December 2003.

In 1997, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the agency that regulates animal feed, instituted a “feed ban” to prevent the spread of the disease. Although this ban provides some protections for consumers, it still allows risky practices. For example, factory farm operators still feed “poultry litter” to cattle. Unfortunately, poultry litter, the waste found on the floors of poultry barns, may contain cattle protein because regulations allow for feeding cattle tissue to poultry. And cattle blood can be fed to calves in milk replacer–the formula that most calves receive instead of their mother’s milk. Finally, food processing and restaurant “plate waste,” which could contain cattle tissue, can still be fed to cattle.

In 2004, after the discovery of BSE in the United States, the FDA had the opportunity to ban these potential sources of the disease from cattle feed. But instead, officials proposed a weaker set of rules that restricted some tissues from older cattle. A safer policy for consumers would be to remove all tissues from all cattle from the animal feed system, regardless of their age, and also to ban plate waste, cattle blood and poultry litter.

In the fall of 2006, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) decided to scale back testing for mad cow disease. Officials cited what they claimed was the low level of detection for the disease in the United States. Now, only 40,000 cattle, one-tenth the number tested the year before, will be tested annually. Given the weakness of the rules that are supposed to prevent the spread of the disease, this limited testing program effectively leaves consumers unprotected.

E. Coli
Cattle and other ruminants (animals with hooves) are uniquely suited to eat grass. However, in factory farm feedlots, they eat mostly corn and soybeans forthe last few months of their lives. These starchy grains increase their growth rate and make their meat more tender–a process called “finishing.” However, scientists point to human health risks associated with the grain-based diet of “modern” cattle.

A researcher from Cornell University found that cattle fed hay for the five days before slaughter had dramatically lower levels of acid-resistant E. coli bacteria in their feces than cattle fed corn or soybeans. E. coli live in cattle’s intestinal tract, so feces that escapes during slaughter can lead to the bacteria contaminating the meat.

Vegetables can be also be contaminated by E. coli if manure is used to fertilize crops without composting it first, or if water used to irrigate or clean the crops contains animal waste. The 2006 case of E. coli-contaminated spinach offers a dramatic example of how animal waste can impact vegetables.

Fat
According to a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists, beef and milk produced from cattle raised entirely on pasture (where they ate only grass) have higher levels of beneficial fats, including omega-3 fatty acids, which may prevent heart disease and strengthen the immune system. The study also found that meat from grass-fed cattle was lower in total fat than meat from feedlot-raised cattle.

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17 comments

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5:42PM PDT on Aug 22, 2010

Please read the latest on the recent egg recall here--
http://www.care2.com/news/member/733554032/2061516

11:50AM PDT on Jul 14, 2010

This is sad. For those who occasionally eat meat locally grown seems safest. thanks.

3:17AM PST on Feb 10, 2010

The overall danger seems to be that industrial livestock husbandry for meat production is indicated as a decisive factor in the evolution and spread of disease as well as in the doubtful fitness for consumption of the meat produced.

r4

4:32PM PST on Jan 28, 2010

scary when they start talking about all the diseases that comes from stuff.

9:57PM PDT on Sep 5, 2009

More good reasons to buy meat from small, local farms that practice methods of animal husbandry that have been used for thousands of years...

5:59PM PDT on Aug 25, 2009

This is just another reason not to use animals as commodities, as food, along with cruelty reasons - you can't use a sentient being as a cheap commodity and expect no deleterious effects

6:20AM PDT on Aug 25, 2009

It's important that if you are buying meat from local farmers that you talk with them about their practices and if possible, visit the farm. I've started doing that in my community and it's been very informative and fun developing relationships with local farmers. I also buy flour from a local farmer/miller to avoid pesticides and additives in my flour and oatmeal. I believe that voting with our pocket books and taking our dollars away from the factory farms will have the biggest impact on changing the deplorable conditions on American factory farms. http://www.greenat50.com

11:18PM PDT on Aug 24, 2009

This article was very informative. I'm so sad to hear the treatment of these poor animals. It brought tears to my house. I can't believe we have such deplorable and unhealthy practices in the US. We need to bring attention to people we know so they stop supporting factory raised food.

3:30PM PDT on Aug 24, 2009

I'd have to agree with Randolph D., though it sounds radical. Based on the actions of the FDA, I have come to the conclusion that they are not here to protect us, but to keep us just beyond arms length to the industries and big businesses that continue to poison us. It is clear they make the decisions continuously to benefit big agri-business over the health of citizens. Look to Europe, Japan, and a few other more completely civilized nations for food answers.....not the USA.

1:59PM PDT on Aug 24, 2009

It breaks my heart to know how animals live in these hell holes. that's why I went vegan 3 years ago.

Not on the list above are bovine immunodeficiency virus (BIV), the equivalent of the AIDS virus in cows, which can infect human cells. There's also bovine leukemia. As far as I know 9 out of 10 herds are infected with one of the other or both.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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