By Brenda Shoss, Kinship Circle
Meat: It's What's Rotting the Planet
While the statistics are staggering, anyone who eats can make a difference by simply removing or reducing animal foods from their diet. If a single plant-based eater preserves one acre of trees per year, a legion just might save the planet.
(March 2006) Happy (almost) Earth Day! Think nature. Conservation. Harmony. Poop. Yep, 2.7 trillion pounds of the stinky stuff is annually stockpiled in football-field length lagoons across Missouri, Minnesota, Iowa, Ohio, Illinois and other states. Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) expel 130 times as much fecal matter as the entire population.
Other than the preschool set, no one is giggling over this much poop. In modern agriculture, BIG is the operative adjective. The USDA's 2005 Manure and Byproduct Utilization Action Plan shows just 2% of U.S. livestock farms now generate 40% of all "food animals." Mega-farms stress turnout and revenue over environmental integrity, human safety, and animal welfare.
Methodic disregard for nature
Cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, rabbits, and other animals are processed assembly-line style. Hog factories warehouse 600-pound sows in metal gestation stalls for a motionless life atop cement slats. The USDA's 2002 Census of Agriculture found half of all hogs confined in industrial barns with 5,000 or more hogs.
Dairy plants restrain cows in concrete encased feedlots, where they are artificially inseminated to stay pregnant and lactating. Attached to mechanical milking devices up to three times daily, many are injected with Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) and suffer bovine mastitis, a painful infection of the udder.
Male calves born to dairy cows are taken within 24 hours of birth for sale to veal farms. Before they can stand, they're chained by the neck inside two-feet-wide crates. To create white, tender veal, they are fed a liquid-only diet that suppresses muscle growth and induces anemia. Most go to slaughter disabled with leg and joint disorders at 20 weeks of age.
Egg producers typically pack six to nine hens inside wire coops no larger than a filing drawer. Each bird occupies a space half the size of a sheet of paper. The College of Agriculture and Biological Sciences at South Dakota State University maintains 98% of egg-laying hens live in battery cages stacked inside dark sheds. Many U.S. egg manufacturers starve birds in 10-14 day cycles (forced molting) to jump-start egg output.
"Broiler" chickens are overcrowded inside windowless grower houses. To curtail fighting and cannibalism, workers amputate the bottom third of each bird's beak. In the race to fatten chickens and turkeys for slaughter within 6 to 20 weeks, geneticists breed anatomically altered birds who cannot support their own weight. "If a seven pound [human] baby grew at the same rate that today's turkey grows, when the baby reaches 18 weeks of age, it would weigh 1,500 pounds," Lancaster Farming asserts.
If “we are what we eat...”
We're chock-full of the antibiotics, hormones, steroids and pesticides fed to sick animals. Massive beef feedlots in Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, and Colorado contain steers and heifers raised on hormones and antibiotics to spur growth. Livestock ingest more than 70% of all antibiotics in the U.S., states Katherine Shea, MD, in When Wonder Drugs Don't Work. The American Medical Association and World Health Organization oppose antibiotic overuse because it fosters fresh strains of cure-resistant bacteria.
Despite all the drugs, 76 million cases of foodborne illness (including 5,000 fatalities) arise yearly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention affirms. One of every four cows on the kill floor may have E. coli. Campylobacter is present in 42% of 500 grocery-store chickens (Consumer Reports 2003). Salmonella is evident in 12% of chickens, with up to 90% of the bacteria repellent to antibiotics. For every 50 egg eaters, at least one is annually at risk for salmonella poisoning.
Most consumers price shop meals with little concern for where their food originates. But the stakes have grown higher as avian flu is linked to oversize poultry mills. Indeed, nations without industrialized livestock are mainly free of the lethal H5N1 strain of avian flu. Those with stringent post-outbreak controls for the import and flow of poultry have inhibited further infection.
"In intensively farmed poultry, the high density of birds and constant exposure to feces, saliva and other secretions provide ideal conditions for the replication, mutation, recombination and selection through which highly lethal forms can evolve," states Dr. Leon Bennun, Director of Science, Policy and Information for Birdlife International, in BBC News. With "the global nature of the poultry industry... we have the most plausible mechanism for the spread of the virus."
From an environmental perspective...
Animal agriculture has mutated into the "FrankenFarm," a man-made monster that gobbles air, water, and soil. Livestock now outnumber humans by estimates that range from 3 to 1 to as high as 25 to 1. In America, 80% of the yearly grain harvest goes to livestock. A 10% reduction in meat commodities could free enough grain to nourish 60 million people, Harvard nutritionist Jean Mayer contends.
Grain-fed livestock also guzzle 80% of U.S. water reserves. Chicken factories alone can drain 100,000 gallons a day and beef production exhausts more water than the total amount expended on U.S. fruit and vegetable crops. "You'd save more water by not eating a pound of California beef than you would by not showering for an entire year," author John Robbins asserts in The Food Revolution.
If depleted resources don't bother you, the poop just might.
Waste-filled lagoons harbor dusts, molds, bacterial toxins, and some 400 vaporizable elements like nitrogen, hydrogen sulfide and methane. When nitrogen particles convert to gas, they disperse ammonia mist within 50 miles of their source. Some transform into particles that can move over a 250-mile range. In 2001, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy noted remnants of undiluted animal urine in rainwater.
Waste runoffs seep into ground water and local aquifers, leading the Environmental Protection Agency to classify CAFOs as America's chief source of water contamination. In North Carolina, home to 10 million farmed hogs, the toxic microbe Pfiesteria piscicida killed one billion fish in coastal waters. Hog, chicken and cattle waste generates 70% of pollution in rivers and 49% in lakes, an EPA study reveals.
Exposure to waste-polluted air and water has been blamed for respiratory disorders, chronic headaches, diarrhea/vomiting, earaches, seizures, memory loss, vertigo, and other neurological complications.
Nonetheless, the EPA recently snubbed guidelines submitted by its Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, a panel of impartial scientists Congress appoints to curtail air pollution. Instead, the EPA's Clean Air Act revisions will grant immunity to rural districts, along with the toxic dust produced from industrial livestock farms.
In a February 2006 St. Louis Post Dispatch report, research microbiologist James Zahn, an Agriculture Department advisor, claims he was routinely prevented from "from publicizing his research on the potential hazards to human health posed by airborne bacteria from hog farms." Furthermore, the White House Office of Management and Budget modified relevant scientific documents. For example, the office erased a reference to how revised air-quality regulations "may have a substantial impact on the life expectancy of the U.S. population."
The Bush administration's leniency might trouble folks in Aulding, Ohio. In 2003, a rash of symptoms from lung burns to nosebleeds left most of the town dependent on inhalers, nebulizers and oxygen tanks. One doctor finally traced the health mystery to virulent gases emitted from waste lakes at a nearby hog plant.
People in Putnam County, Missouri can probably relate. Statistics from a Family Farms for the Future survey published in In Motion Magazine show more than half of residents in a two-mile radius of huge hog farms endure more allergies, sinus infection, nasal blockage, and lethargy.
Plainly stated, factory farms don't work.
They cannot function without irreversible damage to the environment, animals, humans, rural economies, and global resources.
At the international level, more than 47 billion animals are slaughtered for their flesh each year. In America, 10 billion land animals, plus an estimated 17 billion fish, die for human consumption. Every hour, roughly 1 million birds, pigs, cows and other sentient creatures are killed.
While the statistics are staggering, anyone who eats can make a difference by simply removing or reducing animal foods from their diet. If a single plant-based eater preserves one acre of trees per year (World Resources Institute), a legion just might save the planet.