The meat we eat – Is there good reason to spend more on organic/sustainable meat and farm produce?

ChickensAlthough I’m interested in food and all food related topics, factory farming is something that I haven’t wanted to delve into, only because it is so disturbing and upsetting to me.  However, recently a friend on Facebook shared a video that rang disturbingly true.  The video was of a talk done by a Kate Cooper, a marketing consultant for the food industry, who spoke about the spin marketers put on the food we eat (no surprises there).  However, what really hit home was her final point where she says that factory farming is essentially systematic cruelty that we allow to go on, simply because we collectively choose to turn the other cheek.

Now, I’m a vegetarian, but that does not exempt me from being one of those people who chooses not to know where their meat is coming from.  I buy eggs, and I buy chicken and milk for my family.  We have focussed on organic milk, organic, free range eggs or buying them from a local Mennonite farm, but we have not fully ‘explored’ the chicken we buy, and I know we could do better there.  Yes, these options are more expensive, so let’s look at why in the world we would want to actively choose them over cheaper meat from the grocery store shelf.

1) Systemic cruelty – I have a good friend who is a vet and animal lover.  She also happens to be a meat lover.  Every once and awhile she’ll read an article or watch a video about factory farming, swear off meat and text all of her contacts things like: “Don’t ever eat pork again!”.  It always makes me laugh, but at the same time it shows that it’s not hard to find out how cruel factory farming actually is.  If you take some time to look into it, you can find lots of videos  and info online, and I’m betting that even if you are not an animal lover the practices and conditions the animals are subject to would disturb you.  It does not take a bleeding heart or PETA advocate to see that the animals are suffering.  The site farmsanctuary.org gives you an idea of what goes on there:

Animals on factory farms are regarded as commodities to be exploited for profit. They undergo painful mutilations and are bred to grow unnaturally fast and large for the purpose of maximizing meat, egg, and milk production for the food industry. Their bodies cannot support this growth, which results in debilitating and painful conditions and deformities.

2) Environmental havoc – Massive amounts of animals, means massive amounts of waste.  Through sustainable farming practices, animals consume crops and plants and their waste fertilizes the soil, contributing to new crop growth – environmental balance is kept.  However, the waste produced from factory farming is too much for one small area and has a devastating effect on air, water and soil.  The overabundance of waste can run off and contaminate human drinking water. The breakdown of mass amounts of manure causes air pollution, and soil fertility is at risk because of overuse of fertilizer and because of the hormones and antibiotics excreted by the animals.  Once soil fertility is lost, crops can no longer grow in that area, and this process will be moved and repeated in another area, spreading the negative environmental impact even further.

3) Impact on human health –  Because so many animals are kept in such close quarters under stressful conditions, this makes them very susceptible to sickness and disease.  To counter this, factory farms use massive amounts of antibiotics on the animals.  This mass use of antibiotics in factory farming has been linked to antibiotic resistance in bacteria that can cause illness in humans. The implications here are huge, the bacteria mutates to thrive despite the antibiotics, and that means if humans are exposed to the bacteria there will be no effective treatment.  The antibiotics won’t work – infections that were once easily treated, could cause death or disability in people.  According to the animal welfare institute:

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that each year two million people in the United States contract antibiotic-resistant infections. CDC has also confirmed a link between the routine use of antibiotics in farm animals and the growing problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which is responsible for the deaths of at least 23,000 Americans each year.

Antibiotic resistance is only the first layer of the huge dirty onion of harm to human health that factory farming plays.  The heavy use of hormones in the animals may also contribute to hormone disruptions and imbalances in humans who consume the products or are exposed to manure run-off through water or crops.  There is also an increased risk of food contamination and food-born illness such as e.coli and salmonella, and animal diseases that can be contracted by humans such as H1N1.

For me, these are really good reasons not to buy meat from your grocery store shelf that supports factory farming practices (which is most meat, especially cheap meat).  You can also bet, that eating cheap, fast food, such as McDonald’s contributes to these practices (a topic for another blog).  Yes, I spend $9-10 on organic milk and sometimes $6-7 on organic, free range eggs at the grocery store while there are $3 & $4 dollar options right next to them.   Believe me, it hurts!  My family is by no means well-off, but I’ve made the choice to put our money into these healthier, less cruel options.  If more people do this, I think that the pricing will come down, and factory farming practices will become obsolete.  The consumer has the power, and as long as we keep ignoring where our meat is coming from, because that’s the easy thing to do, these problems will continue to escalate until something so detrimental happens that it cannot be ignored.

Do you have tips on figuring out where you can buy responsible/sustainable meat and farm produce?

Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

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