PureInsight | August 8, 2005
Waiting in the long lines of the natural food store Whole Foods, one is inclined to assume that more people are buying organic produce and meat. The reality is that 85 percent of our meat suppliers are not responsibly taking care of the meat. Why should they when what they are doing has kept prices lower and meats fatter? This is what the consumers want and this is what the suppliers will provide. And why should we demand anything different? Cheap is good and fat is tasty.
What is the Real Price for Fatter, Cheaper Meats?
Starting in the 1950s, farmers began eliminating pasture farming and started feeding their animals in feedlots. Animals were kept in confinement. This led to a whole new set of problems. This confinement and overcrowding also disturbs their social order. For instance, chickens need space to form their natural pecking order. If 80,000 of them are confined to one space, they end up frantically pecking each another, sometimes to death, forcing the farmers to de-beak them when managing overcrowded henhouses. The animals started getting ill because they were packed in so tightly that they became more prone to getting sick with major illnesses such as pneumonia. To prevent this from happening farmers add antibiotics to the feed.
Because antibiotics are being used, many strains of bacteria have become resistant. The resistance is so effective that they also become resistant to similar forms of antibiotics. Even if the animals are given different antibiotics than those that humans use, it is likely the bacteria will also become resistant to those. According to Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, "Scientists agree that putting antibiotics in animal feed contributes to the crisis of antibiotic-resistant infections in humans." The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that 70 percent of the United States antibiotics use is as a food additive to concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO). More then half of those antibiotics are the same as those used to treat human illness.
The New England Journal of Medicine reported in 2001 that resistant strains of salmonella are commonly found in ground meat being sold in supermarkets. One study took 200 packages of ground chicken, turkey, beef and pork off the shelves and found that 20 percent contained salmonella, 84 percent of which were resistant to at least one antibiotic, 53 percent resistant to at least three antibiotics and 16 percent were resistant to ceftriaxone, the drug of choice to treat salmonellosis in children.
I asked Denise Warren of Stone & Thistle Farm in East Meredith, New York (www.stoneandthistlefarm.com/), what happens to a sick animal that does require antibiotics on a farm that only sells antibiotic free animals? She told me that farmers who focus on prevention of illness rarely get sick animals. They allow their animals to graze outdoors all the time and rotate them through the pastures correctly. However, if for some reason they do need antibiotic treatment, they are kept in confinement for two weeks after the treatment and then auctioned off at the auction barn. However, because there are no regulations at the auction barn, many farmers give their sick animal the necessary antibiotics and then auction them off immediately to be slaughtered.
To be continued: the benefits of completely pasture-fed animals