December 28, 2006

Year 2006: The State of Our Food

Americans have long believed as modern people we enjoy the fruits of technology our ingenuity has created. Yet, it seems that the fruits of technology don't necessarily mean that we live better than our ancestors. And nowhere is this more evident than when looking at how we eat today compared to 100 or even 50 years ago.

Today, Americans are surrounded by food: food that is easy to find, cheap and ubiquitous. In many ways we are being swamped by a surfeit of food. And today we are being literally buried by the toxics, pesticides, and deadly bacteria that is seeping into our food stock from the way we grow, harvest and process our food.

This week, Alternative Radio broadcast a speech featuring Eric Stossler, the author of Fast Food Nation. During that speech he talked about how our meat products were becoming increasingly deadly because of the way we raised and slaughtered animals. He noted that hundreds of thousands of people get sick every year with salmonella and that there was a growing problem with deadly E coli in our meat supply because the bacteria that causes E coli is found in the fecal matter of our farm animals and the way meat is processed after they are slaughtered can spread the fecal matter through the meat and into our kitchens.

Eric warned that food borne illness is likely to get worse because of the way we grow and process our food. Animals are grown in tiny cages almost on top of one another. This enforced crowding causes the illnesses from one animal to be passed easily to another so the factory farms use lots of antibiotics to keep the animals from getting sick. Then the slaughter houses slaughter numerous animals and mix together the meat from many animals together. The problem is evident in considering that when one eats a hamburger in a fast food restaurant or buys hamburger from the grocery, one plays Russian roulette because over one thousand cows could contribute to the pound of hamburger you have and anyone of those cows could have carried the deadly E coli bacteria. Stossler was worried that our food supply was being severely contaminated by the meat processing practices carried out by the large meat packing plants.

Listening to this program, I could tell it had been broadcast a few years before, because his worry about E coli only concerned our meat supply. After all, this year we found that the deadly E coli bacteria is no longer only a problem for our meat supply, but also a problem in our fresh vegetables as well. One of the bigger stories of the year for food was the deaths from E coli that resulted when people ate pre-cut packaged fresh whole leaf spinach contaminated by the water used to irrigate the fields.

Now we know that the bad habits of the factory farms and factory meatpacking plants is no longer only a concern of the carnivores in our midst. Even vegetarians (even if they eat strictly organic food or not) are being affected by dysfunctional agricultural practices.

Eric Stossler focused mostly on the beef industry, but things are mighty bad on the hog growing side as well. This month, Rolling Stone Magazine had an article that laid out the problems surrounding America's hog farms. Hogs produce three times the fecal waste as humans, yet hog farms are not required to provide sewage treatment for hog waste. What normally happens is the hog waste is stored in huge ponds known as lagoons. At certain times the liquid from the lagoons is sprayed on the fields creating a toxic (bacterial laden) manure. Often the lagoons leak or overflow poisoning the groundwater and the streams. Now we have dead zones in the rivers and oceans that are downstream from factory farms.

Even worse, the practices of using large amounts of antibiotics to prevent illnesses from running through the crowded animals has created drug-resistant bacteria that now plagues us. One dirty little secret is that if factory farms were following any standards for sewage disposal and humane treatment (for both the animals and the humans that work with the animals), they would be unable to make a profit at all. What they've done is maximize their profits by creating little hellholes on earth which spawn nasty diseases for the animials and for us while polluting the environment and then they expect us to clean up their mess or live in their crap.

We need to make it clear to our representatives that we expect and demand better farming practices - one that puts human needs before the profits of the corporate farms. One way to help is to share this film clip called the Meatrix with your friends and family and your representatives. We must take our food back from the hands of the factory farms.

Posted by Mary at December 28, 2006 10:40 PM | Food | Technorati links |

Actually, Vegetarian Times commented this month on the "veggie scare" of a couple months ago. Turns out the FDA way overreacted. Of the 73,000 cases of e. coli last year, only 199 cases were due to spinach--yet all the spinach was taken off the shelves for weeks.

How many pounds of beef were removed, despite the much higher incidence of e. coli found in beef?

Also, the gov't cannot legally recall meat, even when they know it's unsafe. It's strictly voluntary on the part of the meat producers. Scary, huh?

Posted by: KathyF at December 31, 2006 11:16 AM

KathyF - yes it is definitely scary. And it makes me wonder what it would take to have our Congress decide to write rules governing meat suppliers. Now that I think of it, it would be pretty remarkable if our government actually worked for us rather than the fat cats.

Posted by: Mary at December 31, 2006 11:52 PM