Wednesday, April 25, 2007

only in pet food? hogwash!

Technically I'm a Pescetian, a person who doesn't eat meat from birds or mammals but does, on occasion, eat fish. When people learn that I don't eat three staples of an average American diet, chicken, beef and pork, they ask why. The truth is that there are several reasons.

I don't have a moral objection to trading respect for flesh but I do think the industrial meat cartels in this country treat animals horribly. This is evident by the change in terms regarding what they do. No longer do they raise animals, they grow meat or produce it, as if it doesn't come from living, breathing animals. I don't see it as morally wrong to eat meat but one of the reasons I don't do it is because modern meat "production in America is insanely inhumane and speaks directly to our disconnect from the real biological world. Perhaps if this system stops chopping off the beaks of chicks, hosting animals in incredibly unnatural conditions and spreading avian flu and I might rejoin the masses.

Another reason I don’t eat most meat is because of how incredibly wasteful most modern meat production has become. The grain needed to produce one feedlot steak dinner could feed seven vegetarians. 10% of Americans (30 million people) don’t have enough to eat each day. 24,000 people die world wide each day from starvation and starvation related illnesses. And yet we devote more than 70% of our corn and grain in this country to the production to feeding animals. It takes more than 400 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef under feedlot conditions. Some estimates that include water used for things like washing slaughtered beef blood down the drain are much higher. Animals raised in the U.S. produce more than 100 times the excrement of the entire population of humans on Earth. Much of it is not used as fertilizer but washed into our rivers and lakes. Producing one hamburger patty is equivalent, in fossil fuel use, to driving a small car 20 miles. And who could forget the tens of millions of acres of tropical rainforest that have been cleared so Ronald can sell you that burger cheap. Do not misunderstand me. Animals have their place in our lives and on our farms. And there are parts of our landscape that can’t not be farmed. Grazing animals here seems like a sensible way to utilize their ability to eat grass so that we can then acquire energy by eating them. But we ignore the wasteful and environmentally irresponsible way in which modern, industrial meat is produced at a price to our nation and our children.

You’d think that the unethical treatment of animals or the incredibly wasteful nature of industrial meat production might be reason enough to stop eating such meat. The main reason I don't do it however is because it's unhealthy. Of course it’s not unhealthy to eat some reasonable amounts of meat raised which are processed in a health manner, but eating meat from your standard grocery store is downright dangerous. Normally these meats contain all sorts of extras like growth hormones used to produce bigger animals faster. Antibiotics are pumped into them because unhealthy animals abound in the unnatural conditions in which they are raised. In addition to hormones and antibiotics anyone eating industrial meat is also probably eating sodium nitrate among other preservative. In the digestive tract it reacts with proteins to create N-nitrosamines. There are studies that link this chemical to cancer. The National Academy of Science is on record as saying we should all limit our exposure to nitrates as much as possible. But then again, they're just scientists. A forth addition to any diet that contains industrial meat is the pesticides used on grain crops fed to the animals. The National Residue Program conducted by the Food Safety and Inspection Service testing suggests that only between 1% and 6% of the time do people eating meat consume "volatile substances". That sounds safe. And then there's the processing of the meat which has nifty components like allowable fecal content and occasionally irradiation. With all of that going on it was an easy decision for me. I gave up most types of meat several years ago and while I might return to eating it one day, I will never again eat industrial meat; just like I will never try Russian roulette.

Really though this is just a long winded way for me to point out a new and interesting twist to the pet food containment story of late. Do you think the chemical that has been killing animals all over the country didn't make it into the human food stream as claimed by the government and food corporations? Do you want to bet on that?

Salvaged pet food contaminated with an industrial chemical was sent to hog farms in as many as six states, federal health officials said Tuesday. It was not immediately clear if any hogs that ate the tainted feed then entered the food supply for humans.

Hogs at a farm in California ate the contaminated products, according to the Food Safety and Inspection Service. Officials were trying to determine whether hogs in New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah and Ohio also may have eaten the tainted food, the FSIS said. Hogs at some of the farms — it wasn’t immediately clear which — have been quarantined. link

Yup, it turns out meat from my very own state has been contaminated. Of course it’s been quarantined. I'm sure none of it will make its way into your grocery store because regulatory agencies catch 100% of these types of problems. Tell that to the guy who was killed last year when he ate spinach infected with E. coli or the hundreds of people who got sick after eating ConAgra peanut butter infected with Salmonella. And these are non-meat products. Raw flesh has a much higher potential to support dangerous bacterial and viral diseases.

This latest food problem however stems from a chemical, melamine, found in imported Chinese vegetable proteins.

The FDA also said it planned to begin testing a wide variety of vegetable proteins at firms that imported the ingredients to make everything from pizza dough to infant formula, and protein shakes to energy bars. The ingredient list includes wheat gluten, corn gluten, corn meal, soy protein and rice bran.

My guess is this stuff is going to start showing up everywhere. It’s a cheap way to get protein products to test higher in levels of protein. In other words it’s a way for food cartels to make more money by cheapening our food. Really though I see it as a symptom of a much larger problem; our growing disconnect from the food we eat and the farmers who raise it and the soil and the water and the other natural systems that support our lives. We can shut our eyes and eat McChicken sandwiches, we can gamble and bite down on plastic wrapped spinach and we can pray to God that our infants aren’t drinking contaminated formula. Or we could make change.

Politicians, Democrats and Republicans are falling all over themselves to suggest bailing out farmers who lost their crops to unseasonably cold weather this spring. What strikes me a silly is that none of them are linking these two problems. On one hand you have farmers in trouble because they grow only a small number of different sorts of crops and on the other you have an increasingly dysfunctional food processing system that is making people sick. The answer seems to be a relocalization of food and a diversification of local farmers. I love farmers and I feel for those affected by the Easter freeze, but continuing to subsidize monoculture while we turn over more of our nutritional sovereignty to companies who make us sick is foolish and dangerous. Farmers need more than a bailout check. They need rational policies that support their ability to feed people healthy food locally. They need a way to stay small and compete with food corporations that have hijacked our nation’s food supply. Throwing only money at them is an insult and it will only lead to more sick people and more farmers devastated by an increasingly volatile climate.

The recent revelation of yet another contamination of human food is just one item on a long list of the reasons my family is growing more of our own food and buying more of what we don’t raise from people we know. This change isn’t happening instantaneously but over time we’re relearning how to eat (and cook). It would be nice to see some politician publicize this type of thinking. Unlike ConAgra however, I can not afford to buy one. So for now I’ll share my experieasdfopes that it inspires others and we’ll all get to watch as AgriBizCorp sickens more Americans as it slowly crumbles under the weight of resource depletion, energy descent and the degradation of our soils and water.

Want real food? Local Harvest

Update 5.7.2007: The government says melamine levels in the hogs and chickens recently contaminated won't hurt humans who consume them, so the meat will most likely be processed into the human food system. Apparently a few weeks of study concerning an industrial chemical used to make plastics is plenty in order to deem it safe for us to eat. Of course the U.S. government is also setting a horrible precedent. They're basically telling China, "Put it in the food you export to us, no problem. We'll feed it to Mikey, he'll eat anything!"


GreenChick said...

I think it is interesting that we aren't even feeding out pets what they were made to eat. The average American pet's diet is no where close to what it these animals eat in the wild. I recently wrote a post about all-natural cat and dog food. I thought you pet lovers out their might be interested. Most generic pet foods on the market are primarily carbohydrates but cats and dogs are carnivores. You can read more at:

Just make sure to stick to organic, free-range meat. Get it from your local farmer.

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