Saturday, March 26, 2011

Factory Farming - Why It Is So Dangerous

Hog confinement barn interior, slatted floorImage via WikipediaBy Fiona Ostermayer

Factory farming is the most common method used in the United States today to raise animals for meat. Most meat found in United States supermarkets comes from factory farms, and most consumers are not only unaware of what is in that meat, but what it is costing all of us in terms of our health and safety to produce it.

In addition to the horrific atrocities perpetrated on the animals, factory farming causes massive contamination of soil and groundwater, is promoting the development of "super" drug-resistant bacteria, routinely endangers the well-being of its workers, and is creating at least half of all greenhouse gases.

When we hear the word "farm" we think of pastures, grazing animals, and a big red barn. The term factory farm is a bit of a misnomer therefore as only the first half of the term is accurate. The conditions in which the animals are raised bear no resemblance whatsoever to the idyllic vision we have of a family farm, but the abundance of concrete and steel are along the lines of what one would expect to see in a typical factory.

Most animals are penned closely together indoors for their entire lives, never seeing daylight. In these circumstances, the animals become ill, so they are fed huge doses of antibiotics. This causes new strains of bacteria to develop that are resistant to antibiotics - super bugs.

The animals are also fed growth hormones to speed their growth so that they can be slaughtered more quickly. Under normal circumstances it takes a calf over two years to reach full maturity. With growth hormones it takes half that time and the hormones and antibiotics that have been fed to the animals are then passed on to the consumer in the meat they buy. This is causing early physical maturity in children and lowering people's immune resistance.

In addition to growth hormones, the animals are fed a high-carbohydrate diet of genetically modified soy, corn, and other grains for the purpose of producing plumper and more tender meat. Because this is not the animals' natural diet, they experience difficulty with digestion and excrete excessive quantities of methane gas, which moves into the upper atmosphere adding to the greenhouse gases. It is currently estimated that almost 50% of greenhouse gas is methane.

The feces of grain-fed animals also contains high levels of e-coli, a deadly bacteria that contaminates soil and water run-off. The contamination can spread to fruit and vegetable crops, which we have already seen in the forced recalls of products like peanuts and spinach. If you ever hear about food products being recalled due to e-coli contamination, you can be sure there is a factory farm behind it.

As it happens, meat-processing is one of the most dangerous jobs one can do. Because of this, many meat processing plants are manned by illegal immigrants and workers who have no other options. These workers are exposed to toxins in the raw meat, and in the feces that runs from the intestines of the slaughtered animals.

So although the packages in the meat section of the supermarket look pristine and appealing, they are full of hormones, antibiotics and traces of excrement - not very appetizing. The good news is that more and more people are becoming aware of the dangers posed by factory farming and are choosing to patronize local farms in their communities or buy organic meat. Animals raised organically are treated more humanely and are not fed hormones or antibiotics. If you know of a farm in your area, particularly one that uses organic methods, you may want to think about paying a little bit extra for healthier food.

Fiona Ostermayer has been a vegan for almost 10 years. and is passionate about promoting and teaching healthy lifestyles, including vegan nutrition, raw food nutrition and the importance of eating locally and organically.

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