22 October 2010

Factory farmed animal protein a recipe for ecosystem & human health woes

In various global cultures, a meat and potatoes meal is synonymous with wholesome, stick-to-your-ribs nutrition and perhaps a very long time ago, there might have been some validity to that notion. The reality today, however, is that scientific intervention – including factory farming innovations, genetic modification, hormones and the excessive use of antibiotics – has rendered today’s mass-produced animal protein an alien caricature of its formerly nutritive, free-range self.

With increased wealth and easy access to a steady supply of cheap animal-based protein, today’s mainstream consumers have made mass-produced meat the sole focal point of their plates, with a bit of token greenery and starch thrown in for good measure. The enduring popularity of fast food is a perfect example, not to mention fad diets that revolve around high protein options. Once perceived as a sure fire way of ‘doing a body good’, protein-heavy eating has actually taken a toll on our population given soaring rates of hypertension, heart disease, high cholesterol and assorted types of cancer.

Critics have gone as far as to suggest that consumers play Russian Roulette with their health every time they consume mainstream meat. Factory-farmed animals are typically fattened up with recycled junk food among various other types of unsavory bits and pieces that their digestive systems are not designed to process. In a preemptive strike, creatures caught up in this entirely unnatural factory treadmill become unwitting druggies plied with copious amounts of antimicrobial medicines.

If we really are what we eat, then consumers who dine on factory-raised beef, pork, turkey, chicken and even fish are being exposed to far more than they bargained for, including:
  • Arsenic (via chicken feed and water)
  • Antibiotics such as streptogramins, tetracyclines and fluoroquinolones
  • Manufactured dioxin chemicals like Polychlorobiphenyls (PCBs)
  • Highly toxic molds that disrupt the endocrine system
  • Group A human carcinogens such as Roxarsone, a metal compound used to keep intestinal parasites in factory farmed animals at bay
  • The infectious proteins associated with Mad Cow Disease (called prions)
  • Pesticide bioaccumulation
  • Rendered animal by-products (including feathers, bones and excrement)
  • Antibiotic-resistant bacterial pathogens like Enterococcus and other types of notorious illness-causing varieties such as E. coli, Toxoplasma and Salmonella
An international grassroots organization called Friends of the Earth commissioned a recent University of Oxford study regarding the health implications of the typical meat-based diet. Focusing specifically on factory farming and excessive processing, they determined that the health care system could save well over a billion dollars – along with the lives of roughly 45,000 UK citizens – if people streamlined their meat consumption to just three modest-sized servings each week. In addition to this dietary adjustment benefitting the environment, it is estimated that deaths from heart disease could be reduced by 31,000 annually along with 5,000 fewer strokes and 9,000 fewer cancer deaths.

This isn't a terribly shocking revelation...it just confirms what so many other studies echo. Our society may be advanced on multiple levels, but the advent of factory farming – while enabling a far larger segment of the population to consume affordable animal-based protein – has truly left a legacy of wreckage in its wake, and our health isn't the only casualty. From deforestation and the production of excessive carbon emissions to widespread ecosystem pollution, the proliferation of GM crop cultivation and a consistent lack of humane animal treatment, modern day agriculture is nothing like what Mother Nature intended. It seems incredibly wise to go heavy on the organic veg.

Elizah Leigh | @elizahleigh
A dedicated green journalist and currently commissioned to write a comprehensive reference book on vegetarianism, Elizah Leigh hopes to inspire people through her words. Follow Elizah on Facebook.

Photo credit: cc: flickr.com/photos/st3f4n