Eating as an Environmental Act: Part II – The High Cost of Industrial Animal Food Production Hot

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This article part 2 of a 3 part series. See part 1

Last time we discussed how the way we eat represents our most profound engagement with the natural world. I discussed how the “food system” consists of everything required to produce, process, move, sell and consume food. The things used to grow food include land, fertilizers, pesticides, seeds and water – and our current industrial food growing system – has resulted in pollution and animal waste. In addition, excessive amounts of energy and fossil fuels are used to process, package, advertise and transport this food.

In this installment we take into consideration how in 2008 Americans spent, on average, less than 10% of their disposable income on food – that’s only half of what we spent on food in the early 1960s. That’s a direct effect of our continuing quest to spend less for more. As we learned in Part I, our demand for, out-of-season foods comes with a huge cost – both nutritional and environmental – because of our insatiable demand for cheap food. Our insistence for cut-rate food is so huge that it has betrayed us.

the food industry has created a diabolically efficient way to “grow” cheap meat

For example, to satisfy this desire, the food industry has created a diabolically efficient way to “grow” cheap meat. Concentrated area feeding operations, or CAFOs, house thousands of animals (cattle, dairy, hogs and chickens) in pens or cages with as little space as possible. This is done to keep animals from burning calories so they can gain more valuable weight.

Another problem with this system arises from the food source used as feed. Remember this is only an example of the reality that cuts across all types of animal farming. We have to ask ourselves: What is my food eating? For confined cows, it’s grain.

From The National Fork: “The digestive systems of ruminants are not designed to process large amounts of grain, and the grain-based diet causes abnormal changes in the acidity of one of the animal’s stomachs, called the rumin. This abnormal acidity allows for the proliferation of harmful bacteria like E. coli in the animal’s digestive system, and during the butchering process this harmful bacteria often finds its way into the meat.”

more than 80% of antibiotics used in this country are sold to CAFOs

This is why more than 80% of antibiotics (used prophylactically) in this country are sold to CAFOs. The overuse of antibiotics is causing growth of antibiotic resistant bacteria strains. The animals are fed a steady diet of hormones and antibiotics and grains. Meat produced like this requires an intense amount of energy…more than 40 calories of energy to produce 1 calorie of grain-fed beef (more on this in the next issue).

The following map illustrates where the CAFOs are located around the country – the darker areas represent concentrations of these farms. Americans eat 8.7 billion broiler chickens per year, 100 million hogs and 100 million cattle per year. CAFOs is where that food comes from, unless you buy grass fed beef and sustainably grown foods (more on this on the next issue).

CAFO Map USA

But the damage doesn’t stop there. It is currently estimated that 173,000 miles of national waterways are impacted by runoff from the CAFOs. Confined animal farming is also responsible for 55% of soil and sediment erosion across the country, 37% of nationwide pesticide usage, and for more than 30% of the total nitrogen and phosphorus that ends up in our national drinking water because of this reckless activity. In no time in our past have we faced such detriment to our way of life. It is yours and my duty to stop this thoughtless behavior. Tune in next week when I will present possible solutions.

Read Part III - So What Do We Eat?

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