Sustainable Sustenance

If ten Americans were asked what they ate for their last meal, they would all respond “food”. Out of those ten, only four would be completely correct. The remaining six could tack on genetically modified organisms, antibiotics, herbicides and corn. The American food industry creates a toxic living atmosphere by encouraging a consumerist society that entices us to devour disease-triggering substances, a culture that believes waste simply disappears and an economy that focuses on and federally funds major food producing corporations.
“The way we farm is destructive of the soil, the environment and us,” says Doug Gurian-Sherman, a senior scientist with the food and environment program at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). At a time when the nation is debating over a health-care reform, obesity adds $147 billion a year to doctor bills among heart disease, diabetes and cancer. What is one the causes that are affecting two-thirds of our society with obesity? It is more fiscal to purchase 1,200 calories of potato chips or 875 calories of soda than it is to buy 250 calories of vegetable or 170 calories of fresh fruit. Farmers are producing 500 more calories per person each day compared to 1970- but many of those calories are unhealthy. For the average American it simply cost too much to be healthy. What is considered convenient and frugal is grabbing a burger at a local fast-food restaurant.
Concentrated-animal feeding operations (CAFO’s) can contain 1000-100,000 cattle and tens of thousands of poultry or swine. The animals are caged in compact conditions, pumped with antibiotics (not because they are ill but to prevent disease), bulked-up with growth hormones and fattened fast with specified diets of corn for slaughtering to meet the demands for meat, mainly dominated by the fast-food market. Currently, the beef industry is composed of thirteen large (conventional) slaughterhouses that supply 300 million Americans compared to the thousands of small, locally distributing slaughterhouses of 1970. Research claims calls for meat and poultry worldwide are set to rise 25% by 2015 indicating also the rise in consumption of heavily processed meat. The problem is deeper than the amount of saturated fat found in meat; it also is the toxic chemicals, heavy metals and environmental pollutants that are found inside those fat molecules because of the processing. The contamination starts in the feedlot.
A 1,000-head feedlot produces 280 tons of manure a week. Millions of gallons of waste are disposed in open-air lagoons ranging up to 20 acres and as deep as fifteen feet. In 1991, runoff diseased and killed one billion fish in North Carolina where people bulldozed to bury the fish. These pools also emit various dangerous gases, including hydrogen sulfide and ammonia. Considerable concentrations of hydrogen sulfide can be lethal, and even in small amounts, inhaled over a long period of time, can cause many health problems such as frequent headaches, nausea, asthma, shortness of breath and dizziness. Some studies suggest that breathing air polluted with hydrogen sulfide can cause permanent damage to the nervous system.
Cattle living amid feedlots become prone to various different illnesses. E. coli is a large issue because the cows live and eat in ample puddles of manure. E. coli can also survive up to 90 days in these feedlots. The germs from infected cattle are spread through the processing route, and at the slaughterhouse, the hide and the digestive system must be removed. If the hide has not been cleaned well, portions of dirt and fecal matter may fall onto the meat. If the digestive system is not pulled out carefully, its contents may spill which in turn would penetrate the meat. Production line speeds do not make these tasks any easier or cleaner. After the meat has been grinded, a single hamburger can contain the meat from hundreds or even thousands of cattle. One quarter of those cattle are aged dairy cattle that are most likely to be diseased whereas three-quarters of cattle are slaughtered at the age of four- 30 years earlier than their average life expectancy.
In order to shorten the length of time between birth and slaughter, beef cows are fed diets high in fat composed mostly of corn. Corn is the king on the American farm. If a person eats a burger, chicken nuggets or a soda, they are consuming corn grown from vast monocrop fields. This crop is also heavily fertilized, both with chemicals such as nitrogen and subsidies from Washington. Over the past decade, the Federal Government poured more than $50 billion dollars into the corn industry. As Gurian-Sherman (UCS) states, “Taxpayer subsidies basically underwrite cheap grain, and that’s what the factory-farming system for meat is entirely dependent on.”
Chemical fertilizer has not only provided 23 million tons of nutrients for crops, it has also contributed to a dead zone area of the Gulf of Mexico. This approximately 6,000 square mile zone has almost no oxygen and therefore nearly no sea life. The $2.8 billion Gulf of Mexico fishing industry greatly suffers by losing 212,000 metric tons of seafood a year. Around the world, virtually 400 other zones are also destroying the leanest and healthiest source of protein.
Mega corporations, such as Monsanto are taking advantage of the crop race. They pride themselves on the use biotechnology announcing “Biotechnology has enabled scientists to develop a new generation of beneficial agricultural crops…that increase value for farmers, processors and consumers.” In opposition to Monsanto’s reign, farmers face lawsuits for saving their seeds from year to year as well as regular price increases- the cost of seeds went up 50 percent last year alone. Farmers can’t go back to non-GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) seeds because Roundup (a prized product of Monsanto) kills the healthy microbes in soil. Monsanto aggressively controls their patents and products, but if by 2014 Roundup Ready 2 becomes industry standard, they will preempt any genetic competition.
Over the past several years, organic farming has drastically increased. Organic farmers do not use GMO’s or harmful chemicals. Instead they greatly esteem their animals, their environment and their customers. Bon Appétit, a sustainable food caterer, purchases locally and organically. Because they caterer to various institutions, such as universities, they are positively impacting and encouraging other corporate food caterers to follow their lead. By signing petitions, commonplace people who have informed themselves of the harmful food industry are encouraging the FDA to be stricter on food and farm regulations. In order for America to scale up a healthy environment and economy, the nation must first scale down by voting with their money to support local and organic food.
The majority of Americans consume products from an industry, not a farmer. Americans who choose to support local and/or organic farmers are not only revolting against aggressive food corporations; they are promoting solutions to abolish heavily polluting chemicals and widespread illnesses.





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