Season’s Bounty Not Getting to the Heart of the Problem

December 6, 2009

By Rebecca Ballard

The other week, David Abel covered the Thanksgiving rush at a local bakery in his article From Verrill Farm ovens, bounty of season’s delights. It was a cute story (and somewhat uplifting, too, which is a nice break from normal news coverage), and it definitely made me want pie, but it didn’t hit issues it could have.

For instance, on the topic of the Thanksgiving holiday I would have liked to see something about the celebrated consumption of turkey. Very little coverage is given to factory farming these days (as if it ever has been) which is unfortunate because in that aspect I think the media is not doing it’s job–spreading awareness about a dangerous issue to the public. Animal rights aside, factory farming presents a huge health risk. Because the animals are kept in such cramped, crowded, and filthy conditions conducive to disease, they have to be consistently and constantly medicated.

According to American Medical News, in 1999 the United States was producing fifty million pounds of antibiotics annually. Of that, “twenty million pounds are given to animals, of which 80% (16 million pounds) is used on livestock merely to promote more rapid growth. The remaining 20% is used to help control the multitude of diseases that occur under such tightly confined conditions, including anemia, influenza, intestinal diseases, mastitis, metritis, orthostasis, and pneumonia.”

When diseases are repeatedly and unnecessarily exposed to antibiotics, they become resistant and the antibiotics cease to be effective. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases reported the same year that “the Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Sciences has estimated the annual cost of treating antibiotic-resistant infections in the U.S. at $30 billion.”

For instance, this can be seen with outbreaks of E.coli. The pH of a cows stomach is neutral–when they graze on their natural diet of grass. However, today to increase how fast a cow grows while decreasing the amount of space they need, cows are raised in cramped dirt feed lots and fed primarily corn (this is also cheap as corn is subsidized by the U.S. government).

Because corn is not natural for cows to eat in mass quantities, their stomach becomes acidic (on a side note, the cows then develop stomach ulcers for which they must be treated with antibiotics). E.coli was origionally only able to survive in neutral stomachs–however, as cows began to consistently have acidic stomachs, E.coli adapted. Thus, the acidic human stomach no longer killed the bacteria and instead we became sickened from eating meat contaminated with it.

While I understand a cow is far from a turkey, the issues created by factory farming on a whole are huge and interconnected–and here with this, I’ve just begun to scrape the surface of one facet (health risk) of the issue (there’s the massive amount of environmental damage, the abuse of factory farm workers, the inhumane treatment of animals such as toe removal and debeaking without anesthesia, the fact that the animals grow so fat so fast their bodies break under them and they can’t walk on their own, etc).

I am also aware that an article about pies being baked is perhaps more appealing to the general public. I just feel that Thanksgiving would have been a good opportunity to raise awareness about factory farming through turkeys and that the mainstream news outlets, or at least the Globe, missed it.

If the animal cruelty side of the state of farming today peaks your interest, I’ve assembled media below that will provide some insight.

Below are just a few images that I have gathered of factory farming conditions (feel free to simply google image “factory farming” or to google that with a certain species to learn more about how your food is raised.

This is an undercover video taken on a dairy farm. While this particular one supplied to Land O’ Lakes, the practices seen in it are absolutely common (again, simply search the internet for plenty more). Just a warning that the below is graphic:

Back to turkeys, the following is an undercover video taken at a hatchery:

Curious what happens when those chicks grow up? An undercover video filmed on one of the World’s largest turkey farms:

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