Tales From The Factory Farm

That’s the new Category I am creating for this blog, because (and this is good) I am seeing an increasing number of debates and analyses of the way in which we have industrialized food production, both to the detriment of the animals and our health. Here are two good examples:

1) Pink Slime: we’ve all been hearing about it, and you are probably disgusted by it (here’s an explanation of what it is). But Mark Bittman lately has been riffing alot on it, and has done a very nice job of pointing out that as odious as the idea of Pink Slime might be, it is a logical consequence of the industrialization of meat production:

But pink slime, as Grist writer Tom Laskaway says, is the tip of the iceberg; it’s a symptom, not a disease. Remember why it was originally created — to eliminate bacteria found in ground meat. The fact that pink slime was a “solution” might lead you to ask: What’s the problem?

The answer lies in the industrial production of livestock on a scale that’s far too large to sustain without significant collateral damage. E. coli, found in the digestive tracts of cattle, is common on factory farms where cattle are fed only grain. (Their stomachs are meant to digest grass.) The incomprehensible quantity of manure produced by these cattle — also often containing E. coli — is deposited on the land, sometimes seeping into the water supply; that’s how you wind up with E. coli in vegetables. To make matters worse, “healthy” farm animals are routinely fed so many antibiotics that E. coli, salmonella and other pathogens are developing resistance to commonly prescribed drugs.

Exactly. Defenders of Pink Slime have been saying that if it is eliminated something like 1.5 million more cows a year will have to be slaughtered to make up for the loss of Pink Slime content in ground beef. So the choice they pose is: eat Pink Slime or kill a million more cows. That’s not a very appealing choice. So here’s the solution: go vegetarian, or stop eating factory-farmed beef. Simple. Yes, humanely-treated, grass-fed beef will cost you more per pound. But if you eat a lot less beef you will be healthier, and the planet will be healthier.

Here’s more from Bittman, in video form.


Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

And, even more, here. Consider yourself fully slimed.

2) Eggs. Eggs are delicious (sorry vegans) and healthy, and it should be perfectly possible to raise and keep hens that are happy to produce them. Except consumers apparently care more about saving a few cents than treating hens humanely. Perhaps that is because they simply have no idea of the depraved and inhumane way in which hens are treated by the factory farmers. Nick Kristof, who grew up on a farm, is trying to rectify that, recently writing about the obscene conditions of one of America’s largest egg producers. As usual, read the whole thing, but here is a key portion:

Mice sometimes ran down egg conveyer belts, barns were thick with flies and manure in three barns tested positive for salmonella, he said. (Actually, salmonella isn’t as rare as you might think, turning up in 3 percent of egg factory farms tested by the Food and Drug Administration last year.)

In some cases, 11 hens were jammed into a cage about 2 feet by 2 feet. The Humane Society says that that is even more cramped than the egg industry’s own voluntary standards — which have been widely criticized as inadequate.

An automatic feeding cart that runs between the cages sometimes decapitates hens as they’re eating, the investigator said. Corpses are pulled out if they’re easy to see, but sometimes remain for weeks in the cages, piling up until they have rotted into the wiring, he added.

Other hens have their heads stuck in the wire and are usually left to die, the investigator said.

Is that how you’d like your breakfast egg to be produced? I didn’t think so. What can you do? Again, simple. By eggs that are certified humane.

Yes, they will cost a bit more. But there are two unavoidable questions central to feeding yourself and your family: 1) Are you willing to pay anything at all to insure humane treatment of the animals feeding you?; and 2) Whether you are or not (hopefully you are), are you willing to pay anything all for a food production system that causes less sickness and environmental damage?

The answers seem pretty obvious to me.

Antibiotics And Animals

This could be significant: a federal court has ordered the FDA to follow-through on a 35-year old proposal to stop pumping farm animals full of antibiotics:

A federal court on Thursday ordered the FDA to follow through on a 35-year-old proposal that would have banned the use of certain antibiotics in animal feed because the agency was concerned that these drugs were overused in livestock and helped develop drug-resistant bacteria that can infect people.

The concern is that some antibiotics given to treat illnesses in people are widely used on animals to promote disease prevention and weight gain, as well as compensate for crowded conditions on ranches and farms. The prevalence of those antibiotics in livestock has been linked in several studies to the creation of drug-resistant “superbugs” that can spread to humans who work with or eat the animals.

Excessive antibiotic use to prevent disease in factory farm animals is not only a major threat to human health, it also allows industrial farming operations to crowd large numbers of animals together. Restricting antibiotic use could (this is just the first step toward a ban and agribusiness has a lot of lobbying power) push industrial farms to do more to avoid crowding and conditions that lead to diseased animals, because diseased animals hurt the bottom line.

Put aside the fact that a potential ban is being motivated mainly by concerns over human health, not animal welfare (a reminder of the self-interested way in which humans view the world and its animals). This would be a step in the right direction for animal welfare, as long as it led to some changes in industrial farming practices, or even made such practices less feasible.

Bike More = Live Longer

This guy has it figured out.

Since we are on the subject of health, I can’t resist adding that my health care reinvention would include a lot more cycling. Because a new study reconfirms the blindingly obvious: biking reduces obesity and cardiac disease (along with pollution), and saves money:

A study published in the scientific journalEnvironmental Health Perspectives shows that swapping your car for short trips and replacing them with mass transit and active transport provides major health benefits. The study will be presented to the American Public Health Association in Washington, D.C. $3.8 billion per year are saved in avoided mortality and reduced health care costs for obesity and heart disease by replacing half of the short journeys with bicycle trips during the warmest six months of the year.

The researchers calculated that an estimated $7 billion including 1,100 lives from improved air quality and increased physical fitness can be saved each year by applying these measures.

But would cycling a lot more be too “European,” too?

Dept. Of Biking Can Save The World

Ordinary bicycle, Skoda Museum, Mlada Boleslav...
Image via Wikipedia

I know, I know. It can’t really “save” the world. But it has so much upside it deserves some hype.

This week the National Bike Summit is convening here in DC. And if there is one takeaway it is that biking is a supremely cost-effective investment.

In a town where almost nothing gets decided in a rational manner that focuses on costs and benefits (and instead gets hijacked by ideology, special interest money and cable madness), it’s always important to hammer away at this point. And the League Of American Bicyclists is doing exactly that, highlighting lots of research on how biking pays off big-time.

Here’s a one-stop sampling of the analysis (with links) that any bike advocate can use to blow away any bike-haters that get in his or her face:

In 2009, we released a literature review of the best research into the economic impacts of investing in bicycling infrastructure. Since then there have been several good additions.

Let’s review:

Between 1995 and 2010, the Portland region spent $4.2 billion on roadway improvements and $153 million on all active
transportation improvements.
Since 1990, the City of Portland saw an increase of 14,912 in daily bicycle commute trips and 37,006 in daily auto trips.
The cost of a new auto trip in Portland was approximately 22 times the cost of a new bicycle commute trip

Cost-effective: Between 1995 and 2010, the Portland region spent $4.2 billion on roadway improvements and $153 million on all active transportation improvements. Since 1990, the City of Portland saw an increase of 14,912 in daily bicycle commute trips and 37,006 in daily auto trips. The cost of a new auto trip in Portland was approximately 22 times the cost of a new bicycle commute trip.

Another new Portland study, by Thomas Gotschi, found that:

By 2040, investments in the range of $138 to $605 million will result in health care cost savings of $388 to $594 million, fuel savings of $143 to $218 million, and savings in value of statistical lives of $7 to $12 billion. The benefit-cost ratios for health care and fuel savings are between 3.8 and 1.2 to 1, and an order of magnitude larger when value of statistical lives is used.

Job creating: A Baltimore study shows that for each $1 million spent, striping bike lanes and signing bike routes creates twice as many jobs as repaving and repairing roads, thank to a favorable labor to materials ratio.

Economy supporting: Bicycle tourism brings in a $1 billion to the Wisconsin economy, in addition to the $556 million from manufacturing, distribution, and retail.

…and then there’s the Green Dividends of…

New York City


San Diego

and Portland.

So dig in and go wild. And keep on riding.

Here’s Rep. Earl Blumenauer, founder of the Congressional Bike Caucus, doing his bit:
Vodpod videos no longer available.


Not to encourage you to become a bike bore, but here are 5 slides to get you started (from the National Bike Summit program).

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