There are a few reasons why meat from large factory line food industries must be avoided. First, large corporations destroy the way of life for the rural farming communities, by running small family farming businesses into the ground because they can afford to sell meat at a lower price. Second, the meat that they do provide is associated with many health problems. Third, the industrial farming method is energy intensive and contributes in a large way to the contamination and pollution of our environment in ways that organic and natural farming does not. Fourth, employees suffer health risks because of the factory system and the fumes, usually are underpaid and do not have benefits. Fifth, the animals themselves are treated in very unethical ways.
Monica Potts, author of an article titled ‘The Serfs of Arkansas: : Immigrant Farmers are Flocking to the Poultry Industry—Only to Become 21st -Century Share Croppers for Companies Like Tyson’ argues that the industrialization of farming is causing large scale disruption to farmers and is in effect enslaving farmers “on their own lands”.
Potts claims that there are many families who have been duped into contracts similar to this or worse. The big “Agriprocessing [SIC] companies”, having contracted with the farmers, “dictate” terms and conditions often at the threat of “terminating the contracts” to make changes to the hen houses. These changes are financed by the farmers themselves and often drive them into debt. Since it is impractical to transport the chicken long distances to other food processor companies, farmers are usually confronted with a single regional food processor and thus helplessly have to obey (23+).
However, Chicken growers are not the only ones in this plight. Potts mentions that hog growers also had to shift to a similar contract system, so as to stay in business as did the cattlemen. This system is not beneficial to the farmers as they had a higher median income before the arrival of these corporations since the time of Ronald Reagan’s less government policies (23+).
The plight of the individual farmers at the hands of the corporations should be a contributing factor in forcing people to rethink where they buy their meat from. It is the companies that are sapping away the freedoms of the farmers.
In an article titled ‘How Sustainable Agriculture can Address the Environmental and Human Health Harms of Industrial Agriculture’, the authors, Leo Horrigan, Robert S Lawrence and Polly Walker explain how unsustainable farming methods contribute to major environmental and human health problems. The authors note that the “diet” the “livestock” used to eat has been altered. Animals that used to eat grass diets now eat more grain based diets (445). With regards to this the authors say:
The grain raised to supply feedlots (cattle) and factory farms (chicken, hogs, veal calves) is grown in intense monocultures that stretch over thousands of acres, leading to more chemical use and exacerbating attendant problems (e.g.,[SIC] pesticide resistance in insects and pollution of surface waters and aquifers by herbicides and insecticides (445).
The water is also being used up at a high rate along with soil erosion. This causes “desertification” on the long run (Horrigan, Lawrence and Walker 445,447). Another problem that emerges is the animals’ fecal waste that is usually too much to fertilize nearby fields and as such it is stored in “open air pits”, these pits often seep into water sources and the fumes from the pits also cause health problems for employees and neighboring residents (Horrigan, Lawrence and Walker 451).
A major human health concern that the authors, Horrigan, Lawrence and Walker also mention is that due to the increase in “growth promoting antibiotics in animal agriculture”, there is an “increase in antibiotic resistance in humans” (445). The problem of “food borne pathogens” also is amplified in the industrial food system (451). The reason this happens is because of “crowded conditions in factory farms”. Due to the overcrowding, and the “high speed automated methods of slaughtering and processing” the risk of contamination is higher (451).
It was also mentioned in the same article that “the US centers for disease control and prevention (CDC) have estimated that food borne diseases cause 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5000 deaths in the united States each year” (451). “75% of the 1,800” deaths caused by “known pathogens” are “blamed on Salmonella, Listeria, and Toxoplasma” which are “transmitted through meat” (451). Yet another disease that became epidemic “in cattle” was the “bovine spongiform encephalopathy” caused by feeding cattle a diet that was “prepared from the dead carcasses of other ruminants” (451). This caused a “neurological degenerative disease” to appear in humans who had consumed that meat from cattle which were infected (451).
Another problem with industrialized factory farming is essentially an ethical issue pertaining to the abuse of animals awaiting slaughter. Overcrowding of animals in a small space, make these animals very “aggressive”. The author mentions that there were instances when chickens become so aggravated by the overcrowding that they would fight and often “eat each other”. This had led to the industrial process of “painful de-beaking”. Other animals also display similar tendencies and have been dealt with in similar fashion. Calves are held in tight compartments to prevent mobility so as to ensure that they do not “develop muscles” causing the meat to be “tender”. They are also kept in “darkness and isolation most of their lives” to make them “anemic” so that the “flesh develops the pale color prized in the market” (Horrigan, Lawrence and Walker 449).
In an article by Chuck Jolley, ‘Meat Safety Under the Microscope’, the author explains that although many meat suppliers label their meat “all natural”, it is not necessarily so. The label ‘all natural’ has many loopholes in it and what major meat processor corporations mean is that the meat is “minimally processed with no growth hormones or antibiotics”. However, it does not mean that the animals have a natural diet. Unnatural diets can still cause “Mad Cow Disease” and Mutated E-coli bacteria may still remain in the manure and get into the meat (21).
Jolley mentions some of the techniques that corporations now use to ensure safety from E-Coli. The “irradiation method” where meat is exposed to minimal amount of radiation is used by some. Cattle Showers to get rid of the manure stuck to the hides of animals is also popular. He also mentions a technique called “UHP” or “ultra high pressure” which applies pressure on the meat that kills off all the microbes. These are some of the ways that the health effects have been controlled (22).
There are things that we do in life on a daily basis that sometimes have a very disgusting reality yet we continue to do them because we are unaware. The increased meat consumption (historical context) of the industrialized nations in the world especially among city dwellers is a very disturbing trend that leads to many problems. A better diet would be one that relies more on vegetarian diet with a lower frequency of meat consumption. If meat is to be consumed, it must be purchased from local organic farms. This is not an elitist solution, but families and individuals must prioritize their spending. It would be folly to spend more money on an internet or phone bill with a data package while eating unnatural and unhealthy foods. Good decent clean food must be a high priority. Unsustainable eating patterns of modern city dwellers creates an unnatural demand for meat which must be met by unnatural supply patterns which use unnatural means to harvest as much meat as possible over short time and at such an unnaturally fast pace that the balance of nature goes off course. Not only does this balance of nature go off course, it in fact creates more problems for us all.
References and Works Cited Available on request.