Archive for the ‘meat’ tag
My Beef Is with Pork: Taxpayer Subsidies of the Meat Industry Are Bad for Your Health and Your Pocketbook
Giving away the Farm
Bank bailouts, real estate bubbles, record unemployment―these are hard times requiring difficult sacrifices. But one cut in government spending would pay big dividends long into the future: end the flow of billions of tax dollars ($7.3 billion in 2005) to producers of grain for animal feed.
When soaring health care costs and an obesity epidemic are among the many challenges facing our country, why does our government promote meat consumption by artificially lowering feed grain prices? Big agri-business is at the trough, putting special interests ahead of our national interest. Efforts to reform agricultural subsidies have largely faltered in Washington, and Obama’s plan to cut direct payments to farmers doesn’t appear to stand much of a chance. According to House Agriculture Committee chairman Collin Peterson (Minnesota Democrat) Obama’s plan is “more than dead on arrival.” If the thought of billions of taxpayer dollars going to support big business nauseates you, then hold your nose, because there is another kind of waste implicated by the meat industry that will turn your stomach.
Waste of Another Sort
From a public health perspective one of the most disturbing environmental consequences of the meat industry is pollution from animal waste (yes, we’re talking feces here). Pig farms are among the worst offenders. The sheer numbers hint at the magnitude of the problem: in 2003, 101 million pigs were slaughtered for food in the U.S., and pigs produce about four times as much solid waste as the average person. Unfortunately, pigs don’t have the luxury of flushing toilets connected to sewage treatment plants. Instead, their waste is often stored in toxic, uncovered, “lagoons” containing ammonia, methane, hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide, cyanide, phosphorous, nitrates and heavy metals, plus a stew of microbial pathogens that can cause illness in humans, including salmonella, cryptosporidium, streptocolli and girardia.
Under the Bush administration, the meat industry benefited from lax enforcement of environmental regulations, but it also received a valuable parting gift from the outgoing President. Upon his departure, President Bush instituted a rule that exempts factory farms from federal laws requiring them to alert government officials when they release unsafe levels of toxic emissions into the surrounding community.
Feeling Sick? It May Be Something You Ate
Four of the leading causes of death in the U.S.―heart disease, certain types of cancer, stroke and diabetes―are linked to a diet high in meat and low in fruits, vegetables and whole grains. The cost of these diseases is estimated to exceed $33 billion a year. According to the USDA, in 2007 the average American consumed 222 pounds of meat―84 pounds more than the maximum intake of lean meat recommended by The American Heart Association. Simply put, if we are really interested in lowering health care costs, then lowering our level of meat consumption ought to be high on our list of priorities.
Industrial meat production further undermines public health by increasing bacterial resistance to antibiotics. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists more than 70% of antibiotics produced in the U.S. are used in animal production. The seriousness of the problem is made clear by the FDA which warns, “the world could be faced with previously treatable diseases that have again become untreatable, as in the days before antibiotics were developed.” (emphasis added) About 70% of bacteria that cause infections in hospitals are resistant to at least one of the drugs most commonly used to treat infections. We hear so much about the outrageous cost of prescription medications, but soon, thanks to the meat industry, we may be begging for effective antibiotics at any price.
Living in Denial of Killing
I have often heard people complain about those of us who champion the rights of animals by pointing to the human suffering in the world. My response is that these are not separate issues but rather different manifestations of the same underlying problem: human beings’ capacity to live in denial. As Leo Tolstoy observed, “As long as there are slaughterhouses there will be battlefields.” No doubt our species’ ability to tune out the otherwise unbearable miseries that surround us―famine, violence, illness―has been an important factor in our ancestors’ ability to survive. However, I believe our capacity for denial is no longer evolutionarily advantageous. Instead, it is now the source of the biggest threats to our survival.
If humanity is to rise to the challenges of global warming, population growth, pollution, and extreme poverty, to name just a few, it will require an epidemic of personal responsibility―of being, as Ghandi exhorted, the change we want to see in the world. Ending farm subsidies to growers of feed grain would be a small step in the right direction, but the more important lesson is to recognize the link between what we eat and other important public policy objectives.
Thankfully, choosing a vegetarian or even semi-vegetarian diet is a relatively simple way for every one of us, every day, to take personal responsibility for creating a better world.
Following her graduation from Boalt Hall in 1999, M. Renée Orth practiced business litigation in California with emphasis on employment, real estate and banking law. She now focuses on philanthropic efforts while indulging her passions for vegetarian cooking and traveling.
Public Internet Video Surveillance of Slaughterhouses: Put Accountability Where It Belongs — on Everyone
Coercion vs. Persuasion
What is the best way to foment social change? Does legislation lead change, or does legislation follow on the heels of change that has already taken hold? For those who care about the plight of animals on this planet—even the human kind—the answers to these questions are of critical importance, since they suggest an effective means of creating a world that respects life in all of its wondrous forms.
In November, 2008, I attended a fundraiser for Proposition 2—a successful California initiative that enacted legal requirements for more humane treatment of farm animals—and met Wayne Pacelle, CEO of The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). In response to a question concerning the cost to farmers of complying with the requirements of Prop 2, Mr. Pacelle explained that farmers would more than recoup the added expense, because consumers across the nation would be willing to pay more for humanely produced eggs and meat.
This response struck me. If the market will reward farmers for doing the right thing, then why do we spend millions of dollars to coerce them to act in accordance with their financial interest? Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to press the issue, but it got me thinking.
Information as the Key: A Modest Proposal
Individual freedom is a pillar of the liberal democracy that I believe is the key to a better future, and individual freedom requires that laws that coerce particular behavior ought to be avoided whenever possible. The hearts and minds of people are not won in the chambers of our legislatures; they are won in the “marketplace of ideas”, which the Internet has rendered increasingly efficient and vigorous.
Technology has incredible potential to convey the information that is necessary for consumers to make conscious choices with full knowledge of what is being done on their behalf. Such informational dissemination is where we ought to focus the pressure for new legislation: not on coercion, but on making information— in all its vivid, full-color horror–available to all.
Here’s a relatively straightforward proposal for how information could be used to produce an immediate and salutary effect: every package containing animal-derived products should include a URL that links to 24-hour, real-time, steaming video of the conditions of the animals being raised for food by the vendor supplying the product—including the gory footage of the animals’ demise. . . .
In light of the recent outcry over graphic footage obtained surreptitiously by HSUS at the Hallmark Meat Packing Co., of Chino, California, and the resulting recall of 143.4 million pounds of beef, such a law would likely meet with significant public support. Why, therefore, must we rely on the efforts of non-governmental organizations to uncover such outrageous conduct? We should not have to. The minimal cost of video technology and bandwidth makes the public surveillance of slaughterhouses, farms, and ranches a no-brainer. Indeed, given the dire economic condition facing the U.S., such an approach seems a cost-effective means of accomplishing much of the work left undone by ever-dwindling numbers of USDA inspectors.
Public surveillance of the meat industry could be the 21st Century’s equivalent to Upton Sinclair’s watershed work, The Jungle, which detailed the atrocious condition in U.S. meatpacking plants and led to public outrage that culminated in the passage of the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906.
Consumers may initially visit surveillance websites out of curiosity or out of concern for the health of their loved ones. However, the sight of the agony resulting from their purchases would undoubtedly give many reason to reconsider their dietary choices. Let an informed public— given full information concerning the ramifications of their decisions —drive the push for a more humane society with the power of their buying dollars.
Following her graduation from Boalt Hall in 1999, M. Renee Orth practiced business litigation in California with emphasis on employment, real estate and banking law. She now focuses on philanthropic efforts while indulging her passions for vegetarian cooking and traveling.