Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Tainted Meat - Factory Farming

Although I live in "farm country" even I was blissfully unaware of how the process of rearing farm animals in the US has changed dramatically from the family farms of yesteryear. You see, I live in an area where some cattle is actually still grazed, like "the old days" ... where beef is actually beef ...and where I thought pork was actually pork.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered the sickening rise in factory farming in this part of Northern Indiana -- indeed, throughout the USA.

A special town meeting on Monday (Nov 14/2005) truly opened my eyes, and I was shocked, disgusted, even horrified by new discoveries I've made since the meeting while researching the facts not presented by the owners of a proposed new hog factory farm planned for erection on land adjoining one of the most precious wildlife reserves in the USA ...a resting ground for tens of thousands of Sandhill Cranes each year on their annual migratory path.

For starters, here's a few statistics on factory farming I uncovered:

Amount of waste produced annually by US livestock in confinement operations which is not recycled: 1 billion tons

Where feedlot waste often ends up: In our water

Gallons of oil spilled by the Exxon-Valdez: 12 million

Gallons of putrefying hog urine and feces spilled into the New River in North Carolina on June 21, 1995, when a "lagoon" holding 8 acres of hog excrement burst: 25 million

Fish killed as an immediate result: 10-14 million

That's enough to get any environmentalist steaming mad... and yet, it doesn't stop there. The hidden dangers that we all face at the supermarkets each day are far more serious. For example:

Antibiotics administered to people in the US annually to treat diseases: 3 million pounds

Antibiotics administered to livestock in the US annually for purposes other than treating disease: 24.6 million pounds

Antibiotics allowed in cow's milk: 80

Percentage of staphylococci infections resistant to penicillin in 1960: 13%

Percentage of staphylococci infections resistant to penicillin in 1988: 91%

Reason: Breeding of antibiotic resistant bacteria in factory farms due to routine feeding of antibiotics to livestock

Response by entire European Economic Community to routine feeding of antibiotics to livestock: Ban

Response by American meat and pharmaceutical industries to routine feeding of antibiotics to livestock: Full and complete support

Are you getting just a little bit concerned about the meat we're buying yet? Well... it gets worse.

A report by the USDA estimates that 89% of US beef patties contain traces of the deadly E. coli strain. Reuters News Service 8/10/00

US pigs raised in total confinement factories where they never see the light of day until being trucked to slaughter: 65 million (total confinement factories are banned in Britain)

US pigs who have pneumonia at time of slaughter: 70%

Primary source of Campylobacter bacteria: Contaminated chicken flesh

People in the US who become ill with Campylobacter poisoning every day: More than 5,000

American turkeys sufficiently contaminated with Campylobacter to cause illness: 90%

Americans sickened from eating Salmonella-tainted eggs every year: More than 650,000

Americans killed from eating Salmonella-tainted eggs every year: 600

Increase in Salmonella poisoning from raw or undercooked eggs between 1976 and 1986: 600%

90% of US chickens are infected with leukosis -- chicken cancer -- at the time of slaughter.

Average lifespan of a dairy cow - 25 years; average lifespan when on a factory dairy farm - 4 years.

The situation of factory farming is far worse than you might have possibly imagined. EarthSave came out with some alarming news in their article titled -- "Factory Farm Alarm" -- published on their website. Here's a short quote:

Known to scientists as Pfiesteria (feast-eer-ee-ah) piscicida (Latin for "fish killer"), the microscopic organism was demonstrating its propensity for turning rivers and estuaries into death traps for immense schools of fish. Pfiesteria's powerful nerve poison was also being blamed as the likely cause for sickening scores of fishermen, coastal residents and tourists. Pfiesteria leaves fish and people with ugly lesions. Human contact can also result in memory loss, dizziness, fatigue and asthmatic problems.

Seven years after being first identified by North Carolina State University (NCSU) aquatic botanist JoAnn Burkholder, Pfiesteria remains today largely an enigma. What is known, says Burkholder, is that we are dealing with a vicious and mysterious microorganism that can masquerade as a plant, lie dormant for years and undergo at least 24 changes in its life cycle. Pfiesteria is also decidedly predacious, a first among dinoflagellates, the family of typically placid single-cell phytoplankton to which it belongs. Because of its bizarre knack for hunting down fish, some call Pfiesteria the "T-Rex of the dinoflagellates." Others liken its inexplicably aggressive behavior "to grass feeding on sheep."

There's at least one other thing that's well-understood about Pfiesteria: it is most at home and multiplies tremendously in polluted, over-enriched waters.

Burkholder believes that Pfiesteria has always dwelled in coastal North Carolina but that something in the past decade has altered the natural ecology there to foster its growth. In early 1995, Burkholder uncovered what she believed that "something" was. That's when she read 'Boss Hog,' a Pulitzer prize-winning exposĂ© in Raleigh's News and Observer. In just a few short years, the newspaper revealed, a virtual revolution has transpired in eastern North Carolina—where once there were only hog hamlets, now there are pork metropolises disposing of millions of tons of putrid waste. The implications for water quality are mind-boggling.

The first paragraph of 'Boss Hog' made such an impression on Burkholder that she can recite it from memory: 'Imagine a city as big as New York suddenly grafted onto North Carolina's Coastal Plain. Double it. Now imagine that this city has no sewage treatment plants. All the wastes from 15 million people are simply flushed into open pits and sprayed onto fields. Turn those humans into hogs, and you don't have to imagine at all. It's already here.'

And the sad part is, here's a lady steeped in credentials who does her research thoroughly, digs deep into the problem and traces the growing dangers ...and her findings went largely ignored. In fact, her research, her credentials and even her outspokenness were openly challenged by government officials whose job was to safeguard environmental and public health.

For years, these officials, perhaps acting to protect North Carolina's powerful agricultural industry, refused to accept even the existence of Pfiesteria. Yet, about 140 North Carolina physicians petitioned then Vice President Al Gore for federal help in dealing with Pfiesteria.

Even sadder -- those very officials are not protecting an agricultural industry at all... farm factories don't even earn the right to be called farms. Few have even enough experience to be capable of running a real farm -- and animal husbandry, phooey. They only understand mass production, genetic manipulation, drugging animals to keep them barely alive, long enough to reach the slaughterhouses and packing plants in order for the neatly wrapped meat to appear in our own homes. Calling them farms is an insult to true farmers everywhere. By rights, such factories should be bound by industrial laws, not farming regulations, with a responsibility to protect their workers and regulations in place that force them to be accountable for the environmental damages they incur everywhere they spring up.

(And when you find out about the animals that don't make it to the end of the line -- ugh!! -- it's enough to make you swear off meat altogether.)

Meanwhile, back here in a sleepy residential area of Jasper County tucked away in a small section of Indiana, just a few hours drive from Perdu University (one of the largest animal research universities in North America) ...a hog factory farm with 2,496 heads has been approved by the Board of Zoning --- and it's being parked right next to one of the largest game reserves/sandhill crane resting areas in the State.

Why 2,496 head of hogs? Because 2,500 heads would mean they'd have to meet Federal regulations instead of State or County regulations.

How did they slip their foot in the door? By setting up a land deal where they would purchase 20 acres contained inside another 20 acres held by the seller of the land ...but they made a mistake. The land deal didn't go through in time -- and area residents found out... albeit too late to stop the special exception permit, but maybe --- just maybe --- in time to present an appeal case.

Now if they can only afford and hire a competent lawyer.

The deck is stacked against area residents, because many of the lawyers in the region cite "conflict of interest" and are scared to touch the case.

What happens next? Stay safe, be well, don't buy factory farm meat --- and stay tuned as we bring you more on this story...

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