Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Meaty Mondays Series: Meat & Your Health (Part 1 of 3)

Yes, I know. It's Tuesday but bear with me because I'm still on holiday schedule.  In honoring the primary foods of my life and recognizing that almost every work day feels like a Monday in the summer, I'm breaking up my lengthy Meaty Monday post to 4 parts this week.  Happy Reading!

The environmental impact and animal ethics of factory farming, which I covered in my Meat & the Environment and The Meatrix posts, are the basis for many vegetarian or vegans diets. It is also a big reason for the growing popularity in grass-fed and cage-free meat. Although factory farming has a big impact on the environment and the animals, are you still wondering how this directly affects you?  If that is the case, I'd like to cite some impacts of meat on your health throughout this week.  Today I'll cover antibiotics and their direct and indirect affects on your health. 
Factory farming moved livestock from the natural surroundings of sun-kissed green pastures to crowded indoor dark pens.  This change has drastically affected the health of the animals.  When confined to that space, immunity drops from lack of sun and lack of natural foods.  Disease increases and spreads rapidly.  To compensate, the "farmers" do not move the animals outside or change their profitable business model.  Instead, they feed the animals antibiotics two ways to keep them alive until slaughter.  First, they put small doses of antibiotics in their feed to maintain their health.  Kinda like how we take vitamins...kinda... Second, they treat them re-actively with more antibiotics when they become sick.  About 20 millions pounds of antibiotics is used each year on animals.  80% of it is given to animals simply to promote growth and the remaining 20% is given to treat disease.(source)  This means a) we are eating low quality meat that has been raised for quantity, NOT quality, b) we are eating unhealthy animals, c) we are ingesting antibodies, antibiotics, and dangerous bacteria,.  Does any of this sound appealing at all?

The use of antibiotics in factory farming has a direct and indirect affect on our health.  Directly and obviously, we can get sick from eating sick animals.  The living conditions that animals live under in factory farms promote contamination of feces and bacteria with the meat.  When we purchase that meat, bring it home, cook it to medium rare, slather it with some sauce and eat it, there is still bacteria in the meat.  About 76 million people become sick from their food annually.  Last week's "stomach bug" could likely be caused by the spaghetti and meatballs you ate.  Indirectly, the low doses of antibiotics cause bacteria to become resistant by mutating into stronger strains which can endanger our existence as a race.  It is growing more and more difficult to find antibiotics to fight these new bacteria.  The National Institute of Health says that it takes about 17 years for us to develop an antibody.  Bacteria can switch their genes in minutes.  One example is the H1N1 virus or the "swine" flu.  This virus was previously only seen in pigs and mutated to make humans sick.  Even with the vaccine, people caught H1N1. 

These posts contain a lot of information and are definitely not meant to scare you, but to inform.  Later on in the series, I will speak about alternatives to factory farming.  In the meantime, I would suggest that you go to your local farmers market and speak to the farmers and other patrons about alternatives to factory farmed meat.  I know that they would love to speak to you.

Stay tuned this week for more Meaty posts!  In the meantime, check out some great resources that I will be citing throughout my posts this week:

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