In addition to being subjected to unspeakabley cruel and inhumane treatment, commercial livestock animals are fed, injected and dunked before slaughter with a startling array of herbicides, pesticides, larvacides, hormones, antibiotics and other drugs. Their “scientifically correct” feed includes their own recaptured contaminated feces together with the leftover scraps of other carcasses and of dead, diseased animals, including “road kill” - and recycled cardboard and paper products laden with petroleum-based waxes and plastics, dies and other chemicals. Even plastic - yes, plastic – hay, has been serioulsy researched as it can be used to aid the digestive process of animals that do not get the bulk (and nutrients) they could get from foraging on their own.
Crowded conditions and questionable feeding practices result in animals that are subject to disease and a variety of health problems. Because of this they require a steady diet of antibiotics - which are also used to speed up growth. More than 70% of all antibiotics used in the U.S. are put into the feed, and this in turn leads to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which then can be passed on to humans.
Thus it is no accident that the eleventh leading cause of death in the U.S. today is due to infections resistant to antibiotic treatment. In addition, synthetic hormones are used to fatten up the animal, or, in the case of rBGH, to increase the production of milk. Many of these hormones are linked in humans to weight gain, early onset puberty and other hormonal problems, and diabetes and cancer. Of course, many of these same health problems are daily reported in the media, but only rarely do reporters relate these human problems back to the most likely, scientifically established, underlying causes including (but not limited to) hormones given to animals.
Also, because these animals are kept in close confinement situations, they cannot forage for food on their own and so must be fed massive amounts of grain as a result. More than half of all U.S. grain (nearly all of which is genetically modified) and almost 40% of world grain now goes to feeding factory farmed livestock – a situation made necessary by monocrop agriculture. Among other problems, diets heavy in grain unfavorably alter the fat profile of factory animals, even animals “finished off” in grain and even animals fed organic grain. The meat from factory farmed and other grain-fed animals is higher in calories and higher in saturated fat (up to seven times more), and lower in a variety of important nutrients than is the meat from animals allowed to graze in healthy pastures the old-fashioned way. These nutrients include vitamins, minerals and various important fatty acids such as Vitamin E, the Omega 3 fatty acids – and CLA or conjugated linoleic acid, which is a fatty acid now being heavily promoted as an important factor in weight loss, and even more importantly in cancer prevention and even perhaps diabetes.
In response the beef industry is developing yet more hi-tech feeds to counter this unfortunate effect of grain-based diets. Chicken eggs are already available with a more favorable fat profile – they are known as high Omega 3 eggs.
Closely confined animals subjected to drug and chemical onslaught of course produce massive and concentrated amounts of toxic waste. The factory farm solution is to build giant “lagoons” to contain animal excrement. These lagoons can be as large as several football fields. This animal waste, along with human sewage has of course been turned into a rather unpopular, highly contaminated - and due to its horrific odor - easily identifiable “fertilizer.”
Perhaps even worse, according to researchers, the air pollution from these “lagoons” can cause respiratory problems, skin infections, nausea, headaches, depression and even death for people who live near factory farms. The odor from these facilities can travel as much as 300 miles when the winds are right. Water quality too, is seriously affected from seepage into groundwater and runoff. For example, in Virginia, state guidelines indicate that a safe level of fecal coliform bacteria is 200 colonies per 100 milliliters of water. Nevertheless, in 1997, some streams had levels as high as 424,000 colonies per 100 milliliters.
Worst of all is the threat posed when these lagoons burst open. The worst occurrence to date was in 1995, when an eight-acre lagoon burst open after heavy rains, spilling 25 million gallons of animal waste into North Carolina's New River, killing 10 million fish and closing 364,000 acres of coastal wetlands to shell-fishing. Again regulations on every level - local, state and federal, including the EPA – effectively function to protect the interest of industry, not we the people, with operators of these facilities maintaining the position that because their lagoons are on their own property and they comply with all pertinent regulations, the issue is - well, a non-issue. Although they desperately need political support, those citizens most directly affected by these operations are beginning to take action.
Obviously, animals living in such gruesome conditions are not healthy, and cannot provide you and me with high quality nourishment, however cheap their grocery store price. And they come with a whole truckload of hidden costs – mostly in the form of subsidies, tax incentives, and health and environmental damage, all of which is paid for by you and me at local, state and federal levels.
If you must purchase commercial meats, make it lean and add your own good fats in. Note that many supermarkets are carrying hormone free meats which is at least a small step in the right direction. In addition lamb from New Zealand so far as we know is wholly grass fed. Or try Weston Price's suggestion for budget conscious consumers: use eggs and some raw milk products as the main animal protein.fat source then use "protein-sparing" bone broths and bean/rice combinations.
As time permits of course, it is in your own best interest to make every effort to find sources for pastured meat products. As always your best bet is to find a small, responsible farmer near you for your eggs and other animal products.