Factory and Free Range Farming

by Kent McGroarty

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday October 22, 2010

The consumption of beef, pork, and poultry purchased from factory farms can endanger human health on multiple levels. Animals are often kept in confined spaces with access to little fresh air or light and can become extremely sick. They are generally given antibiotics and hormones to prevent widespread animal disease and to make the animals appear larger at the time of sale. These hormones, antibiotics, and diseases are then present in meat consumed by humans. Waste from factory farming is not heavily regulated. It can therefore make its way into waterways, soil, and even the air. "Free range" is actually a very general term and many "free range" farm animals are often kept in the same conditions as factory animals which also encourages the spread of disease and antibiotic-resistant bacteria. In order for meat and dairy products to be certified organic farmland must be free of synthetic herbicides, pesticides and fungicides for at least three years.

Factory farm animals live in unhealthy conditions that can, in turn, affect the health of humans who consume their meat. These animals are crammed together in conditions that "prohibit natural behavior" such as exercising or forming relationships with other animals. Some do not even get to experience sunlight, and such conditions can cause the animals to become seriously ill. Antibiotics are then used to keep them alive long enough to be turned into food. Overuse of antibiotics in this manner creates strains of drug-resistant bacteria. The use of antibiotics also means that drug-resistant microbes are present in meat and milk. These microbes settle in the stomach where they "transfer drug resistance to bacteria in the body" which makes people more susceptible to previously treatable conditions!

The pollution from farm animal waste is another health concern. Pig, chicken, and cattle waste from confined livestock operations in the United States produce three times as much waste as the entire U.S. population each year! However, regulation of this waste is "much more loosely regulated and handled" than regulation of human waste. Many bio-contaminant procedures for such operations are more concerned with stopping the spread of disease among their animals than they are from preventing pathogens dangerous to humans from escaping into the environment. Approximately two-thirds (66.6%) of the 1,400 known human pathogens are thought to have originally developed in animals. Scientists now believe tuberculosis and the common cold originated with cattle. Pertussis comes from pigs and sheep, leprosy from water buffalo, and influenza from ducks. The pollution from animal waste causes respiratory problems, skin infections, nausea, depression, and death for those who live near factory farms. Every aspect of industrial farm production allows the potential for disease transmission including transportation, manure handling, meat processing, and animal rendering.

At least five thousand (5,000) deaths and millions of cases of food-borne illnesses occur in the United States every year. Chickens are "reservoirs" for many food-borne pathogens including campylobacter and salmonella. Campylobacter is the most common known cause of bacterial food-borne illness in the United States. Poultry farming has almost double the injury and illness rate compared with rates of the mining and construction industries! Factory farms are huge breeding grounds for virulent diseases which can spread through communities via food, water, air, and the bodies of farmers, farm workers, and their families.

Public health experts are now saying that a whole crop of infections not previously associated with meat and poultry can be linked with the overuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture. Antibiotic- resistant microbes and actual antibiotics are widespread environmental contaminants "with unknown consequences for everything from soil micro-organisms to people." In 1999-2000, researchers at the University of Berkley in California traced a multi-state outbreak of urinary tract infections among women to contamination from single strain e.Coli found in cows. The methicillin-resistant MRSA virus is currently killing more people in the United States than HIV. However, very little data is available on MRSA in the U.S. Furthermore, bacteria widely found on Canadian pig farms are sold to the U.S. in the bodies of millions of live pigs every year. Recent European studies have linked MRSA and intensive pig farming in Germany, France, and the Netherlands. Live animals and fresh/frozen meat are continually crossing international borders, meaning diseases found in one location will spread to other areas of the world.

The term "free range" is actually a very general one. It is not possible to raise pigs organically if "organic" farmers live in close proximity to contaminant-ridden factory farms "Free range" means cows and sheep must be "grass-fed and live on a range" and that birds must have some access to the outdoors. No other criteria is required such as the size of the "range", handling, nor the amount of space individual animals are given. Whether on family farms or huge corporate factory farms, the accuracy of "free range" claims is rarely if ever verified because the U.S. Department of Agriculture defines "free range" and "free roaming" for labeling purposes, depending solely on farmer testimonials to support free range claims.

As with all factory-farmed birds, chickens raised as meat are often genetically altered to grow extremely large. Hens may be uncaged on free range farms; however, they are often still confined to cramped indoor spaces at night. While some organic certification agencies require that laying hens must be given food and water during molting periods, factors such as confinement, mutilation (cutting off of chicken beaks, for example), transportation, and other animal welfare issues are not taken into consideration. This means animals can still get extremely sick which poses health threats to those who consume them.

There are many issues to be considered before consuming factory-farmed animals including detrimental effects on the environment, dangers to human health, cruelty to animals, and decreasing supplies of water being used to raise meat. Consider carefully, too, all "free range" and "organic" claims as these are often misleading. Best of all, and best for human health, consider eating lower on the food chain!

Sources:

http://www.organicconsumers.org/madcow/factory6101.cfm

http://www.bornfreeusa.org/articles.php?more=1&p=377

http://www.allotment.org.uk/articles/danger-in-food.php

http://www.motherearthnews.com/Natural-Health/Meat-Poultry-Health-Risk.aspx

http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/food/factoryfarms/

http://www.farmforward.com/farming-forward/factory-farming

http://www.sustainabletable.org/issues/factoryfarming/

http://www.belsandia.com/factory-farming.html

http://www.ncifap.org/

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/04/29/AR2008042902602.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/10/opinion/10mcwilliams.html?_r=1

http://www.veganoutreach.org/whyvegan/animals.html

http://www.cok.net/lit/freerange.php

Kent McGroarty is a freelance writer. She is a frequent contributor to EDGE'S Style, Travel, Health, and Fitness channels. Contact her at [email protected].