By Dr. Mercola
Three problems with the US food supply that is making food a source of disease rather than optimal health include: the way our food is raised; the way it's processed; and the routine use of hazardous drugs and chemicals.
The United States is one of the few countries in the world that produces and processes food in a way that defies both science and common sense.
As noted in the featured TED lecture, 86 percent of every dollar you spend at the grocery store goes toward paying for processing and marketing of the food. A mere 14 percent goes to the farmer that actually grows the food ingredients in question.
This alone should tell you that that inexpensive processed food item you buy is hardly a bargain. Not only are you getting very little real food, as there are so many fillers and additives tossed in, you're also getting very little in terms of healthy nutrition.
This is important, as your body is not designed to process and thrive on a base of disease causing ingredients like high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated vegetable oil.
EU Balks at US Foodstuffs
A recent Washington Post1 article reports that many Europeans are now worried that a new “free-trade” deal (it’s as free as the Patriot Act was patriotic) that will introduce “culinary nightmares” like hormone-treated beef, chlorine-washed chicken, and glyphosate soaked genetically engineered ingredients.
Many other nations have shunned food manufacturing practices that are routinely used in the US, and for good reason.
As noted by one organic French farmer: "In France, food is about pleasure, about taste. But in the United States, they put anything in their mouths. No, this must be stopped." According to the Washington Post:
"In October, tens of thousands of people from 22 E.U. countries took to the streets to protest the deal. The protests included flash mobs in Belgium and a demonstration in Copenhagen that used a 24-foot Trojan horse to symbolize the hidden risks of the trade deal.
Even in Britain — a nation hardly known for the glories of its national cuisine — fear and loathing of modified American foods, and the trade deal in general, appear to be running surprisingly strong...
'It's possibly one of the most dangerous agreements,' the British TV chef Jamie Oliver told the Times of London. He added: 'We don't have hormones in our meat; that's banned. But not over there. We don't have hundreds of poisons and pesticides that have been proven to be carcinogenic. They do.'"
Antibiotic Resistance Will Kill 300 Million People by 2050
Perhaps one of the most objectionable of US food practices is the routine use of antibiotics in livestock for growth-promoting purposes.
Agriculture accounts for about 80 percent of all antibiotics used in the US, so it's a primary source of antibiotic exposure, and it's the continuous use of low dose antibiotics that permits bacteria to survive and become increasingly hardy and drug resistant.
A brand new report2 commissioned by UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, estimates that by 2050 antibiotic resistance will have killed 300 million people; the annual global death toll reaching 10 million.
The global cost for treatment is estimated to hit $100 trillion by 2050. Health law expert Kevin Outterson told Scientific American:3
"You can look at antibiotic resistance as a slow moving global train wreck, which will happen over the next 35 years. If we do nothing, this report shows us the likely magnitude of the costs."
A mere 15 years from now, in the year 2030, antibiotic-resistant disease—if left to spiral out of control—is expected to have killed 100 million. Resistant malaria is a likely candidate as the top killer, while resistant E.coli would account for the greatest chunk of the financial burden, due to its prevalence.
The FDA has admitted since 1977 that this practice is a serious threat.
We have the animal drug manufacturers and a clueless and corrupt federal government for looking the other way and leading the world off a deadly cliff for the sake of profits. Antibiotic-resistant diseases may be the single most deadly threat to our very existence.
Signs Supporting the Worst-Case 'Global Train Wreck' Scenario
The review in no uncertain terms spells out that there is clear and present danger and that the world must act now, lest we be thrown into the pre-antibiotic dark ages when common infections were lethal. Clearly we are already well on our way:
US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention4 (CDC) data show that two million American adults and children become infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year. At least 23,000 Americans die each year as a direct result of an antibiotic-resistant infection. The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) also attribute nearly 133,000 illnesses each year to contaminated chicken parts. Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) kills more Americans each year than the combined total of emphysema, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson's disease, and homicide.5 Between 1973 and 2011, there were 55 antibiotic-resistant foodborne outbreaks in the US, and more than half of them involved pathogens resistant to five or more antibiotics.6 Despite evidence that the situation is getting out of control and we're losing even our strongest antibiotics to resistance, between 2008 and 2013, less than one percent of available research funds in the UK and Europe were spent on antibiotic research.7
Support the Solution—Demand Meat Without Antibiotics
The issue of antibiotic-resistance is a major reason for choosing organic, pastured meats and other animal products, including eggs and dairy. It is in fact the only animal products I recommend eating. Other reasons for avoiding CAFO meats include animal welfare, environmental health issues, and avoiding GMOs and pesticides, as most of these animals are also fed GMO grains contaminated with the pesticides they're bred to resist or produce internally.
There are some glimmers of hope though. Six of the largest school districts in the US recently decided to switch to antibiotic-free chicken in their cafeterias,8 which will put pressure on meat companies like Tyson, Perdue, and Pilgrim's Pride to adjust their production practices. Earlier this year, Chick-fil-A vowed to switch to antibiotic-free chicken within the next five years.
Chipotle is another franchise that serves responsibly raised beef steaks. Most recently, fast-food chain Carl's Jr. rolled out a burger made with grass-fed, free-range beef, promising to be free of antibiotics, steroids and hormones.9 MeatWithoutDrugs.org10 has also organized a campaign, calling for Trader Joe's to exclusively source its meat from animals raised without antibiotics. You can sign the petition here. You can also download and print out a flyer and take it with you the next time you visit your local Trader Joe's store.
"As one of the most progressive national retailers, Trader Joe's has already demonstrated care for their customers' health by saying no to GMOs, artificial colors and trans fats in the products they sell. Trader Joe's can also be a leader by helping move the livestock industry in the right direction," the organization says.
What Does the Label Mean?
Of course, when you're looking for antibiotic-free meat, you want to know what to look for. MeatWithoutDrugs lists a number of labels11 currently in use; some of which are useful, and some of which can be downright deceptive:
100% USDA Organic label offers excellent assurance that antibiotics have not been used at any stage of production. "No antibiotics administered" and similar labels also offer high assurance that antibiotics have not been used, especially if accompanied by a "USDA process Verified" shield. "Grass-fed" label coupled with USDA Organic label means no antibiotics have been used, but if the "grass-fed" label appears alone, antibiotics may have been given. "American Grass-fed" and "Food Alliance Grass-fed" labels indicate that in addition to having been raised on grass, the animal in question received no antibiotics. The following three labels: "Antibiotic-free," "No antibiotic residues," and "No antibiotic growth promotants," have not been approved by the USDA and may be misleading if not outright fraudulent. "Natural" or "All-Natural" is completely meaningless and has no bearing on whether or not the animal was raised according to organic principles. "Natural" meat and poultry products can by law receive antibiotics, hormones, and genetically engineered grains, and can be raised in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs).
Most CAFO Chicken Has Been Washed in Chlorine
The US is also known for a number of processing practices that other nations will not allow. One of them is washing chicken in chlorine, to reduce the presence of potentially pathogenic bacteria (which are there in the first place as a direct result of being raised in a CAFO environment). The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) permits poultry producers to put all poultry through an antimicrobial wash, using chlorine which will create large amounts of dangerous disinfection byproducts LINK. and other chemicals to kill pathogens
We already have a problem with antibiotics causing antibiotic-resistant "super germs" when used in the animals' feed, and this likely makes the problem even worse. Workers in the plants have also reported health problems from the chemical washes, including asthma and other respiratory problems. Not to mention it's unclear how much of the chlorine residue remains on the chicken when you eat it. In the European Union (EU), the use of chlorine washes is not only banned, but they won't even accept US poultry that's been treated with these antimicrobial sprays.
Both the USDA and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) claim that giving chickens a chlorine bath is safe, but that's not enough to convince many Germans, who are among the most vocal opponents to a free trade agreement between the US and EU. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) could generate an estimated $100 billion a year in economic growth for both the US and the EU, but many Germans believe a trade agreement with the US would compromise their food safety and quality. According to Reuters:12
"The phrase 'Chlorhuehnchen,' or chlorine chicken, has entered the parlance of everyone from taxi drivers to housewives since trade negotiations began a year ago. An Internet search for the term generates thousands of results, bringing up cartoons of animals dumped in vats of chemicals and stabbed with needles. A majority of Germans believe chlorine-washed chicken is a danger to human health despite its successful use in the United States to kill bacteria, according to survey by pollster Forsa."
Factory Chicken Farmer Reveals the Truth About His Operation
The routine use of antibiotics isn't the only problem with factory farmed animals. Some chicken producers have already stopped using antibiotics, but that doesn't make their operations any healthier—for the animal or for you. In the video above, Leah Garces of Compassion in World Farming visits Craig Watts, a contract farmer for Perdue. Dissatisfied with the system, he has taken the bold step to show everyone the reality hiding behind his barn doors. "There's a lot of flaws in the system," he says. "The consumer is being hoodwinked."
His chicken farm raises about 30,000 chickens at a time, and over a six week growing period, it's considered normal for at least 1,000 of them to die. Causes of death include illness, genetic problems, and injuries occurring from overcrowding. The chicks are sent to the contract farmer from Perdue, and the farmer has no control over the health or genetics of the chicks they receive. Their only job is to raise them, and in order to fatten them up faster, the farmers are actually contractually prohibited from giving the flock access to open air and sunshine, because the less the chickens move, and the more they eat, the bigger they grow.
What You Need to Know About the USDA Process Verified Label
Perdue chickens are USDA Process Verified, meaning the following criteria have been fulfilled:
- Raised cage-free
- All vegetarian diet
- No animal byproducts
- No antibiotics ever
- Humanely raised
After watching the video, it will be quite clear that loopholes abound... They're not caged, but the chickens are crammed in so tightly they still can barely move, forcing them to sit in feces for the entirety of their lives, resulting in open sores. They may also be antibiotic-free, but the chickens Watts raises hardly look healthy. Nor does it seem like a truly humane way of raising chickens. As noted in a report by Wired Magazine,13 Perdue recently agreed to stop using the "humane" claim on one of their labels. Compassion in World Farming says that's not enough:
"Americans think they are buying chickens raised in idyllic pasture when the meat is labeled 'natural.' But what they are actually buying are chickens raised on a bed of feces-filled litter that hasn't been change for years. They are buying chickens bred to get so big, so fast they can't stand on their own two feet. They are buying chickens raised in dimly lit warehouses, who never see the light of day except when coming from the hatchery or heading to slaughter. With an image of green pastures in their mind, shoppers are picking up a package of chicken from a factory farm."
Secrecy Is Necessary to Perpetuate Factory Farming
This kind of "false front" is endemic in the American food supply. Philip Lymbery, an animal-welfare activist and author of the book Farmageddon: The True Cost of Cheap Meat, notes that one of the techniques used to perpetuate factory farming is in fact secrecy. For example, in Europe, eggs from caged hens are marked "battery eggs," whereas in the US, those same eggs are labeled as "farm fresh" or "country fresh."
If you don't know there's a problem, you won't demand change, and there's every reason to suspect that that is also why the food industry is fighting tooth and nail to prevent labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the US, as well as legislation that would prevent them from fraudulently labeling GMOs as "Natural."
Even nutritionists are dissuaded from talking about the environment when making food recommendations—and that directive comes straight from the US Congress. As reported by 91.3 WYSO radio, a government-appointed group of nutrition experts working on an updated set of dietary guidelines decided to collect data on environmental implications of various food choices. But Congress subsequently blocked their efforts by attaching a directive to a spending bill that was recently passed by House and Senate. In it, Congress directs the Obama administration to ignore environmental factors in the revisions of the dietary guidelines.
Other Smokescreens and Fail-Safes
Another type of smoke screen used to keep you in the dark about how your food is grown and processed is to simply change the words in use. For example, the pork industry has recommended hog farmers quit using the word "gestation crate," replacing it with a more humane-sounding "individual maternity pen." Alas, we're still talking about the same exact thing: a two-foot-wide cage where breeding pigs spend nearly their entire lives, unable to even turn around. Other examples include "harvesting" animals rather than "slaughtering" and "environmentally controlled housing" in lieu of the confinement barns they really are.
As a final "fail-safe," several US states also have so-called ag-gag laws in place. The laws, which are being heavily promoted by lobbyists for the meat, egg and dairy industries, effectively prevent anyone from exposing animal cruelty and food-safety issues at CAFOs by:
- Making it illegal to take undercover photos or videos
- Requiring anyone applying for a job at a CAFO to disclose affiliations with animal rights groups
- Requiring activists to hand over undercover videos immediately
- Requiring mandatory reporting with extremely short timelines so patterns of abuse cannot be documented
These undercover videos and revelations by whistleblowers are often the only glimpse that Americans get into the world of industrialized agriculture. But the industry knows that the more they see, the more uncomfortable people will become with supporting this broken system.
UN Calls for End to Industrialized Farming
Many still believe that industrial farming, CAFOs, genetic engineering, and heavy chemical use are necessary in order to feed an ever-growing population. But numerous studies and reports have concluded that this simply isn't true. As recently reported by Truth Out:14
"In 2013, the United Nations announced that the world's agricultural needs can be met with localized organic farms.15 That's right, we do not need giant monocultures that pour, spray and coat our produce with massive amounts of poisons, only to create mutant pests and weeds while decimating pollinators and harming human health. Don't believe the hype: We do not need genetically modified foods 'to feed the world'...
Organic agriculture, which has gone from a fringe movement to a multibillion industry, can produce high yields and withstand disaster and duress much better than chemical-reliant crops, according to reports coming out of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movement (IFOAM),16 which held its 18th annual world congress in Istanbul this past October. And a 30-year study17 from the Rodale Institute showed that organic farm fields yielded 33 percent more in drought years compared with chemically managed ones."
According to the UN's Trade and Environment Review, shifting away from industrialized farming toward more bio-diverse, ecological, and localized farming practices can address a number of pressing issues, including food security, poverty, gender inequality, and climate change. The answer, they say, lies in a localized food system that promotes consumption of regional produce, because smaller, more diversified farms employ greater numbers of people, and produce more food on less land. They also use less water, and by using ecological principles, they don't need to use nearly as many chemicals, if any at all.
The New Ethics of Food Consumption
Conscientious consumers are making a dent in the system, albeit slowly, and while facing fierce opposition with every small step. Case in point, the story of Hilliker's Ranch, where a brand new and far more humane system has been installed. Here, 8,000 chickens are raised in aviary roosts, where each animal has a private matted space. A conveyor belt shuttles away the waste, while another collects the eggs. As noted by the Christian Science Monitor:18
"The conscience of consumers increasingly aware of the treatment of animals that become their burgers and chicken fingers has thrown a wrench in the gears of industrial farming, which has raced since the end of World War II to raise and slaughter animals faster and more efficiently, without much regard for their welfare.
There are people on all sides of the issue – farmers, distributors, government regulators, animal welfare advocates, and research scientists – who concur that animal welfare is now an established and growing ethic in the US production of food. The view that food animals are simply a commodity is yielding increasingly – albeit haltingly – to the perception that these animals are also sentient beings deserving of more-humane treatment."
According to a recent poll,19 56 percent of Americans say they're willing to pay more for eggs, knowing they came from hens raised with enough space to stretch their limbs; 49 percent are also willing to pay more for bacon, ham, or pork from pigs raised with enough space to move. Clearly, most people do not want animals to suffer unnecessarily in order for us to eat, and as awareness of industry practices grows, I'm hopeful we'll see more changes come about.
We Can Change the System One Family at a Time...
I believe the movement toward sustainable food and ethical meat is very important, both in terms of human health and animal welfare. Organic, grass-fed and finished meat, raised without antibiotics and other growth promoting drugs is really the only type of meat that is healthy to eat, in my view. The following organizations can help you locate farm-fresh foods in your local area that has been raised in a humane and sustainable manner:
- Local Harvest -- This Web site will help you find farmers' markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats, and many other goodies.
- Eat Wild: With more than 1,400 pasture-based farms, Eatwild's Directory of Farms is one of the most comprehensive sources for grass-fed meat and dairy products in the United States and Canada.
- Farmers' Markets -- A national listing of farmers' markets.
- Eat Well Guide: Wholesome Food from Healthy Animals -- The Eat Well Guide is a free online directory of sustainably raised meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs from farms, stores, restaurants, inns, and hotels, and online outlets in the United States and Canada.
- FoodRoutes -- The FoodRoutes "Find Good Food" map can help you connect with local farmers to find the freshest, tastiest food possible. On their interactive map, you can find a listing for local farmers, CSAs, and markets near you.