The Worst Kind of Meat

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June 21, 2017 | 51,736 views

Story at-a-glance

  • The first large-scale animal farms were designed to protect egg-laying hens from predators and extreme weather, but quickly grew to include meat farmers who used technical advances to increase profits
  • Today, concentrated animal feeding operations are often run by contract farmers who are under the thumb of large corporations; the farmers often invest millions in facilities and equipment while being paid a flat rate
  • Corporations are fighting for global domination of the meat market through large mergers, buyouts and even bribing of politicians that have in some instances resulted in billion dollar fines and prison sentences

By Dr. Mercola

The first large-scale animal farm factories appeared in the early 1970s,1 designed for egg-laying hens. However, it wasn't long before beef and pork producers followed suit with the aim to reduce overhead and increase profits, which also reduced the quality of the meat produced.

Today, most meat sold in the U.S. is raised in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). In a corporate-controlled environment characterized by large-scale, centralized production, companies — not farmers — have identified means of production, processing and distribution that produce more meat for less money.

The repercussions associated with these farms have included a rise in antibiotic-resistant disease claiming the lives of nearly 23,000 Americans each year,2 and a significant impact on local water supply from waste water runoff from these farms.3,4 Both of these concerns are driving significant global issues with water quality and antibiotic-resistant bacterial disease.

Although these farms have created monstrous environmental problems, the companies that run them are not only violating the environment, they are also plundering the American farmer, driving the farmer deeper into debt as the corporation enjoys growing profits.

Moved From Field to Confinement

Harold Steele, a hog-farming pioneer in central Illinois, helped develop new methods of raising pigs in automated confinement operations that boosted productivity.5 Family farmers were optimistic these new production methods would help improve sustainable agriculture on the family farm. Initially, wooden barns and then galvanized metal sheds, were built to protect the animals from predators, cold snaps and summer heat.

Farmers shared their secrets for breeding, shed construction and ventilation systems. The farmers started with wooden slat floors that allowed manure and waste to collect below, but soon moved to concrete floors when the wood swelled and twisted from moisture. The farmers built earthen lagoons to stockpile the manure and then used it to fertilize their nearby crop fields where they grew corn and grain to feed the livestock.

These farmers used secret additives to the hog feed, such as cinnamon and honey to improve production and reduce illness. However, by the 1990s, low-dose, government-approved growth hormones and antibiotics were introduced, making the animals grow faster, and sometimes changing their personality. Steele said:6

"The animals changed from what we had created to a kind of animal that was being fed things that they shouldn't have been fed. They are no longer animals that we've known. They are animals that we can't even handle."

As the animals are packed in tight quarters and fed diets that endanger the animal's immune system, the spread of disease occurs quickly and easily. Low-dose antibiotics are added to the feed to slow infectious disease and to encourage growth of the animal on less food; both factors that increase the profit margin for the producers and increase the health risks for the end user.

These antibiotics may kill most of the bacteria in the animal, but often leave enough bacteria resistant to the drugs that survive and multiply in the meat.7 This is the meat that ends up on your dinner table.

Resistance to Antibiotic of Last Resort Found on Hog Farm

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria is fast becoming a global crisis,8 fueled by large amounts of antibiotic use on CAFO farms, needed to protect the health of animals kept in an unhealthy and inhumane environment. One such antibiotic-resistant bacteria recently detected on a U.S. hog farm9 was carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae (CRE).

CRE has been labeled a "nightmare bacteria" by the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Tom Frieden, since they are nearly impossible to kill with conventional antibiotics.10 These organisms may transfer their virility to other bacteria, have a fatality rate as high as 50 percent and are resistant to nearly all antibiotics.

Researchers suggested finding CRE on the hog farm may have been the result of an introduction from the outside. The consistent use of low-dose antibiotics in the animal feed on the farm may subsequently have contributed to the maintenance and spread of the bacteria.11

Some Contract Growers Lose Out

The system of pork production initiated by Steele continued until the mid-1990s when prices collapsed and large producers, such as Smithfield and Cargill, entered the picture, enticing farmers to become "contract growers," providing the labor without actually owning the pigs.12 Some farmers saw this as a way of being able to keep the family farm without absorbing the fluctuating meat market prices.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, while farmers are insulated from shifting prices, they face unique challenges, such as increasing production losses or corruption in the sponsoring company, especially allocating quotas the farmers must meet.13 Large meat producers, like Cargill, are continuing to solicit contract growers, giving the farmer the opportunity to get bank loans for new confinement buildings and stay in business.

But while a contract from a large corporation promising business may help the farmer garner a bank loan, the reality of a 365-day business without rest and consistent payment per pig has driven some farmers out of business. According to Professor Emeritus Ronald Plain, a specialist in livestock marketing at the University of Missouri, the cost per pig:14

"[It] sounds fairly typical. What you are describing is a very common arrangement. You want to make a lot of money in pigs, you got to own the pigs and deal with a lot of risk."

Without the risk, farmers are making less but continue to have the same overhead costs. Some have taken out multimillion-dollar loans to build confinement facilities15 while netting between $20,000 and $60,000 each year for their efforts. According to Illinois hog farmer Greg Giertz:

"It used to be, the farmer raised the corn that fed his pigs here in Illinois, they got harvested by a packing plant here in Illinois and they probably got consumed here in Illinois. Now the hogs might be owned by someone in Iowa, raised in Illinois, slaughtered in Indiana and shipped to China."

Smithfield Profits and Farmers Can Barely Pay the Mortgage

Solicitation of a greater number of contract farmers has resulted in nearly 700 construction applications for new or expanded operations in Iowa alone.16 This follows the loss of nearly 8 million piglets between 2013 and 2015 from a viral infection of porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDv).17 Multiple strains of PEDv have been identified in the U.S., as the virus easily mutates in response to herd immunity.

The enteric virus was reported in the 1970s18 in Europe and found periodically in Italy since the 1990s.19 Severe outbreaks occurred predominantly in swine-producing Asian countries, before destroying nearly 10 percent of the hog population in the U.S. between 2013 and 2014. The virus then spread to Canada and Mexico.20 Confinement and stressed immune systems in the hogs increased the opportunity for the virus to spread quickly.

Lack of supply drove pork prices high, reducing consumer demand. With an increasing number of contract farmers taking the initiative to develop pork CAFOs to meet the demand, the market has been flooded with "the other white meat," making pork more competitive in the grocery store. Throughout the ups and downs of the pork market, contract farmers are paid the same for each pig delivered to market, while their overhead costs continue to grow.

This combination has resulted in a $143 million net income for Smithfield in 2016, compared to $83 million for the same time period in 2015.21 Pig farmers are facing declining margins and potential farm loss, while the companies that own their contracts are raking in the profits.

The fall in prices comes at a time when export to China has fallen dramatically, in part as China bans the use of a growth stimulant U.S. producers use to add weight on the animal before slaughter. Ractopamine is a drug that increases protein development and reduces the amount of fat on the animal. However, while it sounds good for producers, the drug is banned in most countries, except the U.S., due to health concerns.

Animal research links the drug to a reduction in reproductive function, birth defects, mastitis in dairy animals and an increase in death. In fact, the Center for Food Safety includes toxicity risks as behavioral changes, cardiovascular and endocrine problems and high stress leading to broken limbs, hyperactivity and death.22 The drug is banned in nearly 160 countries, but acceptable to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for your consumption.23

What Does Health Have to Do With It?

In a marketing maneuver to brand Smithfield CAFO pork as healthy, the company partnered with Skinnygirl brand to launch a new line of cold cut meats.24 These new prepackaged, portion controlled servings are purposefully aimed at "health conscious, weight-watching, young women," according to Smithfield.25

Skinnygirl brand was started by one of the reality television actresses on the Real Housewives of New York, Bethenny Frankel, who endorses the new portion-controlled packages of pork, saying,26 "Protein is the key to feeling full and satisfied, which helps us avoid bad investment foods."

However, while protein is necessary for good health in small portions, it is healthy fats that increase your satiety and feeling of satisfaction and fullness after eating a healthy meal, and not bits of protein, especially not antibiotic and growth hormone-laden CAFO pork.

Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick

Reminiscent of President Theodore Roosevelt's foreign policy to "speak softly and carry a big stick," Smithfield appears to be taking up a position of intelligent marketing and decisive action to advance a global impact on the meat market. Slowly and quietly the company is targeting markets across the globe using popular branding, such as Skinnygirl, and collaborating with major league sports teams, such as the Chicago Fire Soccer Club.

Krakus, a Polish subsidiary of Smithfield, recently announced they would team up with the Chicago soccer team to provide the official deli meat for the season.27 The irony of pairing of a sports team, intent on physical fitness, with a company providing CAFO pork products is a clever marketing strategy to push you to associate healthy life choices with prepackaged deli meat.

Smithfield foods is also applying for permission to acquire more meat processing plants in Poland,28 to grow their ever-expanding meat empire across the globe. The proposal involves the purchase of 100 percent of company shares of three meat processing plants. The proposed acquisition will add the ability of Smithfield to process poultry meat in Poland, boosting meat processing capacity in that country. Smithfield said in a statement to Global Meat News:29

"The acquisition will strengthen the integrated supply chain within Smithfield group in Poland. It will also allow [the group] to raise its production capacities in the field of meat processing to satisfy the increasing demand of Polish and foreign customers for … processed meat products."

If the proposed merger with Smithfield and these four plants takes place, the plants in Poland will likely post annual revenues of nearly $270 million. Although consolidation of meat processing and packing is lucrative for Smithfield, it places contract farmers and consumers in the untenable position of being at the mercy of one provider.

Political Bribes Release Tainted Meat and May Topple Brazilian President

The meat business, much like other large industries, has connections at various levels of government. In the case of meat exports from Brazil, those connections have reached all the way to the country's president. Recently, authorities in Brazil suspended 33 government employees and closed three slaughterhouses after finding factory managers had bribed politicians and inspectors to obtain meat export certificates for meat that had never been inspected.30

This was the largest organized federal police effort in Brazil, which police used to dismantle a "criminal organization" that had used kickbacks to aid the production and exportation of adulterated meat by meat producer JBS.

Brazil is one of the world's largest meat exporters, generating nearly $14 billion in the global meat trade in 2016. Located in Brazil, JBS is a global organization, having acquired U.S. Swift and Company in 2007 and Smithfield's beef business in 2008. In 2009 JBS became a majority stockholder in Pilgrim's Pride.

As a result of corruption charges, Brazilian prosecutors fined JBS $3.1 billion, which will be paid by their holding company J&F. This assessment came on the heels of another plea agreement between the Brazilian government and JBS that included reduced sentences for seven executives from the company.31

Although JBS did not disclose the corruption charges, investigations into President Michael Temer were launched following a leaked recording of Temer condoning a JBS executive to bribe politician Eduardo Cunha,32 now serving 15 years after being found guilty of tax evasion, money laundering and corruption.33

In the recording, Temer appears to discuss payments to Cunha. The allegations, and ensuing economic turmoil, have resulted in the country's Supreme Court approving an inquiry into these accusations against President Temer and has ousted the chairman of JBS, Joesley Batista, who reportedly fled to New York aboard his yacht, before returning to Brazil June 11.34 JBS is now in the process of selling its beef concerns in Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.35

Sustainable Farming Combats Antibiotic-Resistant Disease

Each year the importance to combating antibiotic-resistant disease grows stronger. You may do your part to protect your health by carefully choosing your foods and using antibiotics for yourself responsibly. Seek out antibiotic-free meat raised by organic grass fed and regenerative farmers. If you live in the U.S., the following organizations may help you locate healthy farm-fresh foods:

American Grassfed Association

The goal of the American Grassfed Association is to promote the grass fed industry through government relations, research, concept marketing and public education.

Their website also allows you to search for AGA approved producers certified according to strict standards that include being raised on a diet of 100 percent forage; raised on pasture and never confined to a feedlot; never treated with antibiotics or hormones; born and raised on American family farms.

EatWild.com

EatWild.com provides lists of farmers known to produce raw dairy products as well as grass fed beef and other farm-fresh produce (although not all are certified organic). Here you can also find information about local farmers markets, as well as local stores and restaurants that sell grass fed products.

Weston A. Price Foundation

Weston A. Price has local chapters in most states, and many of them are connected with buying clubs in which you can easily purchase organic foods, including grass fed raw dairy products like milk and butter.

Grassfed Exchange

The Grassfed Exchange has a listing of producers selling organic and grass fed meats across the U.S.

Local Harvest

This website 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.

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, hotels and online outlets in the United States and Canada.

Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA)

CISA is dedicated to sustaining agriculture and promoting the products of small farms.

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.

The Cornucopia Institute

The Cornucopia Institute maintains web-based tools rating all certified organic brands of eggs, dairy products and other commodities, based on their ethical sourcing and authentic farming practices separating CAFO "organic" production from authentic organic practices.

RealMilk.com

If you're still unsure of where to find raw milk, check out Raw-Milk-Facts.com and RealMilk.com. They can tell you what the status is for legality in your state, and provide a listing of raw dairy farms in your area. The Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund36 also provides a state-by-state review of raw milk laws.37 California residents can also find raw milk retailers using the store locator available at www.OrganicPastures.com.

[+]Sources and References [-]Sources and References

  • 1 Factory Farming, In the Beginning
  • 2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Antibiotic/Antimicrobial Resistance
  • 3 Environmental Health Perspectives, 2007; 115(2):308
  • 4 EPA, Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations
  • 5, 6, 12, 14 Chicago Tribune, June 9, 2017
  • 7 Scientific American, December 1, 2016
  • 8 Pharmacy and Therapeutics, 2015; 40(4):277
  • 9 Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, 2017; 61(2)
  • 10 NPR, March 5, 2015
  • 11 Time Magazine, December 5, 2016
  • 13 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Uniform Law Review
  • 15, 16 Business Insider, February 11, 2015
  • 17 Fox News Health, January 6, 2015
  • 18, 20 Virology Journal, 2015; 22
  • 19 Emerging Infectious Diseases, 2016; 22(1)
  • 21 Global Meat, October 28, 2016
  • 22 Food Safety Fact Sheet, February 2013
  • 23 Live Science, June 26, 2014
  • 24, 25, 26 Just Food, May 19, 2017
  • 27 Smithfield Press Release, May 31, 2017
  • 28, 29 Global Meat News, April 4, 2017
  • 30 Global Meat News, March 20, 2017
  • 31, 32 Global Meat News, May 19, 2017
  • 33 BBC News, March 20, 2017
  • 34 Global Meat News, May 31, 2017
  • 35 Meat and Poultry, June 6, 2017
  • 36 The Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund
  • 37 The Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund, State by State Review of Raw Milk Laws