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Overconsumption—A Look at How Unsustainable Our Eating Habits Have Become

Eating Habits

Story at-a-glance -

  • Modern food production involves animal cruelty on a scale never seen before
  • Most all conventional meat and poultry is raised in so-called confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), where the animals are fed unnatural diets and live under crowded, filthy, and cruel conditions
  • The routine use of antibiotics for growth-promotion purposes has led to the rapid rise of antibiotic-resistant superbugs that now threaten human life
  • Chick-fil-A recently announced it will switch to antibiotic-free chicken within the next five years
  • Conventionally-raised meats, beef in particular, also contain a range of other drugs. A USDA report reveals beef sold to the American public have been found to be contaminated with 211 different drug residues

By Dr. Mercola

The featured video, Overconsumption, is a segment of a longer, completely non-verbal documentary called SAMSARA, which was filmed over a period of five years, across 25 countries.

"By dispensing with dialogue and descriptive text, SAMSARA subverts our expectations of a traditional documentary, instead encouraging our own inner interpretations inspired by images and music that infuses the ancient with the modern."

Indeed, the effect is striking. This clip, which focuses on overconsumption, highlights just how unsustainable our eating habits have become. Modern food production also involves animal cruelty on a scale never seen before in the history of mankind.

Do You Know How Your Food Is Produced?

Most all conventional meat and poultry (beef, pork, chicken, turkey, etc.) is raised in so-called confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Large-scale factory farming is the cheapest way to raise meat, for the largest profits. But the ultimate price is high, as there's a complete disregard for human health, the environment, and ethical treatment of animals.

These huge industrial "warehouses" raise sick animals (due to the overcrowded, unhygienic conditions) that are routinely injected with antibiotics and artificial hormones.

They are also fed pesticide-laden grains and other byproducts for their feed. All of the additives to the animals (the antibiotics, hormones, and pesticides) get transferred to you when you eat that meat. The routine use of antibiotics in particular has led to the rapid rise of antibiotic-resistant superbugs that now threaten human life.

According to a landmark "Antibiotic Resistance Threat Report" published by the CDC,1 two million Americans become infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year, and at least 23,000 of them die as a direct result of those infections. Even more die from complications.

Chick-Fil-A Switches to Antibiotic-Free Chicken

There are glimmers of hope here and there. For example, Chick-fil-A recently announced it will switch to antibiotic-free chicken within the next five years.2 As reported by KCTV5:

"The Atlanta-based chain said it's working with suppliers to build up an adequate supply for its nearly 1,800 restaurants. It is asking suppliers to work with the US Department of Agriculture to verify that no antibiotics are administered on the chickens at any point...

Chick-fil-A said its conversion will require 'changes along every point of the supply chain - from the hatchery to the processing plant.' The company's suppliers include Tyson, Purdue, and Pilgrim's Pride. "

However, while this addresses the health hazards of antibiotic-laced meat, it does not address the animal welfare issue, which is so clearly illustrated in the featured video.

Conventionally-raised meats, beef in particular, also contain a range of other drugs. Martha Rosenberg recently highlighted a USDA Inspector General Report,3 which revealed that beef sold to the public have been found to be contaminated with4, 5 a staggering 211 different drug residues, including Ivermectin, an antiparasite drug; Flunixin, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory, and heavy metals. Despite the presence of such contaminations, no recalls were ever issued. She writes:

"The highest of all veterinary drug residues are found in bob veal (calves under three days old that weigh only 70 to 100 pounds) says the USDA Inspector General report, because 'Farmers are prohibited from selling milk for human consumption from cows that have been medicated with antibiotics (as well as other drugs) until the withdrawal period is over; so instead of just disposing of this tainted milk, producers feed it to their calves.

When the calves are slaughtered, the drug residue from the feed or milk remains in their meat, which is then sold to consumers.' Meat from bob calves is put into 'value added' veal products like veal sausages and breaded veal patties. Is there any other food that is so dangerous and cruel at the same time?"

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Antibiotics Are Not the Only Troublesome Growth Promoters in US Food Supply

Low-dose antibiotics are routinely fed to animals to promote growth, but they're certainly not the only growth-promoting drugs in use. Beta-agonist drugs such as Zilmax belong to a class of non-hormone drugs used as a growth promoter in American livestock. As a class, beta-agonist drugs have been used in US cattle production since 2003. 

Ractopamine, another beta-agonist, is yet another drug used in the US, even though it's been banned in 160 other countries due to its potential health hazards. Beta-agonist drugs like Ractopamine and Zilmax are fed to cattle in the weeks prior to slaughter to increase weight by as much as 30 pounds of lean meat per cow. As much as 20 percent of the drug administered may remain in the meat you buy.

A recent special report by Reuters6 revealed some of the horrific effects Zilmax has on cattle, which includes lost hooves and lameness. According to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) records, at least 285 cattle have unexpectedly died or been euthanized after receiving Zilmax since the drug's introduction in 2007. Other reported adverse effects in cattle following the administration of Zilmax include:

Stomach ulcers Brain lesions Blindness Lethargy and lameness
Bloody nose Respiratory problems Heart failure Sudden death

What Are the Consequences of Relying on CAFOs for Food?

The trend of large corporate-controlled CAFOs making up the lion's share of US food production has led to an abundance of cheap food, but not without consequence. Externalized costs of large-scale factory farming (which are largely unaccounted for in agricultural productivity measurements or farm budgets) include:

  • Loss of water quality through nitrogen and phosphorus contamination in rivers, streams, and ground water (which contributes to "dramatic shifts in aquatic ecosystems and hypoxic zones")
  • Agricultural pesticide contamination to streams, ground water, and wells, and safety concerns to agricultural workers who use them
  • A decline in nutrient density of 43 garden crops (primarily vegetables), which suggests possible tradeoffs between yield and nutrient content
  • Large emission of greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide
  • Negative impact on soil quality through such factors as erosion, compaction, pesticide application, and excessive fertilization

The factory farm model also directly contributes to Americans' increasing reliance on processed junk foods; the very same foods that are making us obese and riddled with chronic disease. If your meals consist of $1 burgers and super-size drinks, your diet may be cheap, but it is also excessively high in grains, sugars, and factory-farmed meats. This is a recipe for obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, just to name a few of the conditions that commonly befall those who consume "the Standard American Diet."

Rethink Your Shopping Habits to Protect Your Family's Health

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 that is humanely raised and butchered is really about the only type of meat that is healthy to eat.

By purchasing your meat from smaller farms that raise their animals in a humane fashion, according to organic principles, you're promoting the proliferation of such farms, which in the end will benefit everyone, including all the animals. The organic industry also tends to favor far more humane butchering practices, which is another important part of "ethical meat." The following organizations can help you locate farm-fresh foods in your local area that has been raised in a humane, sustainable manner:

  1. 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.
  2. Farmers' Markets -- A national listing of farmers' markets.
  3. 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.
  4. Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) -- CISA is dedicated to sustaining agriculture and promoting the products of small farms.
  5. 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.

Stop the Corporate Takeover of Organics

Now, at the nation's largest organic farming conference, the company will again have a prominent role. This Saturday, at the MOSES Conference, WhiteWave's corporate representative will seek to teach farmers how to communicate with organic consumers and understand "consumer demographics, behaviors, attitudes, and mindsets."

How will this WhiteWave executive help us better understand today's organic consumer? Will she encourage us to cheapen production costs by sourcing feed and ingredients from China or factory farms? Will she instruct us on how to break contracts with family farmers? Or market new non-organic products with the same name and nearly identical packaging that's already familiar to organic consumers?

For too long Dean Foods/WhiteWave has purchased influence with many nonprofits running farming conferences across the U.S. and in the organic community. It's estimated that over the last 10 years, they have been the largest corporate contributor to organic nonprofits. They buy influence in the organic community and access to farmers the same way their lobbyists buy influence in Washington with large campaign contributions.

Help protect the reputation of the nation's largest organic farming conference. Please ask the MOSES board to cancel this inappropriate workshop or substitute marketing expertise from experts that truly believe in the values that have helped build the organic business industry.

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