As I sat down to work on this month’s blog post, members of the organic food movement had published an open letter to the Secretary of Agriculture asking him to reconsider the elimination of recently-implemented organic standards on animal welfare (you can check out the article in the links below and the letter here: www.organicvalley.coop/advocacy/organic-livestock-and-poultry-practices/. Recently, several large food companies withdrew from the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) for a very similar reason: the GMA tends to oppose consumer-friendly measures (www.foodpolitics.com/2017/12/18992/).
I find it heartening to see the commitment of the organic food movement and other companies to supporting animal welfare and healthier foods. I am happy to see that companies are stepping up and taking a stand against regulations that are harmful for animal and human health. It is, after all, in their best interest to ensure that consumers know what they are buying because, if they are being proactive in ensuring that those products abide by strict standards of animal welfare or other health standards, consumers need to know this. It shows that we, as consumers, have a voice and we can effect change.
However, what upsets me is that these changes are coming precisely because consumers have been demanding healthier foods, and not because they were initiated by the government or by the companies. It also saddens me to see how quickly and easily standards of food production ensuring animal welfare and human health can be tossed aside. The primary goal of the government and food companies should be to keep its citizens and consumers healthy. They shouldn’t be allowing companies to try to feed us antibiotic-laden meats, or fruits and vegetables grown full of pesticides, or processed foods that are full of sugar.
So it remains up to us as consumers to be aware of the foods we eat and to demand that companies abide by our standards of health and safety.
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The Incredible Story of How Antibiotics Created Modern Agriculture and Changed the Way the World Eats
by Maryn McKenna
Big Chicken by Maryn McKenna is a fascinating expose of the link between antibiotics, our ever-increasing consumption of chicken, and the current problem of antibiotic resistance. She demonstrates how inextricably linked chicken production and antibiotics are, and the resulting health problems this causes.
McKenna begins by discussing how chicken became such a crucial part of the American diet. During World War II, demand for protein sky-rocketed. At the same time, scientists found that antibiotics allowed chickens to grow faster. As a result, antibiotics began to be used as “growth promoters” for chickens, and consumption of chicken was encouraged. As McKenna notes, “In 1960…Americans ate 28 pounds of chicken per year; in 2016, we ate more than 92 pounds, the equivalent of 4 ounces every day. The constantly rising demand made growth promoters essential. It also made them normal, so routine that when food companies started introducing antibiotics in our diets, no one thought it was odd.” (Big Chicken, p. 73)
As chicken production increased so did the use of antibiotics as growth promoters, but also to treat illness. Indeed, chicken bred to have specific traits that consumers want has led to weak chickens rife with diseases. All these antibiotics end up in the environment when they are excreted by the chickens as waste. McKenna writes, “…manure is the source of much of the resistant bacteria that spread from farming…(But) while animals are being raised, the bacteria in their guts – and any unmetabolized antibiotics that their bodies did not absorb – pass out of them into chicken house litter, or the vast pits or ponds of liquid manure on pig farms and cattle feedlots. When that manure is disseminated through the environment…the bacteria it contains spread too.” (Big Chicken, p.168) This explains why we have seen a drastic rise in human resistance to antibiotics. So much so that the World Health Organization considers it one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today.
Big Chicken is a wake-up call that we need to demand tougher standards of meat production, ones that don’t permit the use of antibiotics or growth hormones. We also need to be aware of what we purchase and from where.
Here are a few of my favorite articles for this month:
- This article highlights the Trump Administration’s decision to eliminate regulations requiring organic egg producers to provide hens with outdoor access. This opens up a Pandora’s Box of animal welfare and health issues. The way I see it, it’s even more reason to shop from local farms and farmers markets. READ ARTICLE
- Wouldn’t it be nice if junk food cost more than healthy food? According to this article, a tax on soda and junk food might not be too far away. Putting a tax on junk food may not be a way to get people to lost weight, but it certainly prevents people, especially young children, from eating unhealthy foods. READ ARTICLE
- Here’s an interesting article about how supermarkets encourage people to purchase foods that they don’t need. The best is to stay on the perimeter of the supermarket as much as possible. READ ARTICLE
- According to this article, “…Americans go through 100 billion plastic shopping bags every year and discard 2.5 million plastic bottles every hour.” I think it’s high time we weaned ourselves off our dependence on plastic bags and plastic anything! READ ARTICLE
- Every year, UC Berkeley and Edible Schoolyard put together a course hat explores the food system and its future. I highly recommend watching the classes. CHECK OUT THE LINK HERE