Thereıs been a lot of talk lately about the use of radiation as a
treatment for the serious contamination problems that plague Americaıs
beef industry. Meat has become so dangerous that the only cure seems
to be to irradiate it - that is to zap it with ionizing radiation.
Proponents in government and industry argue that applying yet another
dangerous and life-threatening technology to our factory meat
production system will keep us healthier. I say HOGWASH!
The purpose of the radiation is to kill the dangerous organisms which
are in the beef when it leaves the processing factory. This is like
taking lots of aspirin after a night of heavy drinking in order to be
able to drink again the next night. Irradiating meat is a band-aid
fix that doesnıt begin to touch the real problems.
Since there are dozens of reasons why it isnıt good for our health, or
for the planetıs, to nuke our meat or to eat the contaminated products
of this factory system, we need to raise and process animals
differently if we are going to eat meat.
The underlying problem is the use of an industrial, rather than an
ecological, approach to meat production. Instead of giving animals
fresh air and allowing them to graze, the industrial system puts them
in close, and often closed, quarters in horrifying concentrations.
Enormous quantities of cheap grain, produced by intensive and damaging
farming methods, are shipped in from far away to feed the animals
which will feed us.
To further reduce feed costs, and to dispose of the by-products of
raising and slaughtering so many millions of animals, the wastes and
remains of one species are now fed to other species. Herbivores eat
chicken manure, as well as the remains of other herbivores. This
practice violates nature. Animals are also now eating
genetically-engineered grains and beans. In fact, animals themselves
are being produced by cloning and other laboratory techniques. This
severely narrows the diversity of farm animals, and creates
Because factory-raised animals are so crowded and so stressed, they
require routine doses of antibiotics to keep them alive. Artificial
hormones are used to encourage faster growth in order to produce big
profits for a few large growers.
This system also creates giant concentrations of manure which cause
severe ecological consequences. Lakes, rivers, and wells are
contaminated. Unbearable odors are produced in many communities. The
Pfiesteria outbreaks in Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina occur in
areas of intensive factory production of chickens and hogs. Manure
from concentrated animal production also causes serious problems in
Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa, and right here in Connecticut, too.
In the modern factory slaughterhouse, animals are processed at very
high speed, with beef from many farms or even from different countries
mixed together. In some cases, leftover meat from one day is added to
new meat the next day. Chicken and turkey carcasses are chilled in
large water vats which provide perfect conditions for cross
contamination. The work in those factories is brutal and very
dangerous for employees.
Given the nature of this industrial system, itıs not surprising that
some fairly nasty organisms turn up. Each attempt to control disease
tends to breed bacteria which are resistant to those controls. And,
because of the scale and speed of the production line, one really-sick
animal can contaminate lots of others.
In addition to animals and manure, ownership and control are also very
concentrated. Smaller and more ecological animal producers are driven
out of business by factory farms. This has enabled just a few large
corporations to capture a disproportionate market share for each type
of meat. Extensive vertical integration - from growing through
delivery to supermarkets and restaurants - gives these companies
enormous control. This system is currently used to produce salmon and
shrimp as well as beef, chicken, pork and turkey
What can we do? Certainly for personal safety, cooking meat thoroughly
is critical. Eating less meat or even no meat at all makes a lot of
sense. This healthy solution is increasingly popular among our young
However, to have ecological agriculture, it may be necessary to
include animals. Theyıve been an important part of our interaction
with the planet as long as weıve been here. Animalsı regular
production of concentrated protein and fertility-building manure, as
well as their grazing and pulling services, are very valuable.
In order to eat healthy animal products, we should raise animals in an
ecological system, one that is more in balance with nature.
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
İ1997, Bill Duesing, Solar Farm Education, Box 135, Stevenson, CT
Bill and Suzanne Duesing operate the Old Solar Farm (raising NOFA/CT
certified organic vegetables) and Solar Farm Education (working on
urban agriculture projects in New Haven, Bridgeport, Hartford and
Norwalk, CT). Their collection of essays Living on the Earth:
Eclectic Essays for a Sustainable and Joyful Future is available from
Bill Duesing, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491 for $14 postpaid. These
essays first appeared on WSHU, public radio from Fairfield, CT. New
essays are posted weekly at http://www.wshu.org/duesing and those
since November 1995 are available there.
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