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Behind the scenes of the fight for the protection of animals and workers and the preservation of the environment - my experiences as a Tyson slaughterhouse hanger/killer turned activist. Exposing the evils of factory farming, by Virgil Butler. If you have arrived here looking for the Tyson stories, view the early archives. Some of them are now featured on the sidebar for easy searching.
Sunday, January 04, 2004
Anyone that has been paying attention to this issue long before the past couple of weeks when we found our first case of mad cow, the American public received a crash course in modern slaughtering methods, and learned many other nasty details of how their food comes to be on their plates already knows that the practices are dangerous to public health, cruel to animals and the workers who handle them, and destructive to the environment. But, overshadowed by the mad cow debate are the other food safety threats that are much more common, much more likely to happen to each individual person, and sicken and kill many people every year.
In fact, as this article states:
In the week since mad cow disease was discovered in the United States, more than a million Americans were sickened by food they ate. About 6,000 became so ill they were hospitalized and nearly 100 died, according to federal health estimates.
Of course, they are referring to salmonella, E. coli, listeria and other dangerous bacteria found in our food supply every day. It goes on to state:
The toll from food-borne disease is staggering: 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths in the United States each year, according to CDC estimates.
Salmonella, for instance, caused 32,000 confirmed illnesses last year - and many times that number probably were sickened by the bacteria but never had tests to confirm it.
Campylobacter, a bacteria associated with raw or undercooked poultry, causes about 2 million cases of diarrhea, nausea and vomiting each year, and sometimes causes life-threatening infections or triggers rare immune-system responses. Listeria monocytogenes, a cold-loving bacteria found in ready-to-eat lunchmeats and hot dogs, causes about 2,500 illnesses a year, and most of those people are so ill they are hospitalized. About 500 will die, the CDC estimates.
Brad Matthews of Raleigh, N.C., no longer takes for granted that the food he eats is safe.
At age 27, he's been unable to work since July 2001, when he was hospitalized during a bout of food-borne illness caused by campylobacter. He recovered from the nausea and vomiting, but then developed Reiter's syndrome, a painful inflammation of the joints believed to be triggered by the bacteria.
"I was an administrative assistant just right out of college," Matthews said Tuesday. "My future looked bright, and it just happened out of the blue." The pain in his joints has made it impossible to live normally, he said. He can't drive, walk his dog or even play the guitar.
The public needs to pay more attention, Matthews said. "I don't think people really care. I knew about these food-borne diseases, but I thought to myself it wouldn't happen to me," he said.
From 1998 through 2000, nearly 109 million pounds of meat and meat products were recalled in the United States for problems ranging from contamination with dangerous bacteria to undercooking of ready-to-eat foods. But just 24 percent of that meat - 26 million pounds - was recovered, according to a Knight Ridder analysis of the most recent recall data available on the USDA's Web site.
In 2000, the data show, only 17 percent of recalled meat was recovered.
As the population of the United States grows older, the risk from common food-borne illnesses will increase. The people most at risk are those with compromised immune systems, including people with AIDS, lupus and transplanted organs. Also at higher risk are elderly people, young children and pregnant women, who may suffer miscarriages if they eat foods contaminated with listeria monocytogenes.
Now, even though most of us might not have known the exact figures, we (like Brad Matthews in the above story) pretty well know that our meat is not real safe. We have been repeatedly warned for years that it was contaminated and educated on how to cook it to minimize the chances of contracting illness from the contamination. We are told various things about washing, not letting meat or its packaging to touch anything else, and so on. The public has accepted this as part of the risk of eating meat - the industry has successfully gotten people to blame themselves for the contamination on their meat, even though it is the practices of the industry (and the lax regulations and lack of enforcement of them) that are responsible for this problem. Most contamination comes from fecal matter. You are literally eating shit (Some people literally eat shit and die! Ever think of it that way when you told someone that or vice versa?). And they even tell you it is not only safe, but good for you. And, even more insane is the fact that the majority of people still believe these lies! They actually believe it is their fault if they get sick rather than hold the industry and government accountable.
Now, this morning, in between all the other articles I read that were warning about BSE, and other food-borne illnesses, I came across another article that should be of interest to you. Did you know that there was arsenic being fed to the chickens that are sold to you? Did you further know that some of that arsenic makes it into your body, the water, the land, even the air?
Remember recently when I mentioned the hot spot (in terms of cancer) of Prairie Grove, Arkansas? Well, that town was mentioned in another article that I read today. They were coupled with the Delmarva Peninsula that I often read about, where they have around 500 million chickens.
Guess what the two areas have in common? Yep. Cancer. Too much of it, especially for a small community. According to the article:
Cancer rates on the Lower Shore are among the highest in Maryland and also exceed national averages, according to the American Cancer Society and regional medical experts.
Somerset County is a national leader, with a cancer death rate of 267 cases for every 100,000 people.
Guess what else these two areas have in common? Poultry operations are using large amounts of arsenic that gets dumped into the environment, including into the air - operations like Perdue and Tyson - the biggies. The type of companies that were successful in getting the Bush administration to:
...repeal a Clinton administration proposal to reduce the allowable amount of arsenic in drinking water from 50 micrograms per liter to 10 micrograms per liter, which is the health standard used by the European Union and World Health Organization. In March 2001, the Environmental Protection Agency withdrew the pending rule change, restoring the 50 micrograms standard.
This was quite convenient, as levels of arsenic as high as 42 micrograms per liter were found in Dorchester.
This article goes on to give us an idea of the true scope of the situation:
According to the researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey, one chicken excretes about 150 milligrams of roxarsone in a 42-day growth period. Litter collected during that period contains between 30 to 50 milligrams per kilogram of total arsenic, according to the report.
On the Delmarva Peninsula, it means between 20 and 50 metric tons of arsenic are introduced to the environment annually by chicken farmers.
Doesn't sound too good, does it? The people that live in these areas aren't too happy. They have filed suit over it.
The product the chicken companies use is called roxarsone, an active ingredient in 3-Nitro (a feed additive manufactured by Alpharma Inc.) to control intestinal parasites and promote growth. The chickens excrete this arsenic in their waste virtually unchanged. There is also spilled feed on the floor. Then, all this waste gets spread onto the ground, into the air, and into the water - eventually ending up in people's bodies. And apparently it is now causing high rates of cancer in the areas where the concentrations are the highest. There are multiple occurrences of cancers in a few thousand people that statistically only occur in 1 in a million people.
Something is very wrong.
Once you tear apart all the excuses and justifications that the industry and the government throw at the public to justify the continued use of this highly risky practice, the best they come up with is about the same argument that the beef industry is coming out with about the waste from that industry when confronted with the use of animal byproducts in food. What else do we do with all the parts of the animals that are not eaten by humans?
Half of a cow does not go to human food. Tons of chicken litter, manure from cows and pigs, along with skin, feathers, and bones, are also produced by this industry that is dumped into the environment in some way. There are whole industries built around the use of the by-products of animals raised for food. Some of them are pretty nasty to think about.
The industry has been quite creative, indeed even boastful at times, about their solutions to this ever-growing problem. However, we are starting to realize more and more how short-sighted and dangerous many of these "creative" and "innovative" practices are. Even the newest idea of converting chicken litter into energy has been called into question because of the risk of airborne arsenic levels that are high enough to cause even more problems. There doesn't seem to be much answer to this problem, other than for society to quit eating meat, at least factory-farmed meat.
There was a bit of good news from another article that I read today, though, that I also wanted to share with all of you:
"Right now, the American consumer has more power when it comes to influencing what the government and corporations allow into the food supply than ever before," said Marion Nestle, head of the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at New York University and one of the nation's experts on the role of corporate influence on public food policy.
The power, she and others at the forefront of food activism agree, is the shopping list. Nothing will fix problems with government oversight and inferior food products faster than a drop in sales.
Consumers have never been as educated about the U.S. food system as they are today, according to food activists, nutrition experts and lawmakers.
Coalitions of activists, educators, parents and politicians are forming to fight obesity and improve school lunches. Lawyers who used to sue big tobacco now are suing fast-food companies. Even presidential candidates are making food safety an issue -- all of which could lead to significant changes in how food is grown and processed.
"With all these unknowns (about mad cow disease), the people ought to be saying, 'I'm just not going to buy this until the system gets cleaned up.' And the thing is, it would work," she said.
"Politicians have learned they've got to listen to consumers. It's not enough to get input solely from industry," she said. "It is abundantly clear that consumers are not being passive anymore. They've seen that the food industry will provide food that will make them fat and make them sick and ruin their health."
America is slowly aligning with Europe when it comes to food safety, she said. In countries like the Netherlands, France and England, consumers have fought for stricter livestock slaughtering standards, pushed for all-out bans on food additives like trans fat and forced manufacturers to label food made with genetically modified organisms.
Driving what some nutrition experts and activists call "the new food revolution" is a simple fact: Now, more than ever, America is more aware of what it eats
Increasingly, high-end diners in food epicenters like the Bay Area, Los Angeles and New York are asking if their food is not only grown naturally but also if it is sustainable -- is it grown or harvested in ways that don't harm the environment or the workers who produce it?
Although still a small slice of overall domestic food production, the organic food category has been growing by as much as 20 percent a year through most of the last decade, according to the Organic Trade Association.
I am very careful as to what I buy and who I buy it from. I get more conscious of it all the time. If money is all these corporate giants care about, then that is where we have to fight them back. As long as society keeps rewarding such behavior, they will keep getting away with it. We are so attached to our cheap, plentiful food here in this country. But, the price is not really very cheap anymore.
In fact, it is rising all the time.
If you really want to see what the price we pay for cheap food actually is, read this story. Of course, this is one of many stories. But even this price is too high.
Become a conscious consumer. Be informed and make sound choices when you shop. There is a lot of competition for your money out there. Who will you support with it? What kind of practices will you support?