Saturday, April 17, 2010

The true cost of meat: a lesson from the Green Festival

I’m planning a visit with my family back East. Because I am highly particular about the animal proteins I eat, when I travel I usually pack a few nuts and protein bars. It’s mostly about taking care of my own health but the truth is, without sounding pretentious, I believe I’m supporting global wellbeing, too. Here’s the connection --

From Francis Moore Lappé’s seminal book Diet for a Small Planet I learned one life-changing concept: world hunger is not caused by a shortage of food. Simply put, if the agricultural resources spent on livestock were used instead to feed people, no one would go hungry. So years ago I decided that forgoing pork, beef and lamb would be an easy enough way for me to claim some teeny contribution to food equity.

Now prodigious evidence tells us that commercial livestock practices are dangerous to our wellbeing in at least two ways: they contribute substantially to global warming and they spur the evolution of superbugs (antibiotic-resistant pathogens).

Global Warming

Last week I had the good fortune to hear Lappé’s daughter, Anna Lappé, speak to an intimate group at the San Francisco Green Festival. Also an activist and author, Anna Lappé recently published Diet for a Hot Planet. Together in 2001 this dynamic mother/daughter duo founded The Small Planet Institute.

In a passionate presentation Anna elaborated on the connections between what we eat and planetary health. Her analysis of data from the Pew Center on Global Climate Change says 1/3 of human-generated global greenhouse gasses are agricultural in origin – the result of corporate “agribiz,” also known as “factory farms.” Meanwhile organic agriculture, using no fossil-fuel-based fertilizer can produce the same yield with half the carbon emissions, she said.

I learned more while visiting the lively booth staffed by Food and Water Watch, an education and advocacy organization. In 2007 they created an amazing factory farm map of the US. They also educate about water use and the environmental impact of the consumption of fish.


The Food and Water Watch fact sheet about factory farms says:

Factory farms have a long track record of polluting water with manure, which can cause E.coli and salmonella contamination in drinking water. Too-fast line speeds in slaughterhouses and crowded conditions in factory farms also spread food-borne illness like E.coli.

Yuck. At the same time, antibiotics have become a routine feed additive used to promote growth and compensate for unsanitary conditions in raising animals for food. An estimated 70% of all U.S. antibiotics and related drugs are used nontherapeutically in animal agriculture. Yet those sneaky germs -- like the infamous Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, or MRSA (“mersa”) -- keep mutating to survive. Thus our arsenal of antibiotics for fighting human disease has become more limited and less effective than ever. All for cheap meat! According to the Pew Charitable Trust:

The routine use of human antibiotics in the food and water of food animals results in antibiotic-resistant diseases in humans that are increasingly severe, cause extended hospital stays, and increase health care costs. Experts agree that antibiotic resistance has become a public health crisis that will only worsen if we don’t act now.

On Wednesday the American Public Health Association along with the coalition Keep Antibiotics Working co-sponsored two Congressional briefings addressing the dangerous overuse of antibiotics in agriculture and its contribution to the emergence of “superbugs.” Let's hope they persuade Congress to action.

Small individual steps / big collective results

Changing our relationship to animal foods appears to be a no-brainer for better health: public, planetary and personal. The Green Festival served up corndogs made from soy; there are many other alternatives to factory-farmed meat.

1 comment:

sibylle said...

I wish more people read and aced on this.