Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Grown Meats aren't all that great

I've been collecting a bunch of articles that resonate with me more than can standalone as a post for me, but require more than a link in a Roundup. With that said, I've been becoming increasingly disturbed by the state of the food sold, particularly meats, but certainly also concerned about sustainably grown vegetables and fruit crops.

Over the past 2 weeks, I've seen a post on Gristmill pointing to a NYTimes article about Industrial meat. An article by Tom Philpott on Grist about the increase in E. Coli and its possible relation to the boom in distillers grain use as a feed source (distillers grains are a byproduct of producing ethanol from corn). And then, in the last week, the next coffin nail, Tom Philpott tackles farm-raised fish.

The core of it all of these adds up to a few conclusions, which aren't revolutionary. 1) We eat to much meat because we've been taught that its good and right to do so. 2) In order to keep up with the successful generation of demand growth for meat products and to maximize profit, safety and sustainability are not considered. 3) Humans (in general) treat all of the contents of the earth as things to be used as fits our whims. This last is more complicated, the examples that come to mind in the industrial food debate is the use of food stocks that the animals wouldn't eat if given the choice. Feeding grains to cattle to fatten them faster, catching fish to feed to pigs and chickens. Overfishing and creating fishery collapse. Confining animals in close quarters with other animals or simply caging them for their entire lives.

Some selected quotes from the various articles linked above.

Philpott on fish farming:
A new peer-reviewed study by Canadian researchers shows that salmon farms are severely depleting wild-salmon stocks, causing survival rates to fall by as much as half each generation.
So to stock our supermarkets with flavorless, nutritionally suspect farmed salmon, we're sacrificing entire populations of glorious wild salmon.

Philpott quoting another journalist about the E.Coli/tainted beef link:
Raymond said the government had no intention of restricting the use of distillers grains even if the E. coli link is confirmed, and would instead leave it to the industry to decide how to address the issue. One possibility, he said, is to vaccinate cattle. "I'm not about to tell the cattlemen what they are going to feed their cows."

To this jawdropper, Brasher dryly adds: "No E. coli vaccine has yet been approved for use in cattle."

Right. To my way of thinking, the E. coli 0157 problem calls for a return to grass -- which keeps cows healthy and free of pathogens deadly to humans. For the USDA, the problem amounts to another opportunity for the pharmaceutical industry -- a new vaccine!

Bittman in the NY Times:

Americans are downing close to 200 pounds of meat, poultry and fish per capita per year (dairy and eggs are separate, and hardly insignificant), an increase of 50 pounds per person from 50 years ago. We each consume something like 110 grams of protein a day, about twice the federal government’s recommended allowance; of that, about 75 grams come from animal protein. (The recommended level is itself considered by many dietary experts to be higher than it needs to be.) It’s likely that most of us would do just fine on around 30 grams of protein a day, virtually all of it from plant sources.