On Saturday, March 15, 2014, CNN published an opinion piece by Jane Velez-Mitchell titled, Factory Meat, Cruel and Bad for Us. While I am no fan of chickens living in battery cages or ruminant animals living in unnatural confinement, I am also not a fan of the misleading nature of Velez-Mitchell’s article.
Throughout her piece, Velez-Mitchell makes a number of points to back up her theory that “America's most intractable problems all double back to our collective mistreatment of animals.”
Rather predictably, Velez-Mitchell jumps right in with a quote by the Humane Society’s vice president Paul Shapiro stating that "Animal abuse is the norm in the meat industry. Many standard practices in animal agribusiness are so cruel that they're just out of step with mainstream American values about how animals ought to be treated."
Those are some pretty harsh words, and the allegations are based upon finding a number of instances of abuse at various factory farms. From the Humane Society’s web site: “In 2007, there were 20 reported neglect cases involving cows and eight involving pigs, down from 33 cow neglect cases and 11 pig neglect cases in 2006, and 26 cow neglect cases and nine pig neglect cases in 2005.” (Source)
The Humane Society’s report does not state how many individual animals were involved in these abuse and neglect cases, but to be fair we will assume it was abuse or neglect that may have affected the entire herd on the farm(s) implicated. There were approximately 89.3 million cattle between 935,000 farms and ranches in 2013 (according to numbers provided by BeefUSA.org and the USDA).
So – to state these numbers in a different way, there were 20 reported cases of abuse or neglect among those 935,000 farms and ranches. According to my calculator, that is one reported case of abuse or neglect for every 46,750 cattle ranches and farms.
In comparison, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that “For FFY 2012, 51 states reported 678,810 (unique count) victims of child abuse and neglect.” (Source)
Now, I’m no math whiz … but even with my math skills it seems pretty clear that we treat our cattle better than we do our children on average in the U.S.
The next strike against factory meat and dairy farms, according to Velez-Mitchell, is the U.S. obesity crisis. She writes, “The rise of obesity has paralleled the rise of fast food, laden with meat and dairy products: burgers and shakes.” Velez-Mitchell seems to completely ignore the difference between fresh meat and dairy products and those sold at fast food restaurants. She then goes on to push the benefits of a plant-based diet. The differences between fresh meat/dairy and fast food burgers and shakes are comparable to the differences between apples and apple pie. Apples don’t make people fat, but add to them wheat flour, lard and tons of sugar and suddenly those apples become a heart attack in a pie tin. And let’s not overlook the fact that French fries (potatoes) are also plant based, but arguably still a contributor to our obesity crisis.
Apparently the U.S. health care crisis can also be blamed upon meat and dairy product. The article states, “Eating too much meat and dairy products, combined with excessive intake of sugars and starch, plays a big role in these medical issues.”
Eating too much of anything isn’t a good thing. And while the hope of the author may have been that the reader might quickly skim over the “excessive intake of sugars and starch” part, this is the very part that needs the spotlight placed upon it. In fact, a recent study by the CDC found that excessive sugar intake may be the biggest contributing factor to not only our obesity issue, but also our country’s issue with heart disease and type 2 diabetes. (Source)
The truth of the matter is that a diet of fruits, vegetables and plenty of lean meat (both red meat and white) and fish helps reduce cholesterol and the risks of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Because of the obesity and health care crisis, the article goes on to blame the meat and dairy industries for the US deficit… and it gets worse. Now natural disasters and weather anomalies can be attributed to these industries to because of the methane emissions of the animals.
OK – let’s face it. Scientific studies have shown that the methane emissions from ruminant livestock do make up about 23% of the overall greenhouse gasses created by the U.S. Add to that an additional 9% from manure management, and we can attribute the livestock industry with the creation of 32% of all greenhouse gasses. (Yes – scientists have actually studied cow flatulence…) But – do you know what accounts for 41% of our greenhouse gasses? Natural gas and petroleum systems and coal mining.
The deforestation of the rainforests for the purposes of creating pastureland for cattle is another factor cited … she doesn’t mention the fact that a large percent of the deforestation can be attributed crop farming, wildfires and the cultivation of timber. (We can’t blame it all on the cattle!)
The article makes no mention of the 8.4 million acres of U.S. land that has been affected by coal mining or the nearly 40 million acres of U.S. land currently under lease for oil and gas production.
Velez-Mitchell wraps up the article by contending that “World hunger could be eliminated if all the produce fed to cows, chickens and pigs raised for human consumption was distributed directly to hungry humans.” This statement leads me to wonder if she knows that cattle are often fed fermented chicken droppings among other things. Or that the commercially marketed feeds for cattle, pigs and chickens are often made up of grains generally not fit for human consumption.
And one more point about a completely vegan diet … considering how grains, fruits and vegetables are propagated and grown these days (think GMOs, insecticides and a focus on the bottom line instead of the health values of these foods), I worry about the effects of these things on our health and longevity. What will we know about these farming methods in 50 years that we don’t know now? And what will the long-term effects be?
Once again – I am not a fan of keeping animals in unnatural and uncomfortable settings, nor am I a fan of excessive use of antibiotics and hormones in these animals. This is why I do as much as I can to grow my own food and buy pasture-raised meats. Instead of accusing and finger pointing, what if the answers lie in getting back to the way nature intended things to be? What if we pushed to have more animals raised in a fashion more in line with the way they were meant to live? What if humans quit eating exorbitant amounts of sugars, chemicals and GMOs? And what if we all came to the understanding that there is no ONE answer to all that ails us. It took a long time for us to get ourselves into this mess – and it is going to take a long time to get out of it.