cost

The high cost of cheap meat

Tuesday, March 15, 2011 by: Sherry L. Ackerman, Ph.D.
Tags: meat, cost, health news

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(NaturalNews) When interviewed, documentary filmmaker Michael Moore responded to a question about whether every American was entitled to healthcare. His reply was, "We have to decide what kind of people we are." He was referring to our national character. Who are we? What kind of society do we want to become? Are we interested in creating a world that works for everyone . . . or one that only works for an elite few?

Americans' love affair with cheap stuff - all the way to education and airfares - has been one of the biggest roadblocks standing in the way of sustainability. In the same way that consumer culture has moved toward valuing profit over people, it has put profit before nature. The U.S. agricultural industry, for example, can now produce unlimited quantities of meat and grains at remarkably cheap prices. But it does so at a high cost to the environment, animals, and humans. Though Americans might like to imagine their food being produced the way their grandfathers did it, it's more likely that their burger began where 1,000 or more head of livestock were kept in overcrowded, unventilated, infected, and infested indoor feedlots, where they were fattened up for slaughter as fast as possible. Today's factory farms are large industrial facilities, a far cry from the green pastures and red barns that most Americans imagine. The animals in these facilities are not considered animals at all; they are food-producing machines. The problem is that animals aren't widgets with legs. They are living creatures and there are consequences to packing them in prison-like conditions.

Doesn't anyone ever wonder where all of that manure goes? To survive and grow in that much sludge, factory-farmed animals need antibiotics - which then leads, inevitably, to antibiotic resistant bacteria. "These antibiotics are not given to sick animals," says Representative Louise Slaughter, who is sponsoring a bill to limit antibiotic use on CAFOs. "It's a preventative measure because they are kept in pretty unspeakable conditions."

Something has gone terribly wrong with the relationship between human beings and the animals they rely upon for food. And whatever is wrong is wrong on a huge scale, as traditional animal husbandry has given way to industrialization. But Americans want cheap burgers, and Big Agriculture is good at hushing up what they do to keep the costs down. As one commentator stated in Contemporary Issues in Animal Agriculture, an agribusiness textbook: "One of the best things agriculture has going for it is that most people in the developed countries . . . haven't a clue how animals are raised and processed. For modern animal agriculture, the less the consumer knows, the better."

And consumers don't know. There's a lot of distance between the CAFO and their dinner table. They buy beef all neatly arranged on a styrofoam tray, shrink wrapped in plastic, from a squeaky clean refrigerator case. It's a commodity, not an animal. And they are certainly not aware that it was an animal that was badly treated - objectified - like a mere cog in the industrial wheel. Is this the best that humans are capable of?

About the author:
Sherry L. Ackerman, Ph.D., is a socially engaged philosopher and cultural sustainability advocate. Her new book, The Good Life: How to Create a Sustainable and Fulfilling Lifestyle explores critical issues from this perspective. At the end of each chapter is a list of things that you can do to create a more sustainable, healthier lifestyle. For more information: http://www.sherryackerman.com

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