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Originally published September 26 2010

Factory food artificially cheap, bad for your health

by Ethan A. Huff, staff writer

(NaturalNews) If ever there was a time when the public-at-large was aware of the inherent problems of the industrial food system, it is today. Eggs, meat, peanuts, vegetables, baby formula -- many of the foods that most Americans eat and feed their children every single day have experienced some kind of widespread contamination event in recent years that led to a massive recall. And sure, this factory food that packs most grocery store shelves might be less expensive than organic and naturally-grown alternative, but is it safe and sustainable? Many experts are now in agreement that it's not.

A recent Chicago Tribune article cites a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) statistic that says Americans now spend less of their disposable income -- an average of 9.5 percent -- on food, than do people from every other country in the world. Meat costs, for instance, have dropped from 4.1 percent of overall spending to a mere 1.6 percent in recent years. But why? And is this necessarily a good thing?

The reason food costs have decreased relative to inflation over the years is due to the emergence of large-scale, factory farms that are able to grow produce and raise meat in much more efficient and less costly ways, at least from one perspective. On the flip side, the new methods have actually reduced the overall quality, nutritional value and safety of food, which is why there are frequent contamination outbreaks, not to mention skyrocketing increases in new disease among the population.

Most animals raised for food today are grossly confined in ultra-dense, unnatural living environments and fed subsidized -- meaning artificially cheap due to the government picking up most of the tab -- genetically modified feed that is foreign to the animals' native diets. These concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are typically filthy and infested with rodents and feces, which causes the animals to become ill much more often than they normally would. So operators of these facilities simply pump the animals full of growth hormones and antibiotics as a cure-all, hoping that everything will turn out fine.

Compare this to the animals of old that were free to roam the pastures and eat grass and bugs on small-scale, independent farms. Their feces were safely spread on the fields as natural fertilizer in a complementary relationship between animals and land -- as opposed to feces from factory farms that, because it comes from millions of confined animals, has to be disposed of in other ways due to its unsustainable volume. Either this, or the waste ends up in rivers, groundwater and nearby agricultural fields.

Then there's the difference in composition and nutritional vibrancy of factory food compared to real food. Animals fed cheap feed, for instance, form meat and fat that is practically toxic to the human body, while grass-fed animals produce meat that is rich in vitamins, minerals and omega-3 fatty acids. The same goes for organic produce that is organically- or naturally-grown and fertilized versus conventional produce doused in chemical pesticides: the former has a much higher nutritional value than the latter, and is obviously much safer to eat.

In some respects, the nation's regulatory agencies -- and even many in the general public -- seem to be waking up to many of these truths, especially due to the heightened frequency of food recalls in recent months. There is something terribly wrong with the system itself and people are starting to see it.

Unfortunately, some groups are trying to use the broken food system to push for legislation that will ultimately make matters worse instead of contribute to fixing it. Rather than reverse the momentum back towards honest, real food, advocates of "food safety" laws say more regulation is needed to control food. Food safety is important, but real food safety comes from agriculture that is natural, local and sustainable -- not from the giant feedlots and herbicide-ridden fields that dot today's American landscape.

The recent egg salmonella outbreak, for example, likely would never have happened if the millions of chickens living at the two mega-farms in Iowa had instead been living in thousands of diversified family farms across the U.S. Even a couple hundred hens living at a reasonably-sized farm does not create the toxic environmental conditions needed to foster the growth of salmonella because the birds have free access to an outdoor, health-promoting environment.

The environmental costs of factory farming are also alarming. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 21 percent of the groundwater in Yakima Valley, Washington, an area rich in agriculture, is contaminated with unsafe levels of nitrites. And in Iowa, at least 47 waterway contamination events that killed hundreds of thousands of aquatic animals were linked back to animal waste runoff from factory farms.

Giving the FDA increased power to over-regulate America's last remaining small-scale farms is not the answer to curbing contamination outbreaks. Ending cash crop subsidies and reverting back to an agricultural system that respects the land, encourages local farming and employs clean and natural methods of growing and raising food is.

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