Tuesday, December 20, 2011

E. Coli: One of the Costs of "Cheap" Meat

There was recall of ground beef this week for 40,000 pounds that were found to be contaminated with E. Coli. Fortunately, this recall was made before anyone ate the contaminated meat and suffered the consequences, which can be as severe as death.

The US Department of Agriculture estimates that E. Coli has an annual price tag of around $488, 771, 183 in medical costs, productivity losses, and disutility. These are the human costs of E. Coli here in America.

How many cows were butchered and then ultimately recalled and discarded due to this contamination? According to my research, a butchered cow produces anywhere from 300 to 500 pounds of useable meat, not all of which will be ground. But to keep things simple, for the purposes of this demonstration, let’s say that all of that meat is ground for distribution. That means that anywhere from 80 to 130 cows were destroyed due to this contamination and recall. Their lives needlessly wasted.

Here is another part of the waste: 720,000 gallons (a conservative number, as some estimates have it closer to 1 Billion gallons) is the amount of water needed to raise one steer (from birth to butcher within the factory farm system), multiply that by the number of cows that were destroyed and you have 57,600,000 – 93,600.000 wasted gallons of clean water. I’m not even going to go into the amount of wasted corn (did you know that 80% of all corn grown in the US is used for feedlots and only 20% for human consumption?), waste water produced and other harmful effects on the environment that are inexcusable at any time and much, much more so when the final outcome is not even suitable for human consumption.

Waste compounded by waste, and all of it unnecessary. Why unnecessary? Think back to science class as a kid when you learned all about cows. I don’t remember what grade that was, but I know I was pretty young when I learned that cows have 4 stomachs, they eat GRASS, and chew their cud (regurgitated GRASS) and pass it along progressively to each of it’s four stomachs for proper digestion. It was probably during that same year of science class that we learned that corn is a grain, not a grass. Hmmmm…. I guess what I’m getting at here is that if a 4th grader knows that cows eat grass and corn ISN’T grass, why is it that we feed millions of cows corn?

You didn’t actually expect me to have an answer for that, did you? Here’s the best I can come up with. After WWII, we had a surplus of corn and a shortage of cheap, readily available food for a lot of people who wanted to eat meat. So, the government began subsidizing corn (yes, giving away your tax-payer dollars to corn farms – not small time farms, but massive farms), feedlots were developed on which cattle were fed corn, cattle fattened faster than on grass, “cheap” meat was created, a taste for “cheap” corn-fed beef was cultivated among consumers. And consequences be damned.

Here’s the problem, since cows weren’t created to eat corn, their digestive systems are not created to digest corn. In other words, those 4 stomachs and the process of chewing cud – designed to digest grass – doesn’t work to digest corn. This causes a very painful condition in cows called acute acidosis. The condition is so painful, that cows will kick at their own bellies to try to stop the pain, if left untreated (by antibiotics, of course), it will lead to a quick death (and is the most common form of death among cows in feedlots). This condition, even if treated, causes lesions in the liver which would be fatal if the cows were allowed to live long enough. To quote another website, “altering cattle feed is not natural, and nature is telling us so.” (http://lettherebebite.com/in-store-guide/meat/beef/)

E. Coli is a bacteria that lives naturally in a cow’s digestive system, cows that eat an appropriate diet of grass, maintain healthy levels of E. Coli in their systems, however, cows that are converted (for fattening up) to a corn based diet lose the natural balance within their bodies. E. Coli is overproduced and excreted. Cows living in feedlots are constantly exposed to their own excrement, and are in most cases, still covered in it when they are butchered. And here comes the really fun part, that excrement ends up in your hamburger and makes you sick. Makes me sick just thinking about it, to tell you the truth.

Buying grass-fed and FINISHED (as many beef producers are now wising up to the fact that consumers are looking for grass-fed beef, they are labeling their meat “grass-fed”. Since most cows start their lives on farmland, this is true that they were grass-fed, but then they are shipped off to a feed lot where they were FINISHED on a corn diet. Labeling is important at the grocery store, don’t be misled. To be certain, get your beef from a local provider who is proud to put the name of his farm on the label!) beef is safer for many reasons. The likely hood of having contaminated meat from this type of environment is almost non-existent. Since their bodies have less E Coli in their systems, it is not excreted from their bodies. Nor are they required to stand in their excrement day in and day out, so they are not covered in it when taken to slaughter. Also, the farmers in this case are producing meat for their families, friends and neighbors and are MUCH more accountable for the final product (after all, if you get sick from their meat, you may very well be knocking on their door to complain in person…. Do you know where the person lives who produces the hamburger that you bought at the grocery store???)

We often use the expression, food for thought. I’m asking you to take some time to think about your food! Think about where it comes from, how it is produced, how it can effect you, and how do your choices effect the world around you?

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