Slaughterhouse: What the Meat Industry Hides

Slaughterhouse: What the Meat Industry Hides

Directed by Tras Los Muros (2017)

Film Review

In this documentary, filmmakers have secretly compiled haphazard slaughter techniques in 50 Mexican abattoirs that exported meat to the US between 2015 and 2017. It covers the slaughter of chickens, pigs, horses and cows.

Under Mexican and treaty law, workers are required to employ “humane” slaughter techniques that minimize animal suffering. In most cases, this means the animals must be stunned by electrocution, CO2 asphyxiation or a captive bolt pistol prior to slaughter.

As the video reveals, nearly all aspects of the slaughter process have been mechanized. The failure of stunning, in many cases, leaves many animals to suffer horribly as they are skinned alive.

Industrial Agriculture: The Truth About Where Your Meat Comes From

Land of Hope and Glory UK Earthlings Documentary

Surge (2017)

Film Review

This is a documentary about the brutal conditions under which factory farmed animals are raised in the UK, Australia and the US. This type of footage is extremely rare because Food Inc makes every effort to conceal the disgusting conditions under which our meat is produced.

Factory farmed pigs and chickens seem to fare the worst. Even though pigs are as intelligent and emotionally complex as dogs, they are raised in extremely confining cages and forced to lie in their own feces, as well as being routinely tortured and beaten by their keepers. Pigs, like most other factory farmed animals, are fed massive doses of antibiotics (contributing to antibody resistance and the rise of “superbugs”) while continual exposure to feces makes factory farmed meat a major source of food borne illness.

Chickens and more than 90% of ducks and turkeys are also crowded into pens. In chickens raised for meat, 45% suffer painful fractures because their specially bred bodies are too heavy for their skeleton.

What seems most consistent among all factory farmed animals (besides their continual exposure to feces) are the inhumane conditions under which they are killed. Although most jurisdictions require them to be asphyxiated or electrically stunned prior to slaughter, abattoir personnel are rushed and poorly trained. As the film clearly shows, many animals are still alive when they’re butchered.

 

The True Cost of Cheap Meat

farmageddon

Farmageddon: The True Cost of Cheap Meat

By Philip Lymbery with Isobel Oakeshott

Bloomsbury Press (2014)

Book Review

Farmageddon is about the false economy of industrial meat production. While the corporations that promote factory farming applaud themselves for producing “cheap meat” for poor people, when societal costs are counted, industrially produced meat costs society approximately 25 times the sticker price. So as not to infringe on corporate profits, the excess costs (for environmental clean-up and a myriad of health problems) are transferred to the taxpayer.

Lymbery, a long time organic farming proponent, provides an extremely thorough and compelling expose of the numerous drawbacks of raising livestock in concrete warehouses. The side effects of living adjacent to a factory farm include air and water pollution by toxic herbicides and pesticides, nitrates, pathogenic bacteria and arsenic; loss of songbirds, bees and other insect species; reduced life expectancy,* increased exposure to disease carrying mosquitoes, loss of earthworms (due to fertilizer-related soil acidification), increased incidence (by threefold) of childhood asthma; increased antibiotic resistance (due to routine feeding of antibiotics to factory farmed cows, pigs and chickens); reduced sperm counts and increased breast cancer and renal tumors related to Roundup, the herbicide used with GMO crops.

Lymbery also includes a section on industrially farmed fish and they risks they pose to the health of wild fish populations.

His final chapter includes a variety of policy recommendations that could facilitate a move away from industrial farming to safer, less environmentally destructive traditional farming.


*Individuals who live adjacent to intensive dairy farms have a ten year decrease in life expectancy.

Prince Charles’s Organic Farm

The Farmer and His Prince

Bertram Verhag (2014)

Film Review

The Farmer and His Prince is an English language film produced by German film director Bertram Verhag. It features an in-depth tour of His Royal Highness Prince Charles’s organic farm at High Gatehouse in Gloucestershire and substantive discussions with the Prince of Wales himself on industrial agriculture, factory farming, genetic modification, global warming and sustainable organic farming.

Prince Charles, the world’s most high profile organic farmer, converted his estate to organic agriculture in the 1980s. He raises sheep, dairy cows, rare breed pigs and a range of foot crops. Although he plays little role in the day-to-day management of the farm, he conducts tours there and is active in lobbying government policymakers and the food industry – both in Great Britain and internationally.

His farm supplies local hotels and markets and presently turns a small profit.

 

Don’t Eat the Chicken!

512px-Industrial-Chicken-Coop

The Problem with Chicken

Directed by Rick Young (2015)

This documentary can’t be embedded but can be viewed free at the following link:

http://www.pbs.org/video/2365487526/

Film Review

The Problem with Chicken is a PBS Frontline documentary about a year-long Salmonella Heidelberg epidemic in 2012 that infected more than 600 people in 29 states.

Salmonella Heidelberg is a particularly virulent form of salmonella that is increasingly prevalent in factory farmed chicken, as well as increasingly antibiotic resistant. Salmonella Heidelberg infection frequently results in hospitalization and occasionally death.

The film examines a hopelessly corrupt regulatory system in which the USDA* inspectors test whole birds, but not chicken pieces (the most common source of salmonella infections) and in which the USDA couldn’t compel Foster Farms to recall their contaminated chickens until they located an an unopened pack of Foster Farms chicken with the specific strain of Salmonella Heidelberg that had infected a specific chicken.

This obscure legal technicality meant that despite clear DNA evidence identifying Foster Farms as the source of contamination, an outbreak that could have been stemmed in a few weeks went on a full year and officially sickened 634 people.

The Problem with Chicken also explodes the chicken lobby myth that chicken-related infections can be prevented by proper cooking and handling of chicken. Studies show that thorough cooking doesn’t kill either salmonella or campylobacter, another human pathogen commonly carried by chicken.

The main shortcoming of this documentary is its failure to examine why potentially deadly pathogens are increasing in factory farmed chicken: namely the process in which battery chicken are raised in a cesspool of feces in tightly packed cages and continually fed antibiotics (the main source of increasing antibiotic resistance). See Food Inc.

Surely these are the practices that need to be banned by regulation. It’s ridiculous to expect that a few hundred USDA inspectors are going to protect us from food-borne illnesses by spot checking hundreds of thousands of turkeys and chickens for pathogenic organisms.


*The US Department of Agriculture is the federal agency responsible for guaranteeing food safety.

 

Photo credit: איתמר ק., ITamar K. (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Improving Food Production by Subtracting Oil

The following video is the keynote address by Indian activist Vendana Shiva at the 2015 Soil Not Oil conference in Richmond California. Her primary theme is the destructive effect of industrial agriculture on soil, human health, water balance, climate, ecological diversity, economic inequality and world peace (as the driver of continual resource wars).

She maintains industrial agriculture is an extremely inefficient method of food production – requiring ten calories of oil for every calorie of food produced. Factory farming is only economically viable because of heavy government subsidies of oil production and the synthetic nitrogen fertilizer manufactured from natural gas. If Food Inc were required to pay the full cost of industrial farming (including the toxic effects of the chemicals they use), it would be many times more expensive than organic farming.

She maintains real purpose of industrial farming is to increase GDP by producing more commodities, when it should be to maintain soil and human health.

Prior to the industrial age, farming was as much about soil regeneration as food production. The talk particularly emphasizes the importance of “carbonizing” soil with organic matter. It cites studies showing that a two ton per hectare increase in organic matter removes ten gigatons of CO2 from the atmosphere. This also makes the soil drought resistant by improving its capacity to store water.

How Gut Bacteria Control Our Health

The Microiome Revolution: Why Microbes Control Your Life

Jack A Gilbert

The Microbiome Revolution provides a brief and user friendly introduction to the essential role the microbiome (the bacteria that colonize our gut) plays in human health. Through their research, Gilbert and other microbiologists have induced obesity, allergies, autism, depression, anxiety, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s Disease and other illnesses by manipulating intestinal bacteria in mice. Gilbert contends that specific gut bacteria can even alter behavior.

He stresses that our current obsession with eradicating bacteria (ie prescription antibiotics, antibiotics used on factory farms, antibacterial soap, toothpaste, mouthwash, etc) has dire implications for human health. The human body is an ecosystem in which microbial cells outnumber “human” cells by ten to one. Doctors increasingly view the microbiome as a vital organ, like the liver or kidneys.

Thanks to Gilbert’s crowdfunding site*, his research team has collected the microbiome profiles of hundreds of thousands of people. This baseline has enabled them to identify specific bacterial profiles associated with good health. In general, rural third world residents have the most diverse and healthiest gut bacteria, while urban residents in the industrialized world have the least diverse and the most unhealthy.

Lecture starts at 3:15.

*Ubiome – for $89 you get a Ubiome gut kit to submit a sample of your feces for analysis

 

Mushrooms, Bees and Cancer

Paul Stamets – How Mushrooms Can Save Bees & Our Food Supply

Bioneers (2014)

Paul Stamets is a mycologist who studies the complex role played by the vast network of fungal mycelium that underlies all natural forests and grassland. As many organic gardeners are learning, deforestation and plowing, herbicides and pesticides associated with industrial agriculture are killing this mycelium. It’s in this way that important antibacterial (most antibiotics are derived from fungi) and antiviral properties are lost that are vital to both the plant and animal kingdom

Stamets first became interested in the role of fungi in bee health when he saw honeybees sucking the mycelium out of wood chips on his farm. Through subsequent research, he would learn that specific fungi contain compounds that suppress the virus carried by veroa mites – implicated in colony collapse syndrome. The same antiviral fungi are also play a role in protecting animals against zoonotic* viruses, such as bird flu and H1N1.

Stamets believes that wide scale deforestation has destroyed the fungi that bees have traditionally relied on and this is partly responsible for the 40% reduction in bee populations. He also blames deforestation for growing pandemics of zoonotic illnesses like bird flu, H1N1, MERS and possibly ebola.

In the second video, Stamets discusses his research into turkey tail mushrooms as an adjunct treatment in terminal breast cancer.

More about the successful $2.25 million National Institute of Health Study at the link below. Owing to their positive effect on the microbiome (intestinal bacteria), turkey tail mushrooms are also helpful in

  • Infections and inflammations of the upper respiratory tract
  • Infections of the urinary tract
  • Infections and irritations of the digestive tract
  • Pulmonary diseases
  • Chronic congestion
  • General lack of energy and malaise

*A zoonotic disease is one that can be passed between animals and people

Dirt: the Movie

Dirt: The Movie

Bill Benenson and Gene Rosow (2009)

Film Review

This documentary focuses on the rapid destruction of the planet’s topsoil, with its dire implications for food production and human survival. Through a combination of industrial farming, deforestation, urbanization and extractive mining, humankind has destroyed one-third of the world’s topsoil in a hundred years.

The film begins with a basic introduction to on the abundant microbial life that characterizes healthy topsoil. Plowing, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and heavy pesticide and herbicide use render soil infertile by destroying these microorganisms. Deforestation hastens the process by destroying deep root systems that protect against nutrient runoff. The productive farmland that isn’t wrecked by industrial farming and deforestation is paved over as cities expand or destroyed by fracking, mountaintop removal and strip mining. This voracious greed for new fossil fuels benefits a few hundred people and carries immense costs for the rest of us.

The film depicts quite eloquently the western slash and burn mentality that approaches food production like running a factory. Extracting a quick profit is all that matters. There is no planning whatsoever for food security, much less the needs of future generations. You clear cut a forest, plant acres of a single crop (an open invitation to pests) and pour on industrial fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. In three to four years you have depleted the soil, and you cut down another forest.

Dirt: the Movie also poignantly portrays the link between environmental destruction and human degradation. It’s always the poorest and most disempowered who have their land destroyed by multinational corporations. Rapid desertification in Africa and India is forcing thousands of subsistence farmers to migrate to city slums – and Haitian mothers to make dirt cookies to ward of their children’s hunger pains.

Meanwhile increasing desertification (from a combination of deforestation and industrial farming) in Africa and India and the thousands of farmers forced to migrate to city slums when their land becomes useless. The film also emphasizes the link between environmental destruction and human degradation. It’s always the poorest and most disempowered who have their land destroyed by multinational corporations. The most heart breaking scene depicts Haitian mothers making dirt cookies to ward off their children’s hunger pains.

Water mismanagement also plays a major role in desertification. Because they have paved over their rivers, Los Angeles spends billions of dollars from as far away as Wyoming – and millions more managing rainwater runoff. Liberating their rivers would solve both problems at a fraction of the cost.

Significantly the main voices featured in the film are those of women of color: the late Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Mathai, who won a Nobel Prize for founding the Green Belt tree-planting movement, Indian environmentalist and organic farming advocate Vandana Shiva and Greening the South Bronx founder Majora Carter (see Greening the South Bronx). In addition to championing urban agriculture and green roof projects in the South Bronx, Carter has helped establish a prison greenhouse and organic farm at Rikers Island prison and the Green Team. The latter is a project that allows ex-cons to use the skills they have learned in tree planting, urban agriculture plots and New York’s first green roof* business.

*A green roof is a living roof partly or completely covered with vegetation, to optimize energy conservation and minimize water runoff.

The Taboo Against Animal Fat

red meat

(The first of two posts about the damaging effect of the western diet on intestinal bacteria and human health.)

As a traditionally trained physician, I watch with horror and dismay as for-profit corporations intrude ever deeper into so-called evidence based medicine. I have written at length about the role of Big Pharma in corrupting good medical practice to promote the sale of prescription pharmaceuticals – and their bottom line (see Menopause: Made in the USA and Drug Companies: Killing Kids for Profit). The role of Food Inc in the dietary recommendations doctors (and government) make to patients and the public at large are even more insidious and damaging.

The current taboo against saturated animal fats is a case in point. For the past thirty years, doctors and government agencies have been lecturing us that diets high in saturated animal fats (found in red meat, whole milk, eggs, butter and lard) cause high cholesterol levels, heart disease and stroke. They have persisted in this three decade campaign against animal fat – despite the total absence of scientific research supporting a link between fat intake and high cholesterol levels – or heart disease and and stroke. In fact, growing evidence suggests just the opposite: diets low in saturated fats and high in sugar and refined carbohydrate promote obesity, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.

In other words, government and the medical fraternity have it backwards. Worse still, it appears that their purely theoretical (based on no evidence) phobia against animal fat may be the single most important factor in the current epidemic of obesity and type 2 diabetes.

An Unproven Hypothesis

The current taboo against animal fats is based on a hypothesis first promoted forty years ago when I was in medical school. The theory works like this:  consumption of foods high in cholesterol and saturated fats promotes high levels of blood cholesterol, which lead to calcified plaque formation in arteries, which restrict blood flow to the heart and brain, as well as increasing blood pressure by making blood vessels less elastic.

There’s a credible body of research linking high cholesterol levels to plaque formation and the latter to high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke. However there’s no research whatsoever linking diets high in animal fats and cholesterol to high blood cholesterol levels.

In March, Annals of Internal Medicine published a metanalysis of 72 scientific studies on the effect of different fats on heart disease. The authors conclude there is insufficient research evidence to support guidelines discouraging consumption of saturated animal fats.

The Work of Weston A Price

A growing body of evidence suggests that diets low in saturated fats are, in fact, harmful to human health. Many of these studies were inspired by the work of dentist Weston A. Price in the 1930s. Puzzled that Maori, Australian aboriginals and other indigenous groups experienced no tooth decay prior to adopting a western diet, Price studied their dietary habits. To his surprise, he discovered it wasn’t the direct effect of sugar on tooth enamel that caused cavities. His patients developed tooth decay because diets high in sugar and refined carbohydrates were deficient in basic nutrients essential for human health. When he helped them alter their diets, his patients not only avoided further tooth decay but healed existing cavities.

One of Price’s discoveries was that animal fats* provide essential fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) that play a vital role in the absorption of other nutrients essential for hormonal and neurological function and protection against chronic diseases, such as cancer and heart disease.

The Role of Intestinal Bacteria

More recent studies have elucidated the mechanism by which diets high in sugar and refined carbohydrate predispose to both high cholesterol levels and obesity. Some of this research is summarized in an April 2013 article in Mother Jones Are Happy But Bacteria Key to Weight Loss?

The article explains how high sugar and refined carbohydrate diets, coupled with massive antibiotic overuse in medicine and factory farming**, promote the growth of gram negative, endotoxin-producing intestinal bacteria. When endotoxin is absorbed into the bloodstream, it sets up a wide ranging inflammatory response that can manifest a variety of effects, including arthritis, eczema, psoriasis and neuropsychological syndromes such as autism, Asperger’s disorder, schizophrenia and ADHD. A number of studies suggest that high cholesterol levels are also an inflammatory response to this endotoxin. Others link endotoxin to inflammatory damage in the brain’s appetite center. An impaired appetite center will cause people and animals to eat indefinitely without ever feeling full.

The Mother Jones article also describes several studies in which obese patients lost weight by simply suppressing endotoxin-producing bacteria – by taking probiotics and eating fermented foods containing beneficial bacteria.

*The contamination of animal fats and dairy products, even when produced organically, with fat-soluble pesticides and other industrial toxins makes choosing “safe” saturated fats somewhat problematic. Classified as endocrine disruptors, many of these toxins mimic estrogen, which promotes the development and growth of breast cancer. For this reason, I prefer coconut oil as my saturated fat of choice.

**Factory farmed animals are routinely fed antibiotics to hasten and maximize growth.

To be continued.

photo credit: {Guerrilla Futures | Jason Tester} via photopin cc