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 Federal Campaign Against Local Healthy Food

Farmageddon

Directed by Kristin Canty (2011)

Film Review

Farmageddon (unrelated to the book Farmageddon) tells the story of a deliberate campaign by federal and state regulatory agencies to harass small family farmers and buying cooperatives.

Kanty begins by briefly outlining the major food safety problem which has accompanied the boom in industrial farming and agrobusiness in the US. Instead of addressing the unhygienic conditions factory farmed animals are raised in (with animals being confined in small cages and pens with their own feces , Congress has imposed an array of useless regulations on all food production and processing.

These regulations allow the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to conduct warrantless raids on small family farms and private coops. The film tells the story of various families who have been raided at gunpoint by federal and state SWAT teams – often where no or only minor infractions have occurred. Most face confiscation of their animals, product and equipment, as well as destruction of their livelihood.

Many of the raids relate to raw milk production. The latter has proven health benefits in asthma, eczema and allergic rhinitis – due to to beneficial bacteria and enzymes that are destroyed when milk is pasteurized.

The laws regulating raw milk vary from state to state – in California you can buy it at supermarkets but can’t sell yogurt or cheese made from raw milk. In some states you can only buy it at the farm gate. In others it’s illegal to sell it at all. Although it’s legal in all states for farmers and farm cooperatives to produce raw milk for their own consumption, the film depicts SWAT teams shutting down several farms and coops for doing so.

In no instance, were any of the confiscated products found to be contaminated by pathogenic bacteria. This is the implicit guarantee you get from sourcing food locally from farmers you know and trust: no  farmer selling milk that makes people sick will stay in business. The source of supermarket food, in contrast, is extremely difficult to trace.

The message that comes across loud and clear in this film in this film is that food regulations created by the FDA and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) are written by agrobusiness. The latter are clearly threatened by growing consumer demand for locally produced, unprocesssed, organic food. These regulations clearly serve the interests of Food Inc rather than the public.

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.

Mexicans Tackle Trump Over Migrant Row

Bittersweet Harvest: Mexicans Tackle Trump Over Migrant Row

SBS (2015)

Film Review

Bittersweet Harvest is an Australian documentary about a special training camp for Spanish-speaking labor activists who organize immigrant farm workers in the US. It takes its title from a ludicrous claim Donald Trump made accusing Mexican immigrants of being druggies, criminals and rapists. The film profiles two “undocumented” student organizers who, based on stellar academic achievement, have won university scholarships.

As the film ably documents, American’s $400 billion agriculture industry would collapse without the one million immigrant workers who comprise the bulk of its labor force. Americans don’t want these jobs: the living and working conditions are too obscene and the pay too meager. Ironically the substitution of immigrant labor for black slaves has enabled the southern US to maintain the plantation system it developed prior to the Civil War.

Following the trainee activists as they visit farm worker camps, the filmmakers raise thorny questions, such as why neither federal nor state governments enforce basic labor laws, eg child labor, minimum wage and occupational safety laws (limiting exposure to cancer causing pesticides like Roundup and green tobacco sickness).

The film effectively highlights the total hypocrisy of politicians like Trump who use the immigration crisis to score political points. The federal government could shut down illegal immigration tomorrow by a) prosecuting the agro-businesses that employ undocumented immigrants or b) requiring them to pay minimum wage and provide safe living and working conditions. Clearly our elected officials have no interest in doing either: the current system allows Food Inc to reap immense profits at the expense of the illegal labor they exploit.

Food Inc

Food Inc

Directed by Robert Kenner (2008)

Film Review

Food Inc is a 2008 classic only recently available for free on-line screening. Featuring investigative journalist Eric Schlosser and food activist Michael Pollan, it’s the first and (in my view) the best expose of factory farming.

This film mainly focuses on the deplorable disease-inducing conditions of battery chicken houses and industrial feedlots and slaughterhouses. However it also draws attention to the current epidemic of food borne illness, diabetes and heart disease; the corporate capture of regulatory agencies meant to protect us; the federal subsidies that make junk food cheaper than fresh fruits and vegetables; Monsanto’s vicious treatment of farmers who choose not to grow GMO crops and the food disparagement and anti-labeling laws meant to keep consumer sin the dark about where their food comes from.

Most importantly this documentary questions whether the “cheap” food produced by industrial farming is really so cheap when you add in the health costs (especially of chronic diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular disease)

The cinematography captures horrific scenes of factory chicken houses where chickens live on top of each other in total darkness and feed lots in which cows spend their whole life knee-deep in manure. The latter cakes their hides and inevitably contaminates carcasses at the slaughterhouse.

The films draws interesting parallels between the abysmal treatment of animals and workers in the industrial food chain. Food executives argue that animal suffering is inconsequential because they’ll all be dead soon. They also regard immigrant workers as expendable because there are so many of them.

The filmmakers catch meat processors deliberately recruiting illegal laborers in Mexican villages devastated by the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA). Employers are never prosecuted for these activities. Only immigrant workers are targeted.

https://vimeo.com/29575879

The Role of Western Medicine in the Epidemic of Obesity, Diabetes and Heart Disease

Carb Loaded: A Culture Dying to Eat

Directed by Lathe Poland (2014)

Film Review

Carb Loaded follows the personal journey of a 40 something male (one of the filmmakers) who suddenly develops type II diabetes, despite being physically fit and follow a “heart healthy” diet. What he discovers is that the low fat, high carbohydrate promoted for fifty years by Food Inc, the USDA, and the American Dietetic Association is responsible for a global epidemic of diabetes, obesity, heart disease and most likely Alzheimer’s Disease.

The Food Pyramid was an Experiment and Americans the Guinea Pigs

The documentary begins by tracing the history of the “food pyramid,” which the FDA and corporate cronies foisted on the unsuspecting American public in 1977 – without a single clinical trial supporting its safety and effectiveness. With the adoption of the “food pyramid,” doctors and dietitians induced hundreds of millions of patients to drastically reduce their intake of protein and fat and to increase foods previously associated with weight gain (bread, pasta, potatoes, high carb snacks, etc). in other words it was a vast experiment and Americans – and citizens of other industrialized nations – were the guinea pigs.

Statistically the prevalence of diabetes, obesity heart disease and Alzheimer’s began to take off in the late seventies, the widespread adoption of the low fat, high carbohydrate diet. Over the last decade the researchers have identified the mechanisms by which a high carbohydrate diet causes these conditions.

A high carb diet causes diabetes by triggering excessive insulin production, which over time leads to insulin resistance, a physiological condition in which cells fail to respond to insulin, leading to higher blood sugar levels.

It causes obesity by reducing brain sensitivity to leptin, a hormone produced by fat cells that notifies the brain when we’re full.

It causes heart disease mainly by triggering an inflammatory response in our blood vessels that increases cholesterol production. Contrary to popular belief (driven by relentless corporate marketing), most cholesterol is produced by the body in response to inflammation and is totally unrelated to diet.

Alzheimer’s: Type III Diabetes

Most ominous of all, high carbohydrate diets can cause the accumulation of “glycated”* proteins in the brain. These are linked to the development of Alzheimer’s Disease, which doctors and researchers have begun referring to as Type III diabetes.

The film goes on to explore numerous lifestyle changes which have led many residents of the industrialized world to cook less and rely more on cheap, carbohydrate-rich fast foods. It also explodes the myth that fast food is cheap, with a recent study that the average American spends $3,000 a year on fast food and $8,000 on doctors visits for medical problems caused by fast foods.

Potential Solutions

The filmmakers finish by reviewing a range of possible solutions at the government, community and individual level. High on the list of policy changes are an end to the US corn subsidy (responsible for the ubiquitous presence of damaging high fructose corn syrup in most processed foods) and a tax on sugary beverages similar to those enacted by Mexico, Denmark, Hungary and France.

On a community level, they talk about what activists can do to eradicate food deserts and increase the availability of fresh, unprocessed food.

On a personal level, they explore the importance of understanding the addictive effect of sugar and specific behavioral changes people can make to gradually wean themselves and, most importantly, their children off sugar and other refined carbohydrates.

 

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