Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Meat-Part 2

In the last post, I talked about how much meat the US raises, consumes, and wastes in the average year. Today I'm going to touch on that a little more, and bring up the many reasons why we will no longer eat grocery store meat. Actually, make that *can't* eat grocery store meat.

First of all, we have to face the facts that society is always changing. In a previous post, I talked about how much things changed as people moved off the family farms and homesteads, and into the larger towns and cities. As these areas expanded and grew, people became more dependent on the store and the butcher. While a large population still provided for themselves, many people could no longer do so, or just plain didn't want to. They worked a job for a wage, and that wage provided them with the things they wanted and needed. The demand for food grew as these people settled more and more for city life. In a sense around this time, farms grew from providing for their own family and small communities, into businesses that could provide for more consumers.

Just going back 80 years to the 1930's, 24% of the American population worked in agriculture. In 2002, that number dropped to 1.5%. In 1940, each farm worker was able to roughly provide for 11 consumers, yet in 2002, that one worker was able to provide for 90. Data I have found has shown that agricultural production had doubled four times between 1820 and 1975, while the number of actual farms has fallen 63%. since 1900. So, basically, less farms today produce more food. Farm operations have become specialized, from an average of five commodities per farm in 1900 to one per farm in 2000. While the number of farms and farm workers has dramatically dropped over the years, the US population has exploded by roughly 205 million people in the 20th century. The population was around 76 million in 1900, and was close to 281 million in the year 2000. These "factory farms" were nearly a necessity, simply because of demand.

As the demand grew for food production, the landscape changed dramatically. Since 1860, approximately 260 million acres of forests have been cleared out for meat production in the United States. Simple ranches have turned into factory farm operations, growing larger each year. As of 2009, 74% of the worlds poultry, 43% of the worlds beef, and 68% of the worlds eggs are grown in these factory type operations.In whole, 56% of US farms are devoted to beef production alone. With the growth of the factory farms, agriculture for crops had to grow along with it. In the US, 80% of the corn and 95% of the oats grown here are consumed by livestock. I looked for a nationwide average on water usage by factory farms, but couldn't find anything. I did, however, find that on average, it takes 2500 gallons of water to produce one pound of meat. A 600 pound steer will drink between 3.5 and 13 gallons per day, depending on weather and temperature. I've also found that the amount of water used to produce ten pounds of steak is just over the average water usage of an American household. Once again, I don't even want to do the math and get a rough estimate on how much water is used annually in the beef industry. I won't even go into how much of these crops are GMO's, that was another post.

I totally understand that there is a need for more food production as the population grows. That is not my issue. My problems are in the way these farms operate. Animals are generally kept in cramped quarters, given feed that is not natural to their diets, pumped full of antibiotics and steroids, deprived of sunlight,rarely (if ever) see open pastures, and not to even mention that the feeds are most likely GMO. Don't get me wrong, I'm no tree hugger or PETA type. I eat meat. Hell, I even raise and butcher my own chickens and rabbits. But I believe that not only I should be able to eat something free of chemicals, but I also believe that any animal, whether it's grown for food or not, deserves a good quality of life. That just doesn't happen on these farms.

Before I even go into spewing statistics and information on commercial farms and feed lots, I want to take a look at how much beef we actually consume as a nation. Americans on average, eat 67 pounds of beef per year. Numbers vary by location and even race, but those figures aren't important in keeping this where I want to go with this post. The fast food industry alone uses an enormous amount of the beef produced. In 1996, McDonalds beef usage alone was over 644 million pounds. Just like some of the numbers I found when I was writing the last post, this number to me is just staggering. Just out of curiosity, I looked up the US population of 1996. 265,189,754 million people, which I divided into that 64 million pounds. That works out to 2.43 pounds, per person in the US, in 1996. Just using McDonalds as an example. I honestly think I am going to be sick.

Roughly 13 suppliers in the US supply beef for the entire nation. Their numbers have decreased, but the number of cattle per feed lot has risen approximately 20%. Some of these feedlots can contain up to 100 thousand heads of cattle. I'm not going to do research on amounts and figures, but keep in mind that these cattle are fed mainly corn and soybeans (or products of them) so they fatten faster than they would grazing as they are designed by nature to do. Because of cramped, unsanitary conditions, the cattle are given antibiotics, whether they are sick or not, just as a "preventative" measure. I've found that nearly 30 million pounds of antibiotics are used annually on livestock in the US.

Cattle, the same as any animal eats, and creates waste. It's estimated that beef cattle alone in US operations produce 25 pounds per day per cattle, 250 thousand pounds per second nationwide, and over one billion tons annually. Waste from these farms can, and has, leaked into the waterways, eventually leading to the ocean. Though not from cattle, a six acre lagoon holding hog waste in North Carolina in 1995' spilling an estimated 25 million gallons spilled into the New river. Figures show that approximately ten to fourteen million fish died as the result. This problem is far more than just your normal waste. With the practices of these farms, the waste can contain growth hormones and/or antibiotics. There are studies that link dead zones in the ocean to this runoff.

The affects of the antibiotics and steroids on humans is a big debate. There are no studies that show 100 percent, without a doubt, that these are causing health problems. There are studies that show the possibilities that these are linked to cancers, birth defects, and many other health issues. My look at it is simple. I don't care what any study shows. Steroids and antibiotics do not belong on my plate.

I really have to stop here. I've spent enough of my time researching this stuff. Honestly, I don't want to read any more. I get more disturbed and disgusted with everything I read.

So what can we do about this? There is no one answer. What I can say, is to avoid grocery store meat as much as possible. Buy from local farmers who raise there beef with organic methods. Ask your local butcher where their beef comes from, and if their suppliers are organic. Stop eating fast food and supporting the need for these places. (that stuff is horrible for you anyway) Consider eating meatless meals more often. We generally eat 3-4 meatless dinners a week, and it hasn't been a problem. I though I would hate it, but I've grown used to it and like it now. Though I'm not a vegetarian, and have no plans to be, I do know that we don't "need" meat. There are plenty of other ways to get protein in your diet.
Think about all of this the next time you go shopping or make dinner.Any time you buy their product, you're adding to the machine. Make some changes. Make a difference. No one person can change or stop all of this, but many of us together can at least put a hurt on them. Personally, I sleep better at night knowing that my dollars aren't supporting these practices. How do you sleep?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Meat-part 1

Just the same as with vegetables and gardening, I get a lot of comments and questions about the meat we consume at home. More so than getting people to understand growing their own food, most have a very hard time understanding why, and how, I could raise chickens or rabbits to butcher them. For some strange reason, people who have no problem at all going to the grocery store to buy chicken, beef, and pork from the meat department are absolutely horrified at the thought of my killing a chicken for a meal. They just have to choose which package they want. Someone else does the "dirty work". The majority of people don't even think about their choice at all. They just grab the biggest package of chicken breasts, or choose the largest steaks, and never give a thought to what they are really buying. Was this animal healthy? How was it raised? Where did it come from? People never think about these things, and most seem to not even care.

It's strange how everyone has become so disconnected with their food. Out of sight, out of mind. Two years ago, Lisa and I went to the local county fair. We did the usual walk through the 4H barns, looking at the animals. We were near the pigs, and noticed a sign hanging on a post. It was a typical cartoon-type picture that we've all seen. It showed the outline of a pig, with all of the different cuts of meat marked with dotted lines. A woman walked by with (I'll assume) her kids with her. She was the kind we've seen there many times. The ones that obviously don't want to be in the barns. The look of disgust and bent up nose made it obvious that she didn't like the smell of the barns. I still cannot understand why people like that even go there. she walked by the same area with the pigs, she noticed the sign. She jumped in front of the sign, holding her arms out to block the view of it from her kids, as if she was blocking Superman from a piece of kryptonite. She was blocking the view so her kids wouldn't be horrified at finding out where their chops and ham they had for dinner last week came from. Some people simply don't know about where food comes from. Others choose to keep a blind eye to it. Others, like this woman, choose to intentionally block any knowledge of it at all from people like their kids. More and more each year, the disconnection grows, even though our consumption grows at staggering rates. For example, the statistics used below are based on just beef and nothing else.

While the United States is only around 5% of the total world's population, we consume 15% it's meat production.In 2009, we as a nation produced 26.07 billion pounds of beef, yet consumed 26.9 billion pounds. While our consumption was larger than our production, we still exported 1.87 billion pounds throughout the year. Imagine what that 26.9 billion works out to be. That is the equivalent of 107.3 billion quarter pound cheeseburgers. In 2009, the US slaughtered 33.3 million head of cattle, and our cattle inventory stood at 94.5 million. Those numbers, once again, to me are staggering.

What is even more staggering is figuring out how much is non usable or wasted between a single full live beef steer and what is actually consumed. If we figure an average sized steer weights 540lbs, the usage below really opens your eyes. While I'm not going to do the math, imagine what those figures would be when multiplied by the 33.3 million head of cattle slaughtered in 2009. I didn't figure out the total amount of waste that 33.3 million head of cattle averages out to be. I don't think I really want to know.

Live weight 540lbs 100% Full size avg.steer
Dressed weight 330lbs 61% Hanging carcass
Saleable weight 250lbs 46% Includes bones and fat
Edible weight 205 lbs 38% Actual cuts of meat
Actually consumed 185lbs 34% Including weight loss in cooking and table waste

I'm sure by now anyone reading this post is wondering where I am going with this. I'm not trying in any way to tell people to become vegetarian. That is not my intent at all. My intent, however, is to try making people realize what we as a nation are doing. I plan to make another post soon about the perils of commercial farming. Their practices are far beyond disturbing. They're disgusting. What I want to do with this post is to get any of you to think about these numbers when you are at the store buying that next meal or next weeks worth of groceries. Consider what you are buying. Are you adding to these figures by buying from giant farming companies, or are you supporting your local economy and buying from a farmer nearby. Sure, even if you buy from someone locally, you are still buying beef. But consider that in the US alone, four companies produce 81% of the cattle,52% of the pigs, and 50% of the chicken consumed annually. When companies like these get that large, a $6.5 billion industry in 2002, they don't care about the animals or your safety. They just want your dollar.

We don't raise our own cattle here at home, because it's obvious, we're just on one acre. We do though, buy beef and pork from a friend who raises them on a large farm with his father. Besides the fact that we know the animals aren't pumped full of chemicals and hormones, we know that we aren't giving our money to corperate giants that want nothing more than to dominate the industry. We do however butcher our own chickens at home, and have raised rabbits for an additional source of meat.It's been almost 2 years since we have bought any meat from the grocery store, and we never plan on buying from them again.

I'm no tree hugger. I will never be the kind to protest at beef plants or tie myself to a tree. But, I can't help but feel a bit guilty that I added to those figures before we changed our lifestyle and eating habits. I'm happy to know that we are not causing that 1 or 2 cattle a year to be somewhere in that mountain of figures. I'm glad to know that my money isn't going to these giant companies that care about nothing but the almighty dollar. And last, I'm very happy to know that I'm not supporting the giant operations that support growth hormones, large doses of antibiotics, and horrible living conditions.........

That one, my friends, will be the next post. You'll just have to wait!

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