David Kirby reveals some shocking facts behind the meat and dairy farming system in the country, and how these factory farms may threaten our health.
Host: Gloria Tsang, RD
Guest: David Kirby
Many of us are paying more attention on where our fruits and veggies come from, and how they are grown. What about meat? David Kirby, journalist and author of Animal Factory, reveals some shocking facts behind the meat and dairy farming system in the country, and how these factory farms may threaten our health.
Gloria Tsang, RD: Many of us are paying attention on where our fruits and veggies come from and how they are grown. What about meat? Welcome to the Nutrition Tidbits Podcast. This is Gloria Tsang, Editor-in-Chief for HealthCastle.com. Joining me today is journalist and author David Kirby. Author of the book Animal Factory. He is here today to reveal some shocking facts behind the meat and dairy farming system in the country and how these factory farms may threaten our health. Thank you for joining me David.
David Kirby: Thank you. I am very happy to be here.
Gloria Tsang, RD: In your book, you said the idea of the Old McDonald’s Farm is the thing of the past. And that CAFO is the new form, What exactly is CAFO?
David Kirby: CAFO is a government designation that stands for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation. Most people know that as a factory farm. I almost prefer the term factory farm; at least it has the word farm in it. To think that you are getting your food from a concentrated feeding operation is kind of Orwellian. It says a lot because they cram hundreds or thousands of animals in to very small spaces that are not healthy for the animals or the workers and generate massive amounts of manure and waste that is typically liquefied, stored for a while in a lagoon that can off gas and cause air and water pollution; and then, sprayed on to fields where it’s often over applied and you get run-off, over nutrification of water waste and fish kills.
Gloria Tsang, RD: From your description, I can clearly picture the environmental impact. What about the health of the animals? Do you have any data about how healthy or unhealthy these animals are?
David Kirby: Yes, there is more and more data emerging. One of the biggest problems is over reliance on antibiotics of course to promote growth and stave off disease. But that does lead to the emergence of antibiotic resistance disease, which can be passed on to humans including MRSA. The other problems is, when animals are crammed together, it is very hard to scientifically measure the psychological well being of an animal. But you can imagine that it is miserable for them. I like animals and when I see a cow in a mega dairy, it looks pretty miserable to me, compared to a cow that is out on pasture with her calves eating grass and taking in fresh air and sunshine. However, we can measure some of the health effects. There are some studies that show animals kept in confinement in concentrated numbers fed a steady ration of feed that is not really what they meant to eat, and there is a lot of aggression and fighting because of the over-crowding, they get stressed out. When animals get stressed out, just like us, their immune systems become compromised. Of course, they are often overdosed on antibiotics and vaccines and things like that. So they are more prone to disease, certain diseases and infections. Also, we are now learning that stressed out animals with immune problems are more likely to shed their pathogens that they are carrying. In other words, more likely to infect other animals and humans in the transportation and caring and feeding of the animals.
Gloria Tsang, RD: You mentioned the use of antibiotics and the health conditions of these animals, how do these conditions impact our health, being meat and dairy consumers?
David Kirby: I just wrote a piece for the Huffington Post recently about the egg recall that’s making headlines. In it, I talk about how these over-crowded conditions can lead to infections. In this case, it may have been bad feed. But that feed was given to millions or thousands of birds that have produce millions of eggs. Free range is not a very good term. Let’s say humanely raised, sustainably raise or organic chickens have the opportunity again to go outside of their confinements, eat more natural food or a diet that generally, the farmer, takes more care in the diet of the bird. That is not to say they cannot get diseases. But a factory farm chicken is more likely to contract some type of infection. That’s why the reliance on antibiotics is so heavy in this factory farm versus a traditional or sustainable farm; the chickens are healthier in general and don’t need these drugs. But the other thing of course, even if you get an outbreak in a small flock on a sustainable farm, we are talking about a couple of hundred chickens or a couple of hundred eggs or even a couple of a thousand eggs. But in this case, it was 380 million eggs. So the shear volume of infection is just so overwhelming. These poor chickens were infected with salmonella in their ovaries. So the eggs are becoming infected even before the shells are even formed to help protect them from such things. There is just nothing you can do about. You can’t get the salmonella out of the egg once it gets inside. We have also seen mad cow disease emerge from the United States. We have seen MRSA, commercial pig famers infected with MRSA, the drug resistance staph infection that kill more people in this country than AIDS now. And we are seeing, I believe, swine flu (the H1N1 virus) evolve out of a hog factory possibly in Mexico.
Gloria Tsang, RD: It’s not easy to picture dairy products. How is organic milk produced?
David Kirby: It’s funny you should ask because the FDA is finally strengthening the regulations to make sure milk and dairy products labelled as organic, that that animal was out on pasture for a certain minimum of time. There is a current loop hole in the law and a couple of big dairies have been caught. Basically, what they do is they keep their factory farm setting but feed them organic grain. Often, that organic grain is imported from China, where we just don’t know if the standards are the same. But regardless of what they are eating, they are still living in a factory farm. And organic should mean the cow is out on pasture, grass-fed. Organic milk is sweeter, I believe it tastes better. Grass fed beef and milk have higher levels of vitamins and antioxidants and even certain cancer fighting substances and higher levels of saturated fats; the healthier fat, I don’t know if I got that right. The grass fed cow, to be organic under the new rules that will go into effect very soon, a cow has to kept out on pasture, I believe, something like 160 days a year. So that’s a vast improvement. Basically, most organic dairy farmers are very scrupulous. Even if you go to the supermarket and buy organic milk, for the most part, it’s going to be from a cow that has spent a good deal of time out on pasture. Now of course, a lot of these farms are in Wisconsin, Vermont, you can’t keep cows outside in the winter time there. They do have to come in.
Gloria Tsang, RD: There is so much that we don’t know about meat and dairy production so in a nutshell, what can we do as a consumer?
David Kirby: You can look for certain labels out there. Everybody has their own standard on how strict they want to get. Obviously, certified organic is pretty good and is also very expensive. There is also another label called certified humane, which meets a minimum standards of respect for the animals’ well being. I think the certified humane label is pretty good. The strictest label which is arguable stricter than the organic label, which is new, is called the animal welfare approved label. If you go to www.animalwelfareapproved.org, there is lots of information there. They are a very good group of people and they require all kinnds of things that not only help the animal but is better for the environment. And they support family farming as opposed these large-scale, corporate backed factory farms. And you can also do little things; you take baby steps. Listen, this food is expensive and times are tough. I am not out preaching to people that they have to completely switch over their diet over night. But make small steps. Eggs for example. Commercial eggs costs maybe $2 a dozen. Humanely raised eggs cost $4 a dozen. Organic eggs in my store in New York costs $5 a dozen. That’s two times the price or more but I would rather spend sixty-cents for my omelette knowing the bird was raised humanely and the food quality is higher than thirty-cents. So that is a little thing you can do. You can certianly join the movement Meatless Mondays where you go one day a week without eating meat products. You can also cook differently. Instead of having a steak, slice up that steak into ribbons and serve it with an arugula salad so it is more of a side dish than the main course. You can do the same thing with chicken breast. Also just look for manager specials in the store. I often do that. I will go into a supermarket just to see what’s on special. If they have organic chickens marked down and maybe take them home and freeze them but I am getting a really good value.
Gloria Tsang, RD: Great information David. To check out more about David’s book, go to his website AnimalFacotryBook.com. Thank you for joining me David.
David Kirby: I am happy to be here, thanks for having me.
Gloria Tsang, RD: We have been talking to, journalist and author of Animal Factory, David Kirby. For more healthy eating tidbits and information about this show, go to HealthCastle.com.