We are what we eat. For Americans that means we eat a lot of processed foods. When you pick up a bag of potato chips, its easy to see that the product is unnatural, the chip didn’t fry itself and dip it in oil man did that. But what about the meat we eat? In class today we talked about how the meat production industry has changed since the early 1980′s, about the mechanism that replaced the stereotypical small farmer, CAFO’s.
CAFO’s, or Condensed Agriculture Feed Operations is brain child of antibiotics and genetically modified corn. GM corn allows for cheap feed for cows, while antibiotics allows for livestock to bypass population density inhibitors along with an increased growth rate. What this means is that we can now feed more cows, aka produce more meet in less room. That may sound like a simple achievement, but these adjustments allowed for a much higher rate of meat production than other farming methods by fencing animals as tightly as possible, and fattening them as fast as possible.
Just because the CAFO business is booming doesn’t mean that grass fed cattle operations don’t exist. There are still farmers who feed livestock on open pastures or fenced ranged land. But compared to CAFO, the output is so low, increasing pricing that grass fed operations only operate a small consumer niche of the market. Although economic incentives are virtually nonexistent in this market, there are ecological and personal incentives to eat grass fed.
As mentioned in King Corn, the ratio of saturated fat per t-bone in grass fed to corn fed is 5 to 9, almost double, which helps explain rising obesity rates. This along with the fact that cows aren’t meant to eat corn brings up some potential health issues. Other than health issues, by using feedlots, though we are conserving biodiversity by using less land, we promote other environmental issues. With high production of meat comes high production of manure, and methane(global warming gas). Although manure could be a plus since it could be used for fertilizer, with the sheer amount of manure produced by all the cattle, shipping all the manure is not possible and a fair amount of manure will end up traveling down watersheds and causing algae bloom in bodies of water. With high antibiotic use, people worry about the potential of feedlots breeding super drug resistant strains of bacteria also.
Criticism of CAFO’s are different in every country. In Europe, the precautionary principle came first, so GMO’s have been banned along with use of steroids on cattle, destroying CAFO’s. America on the other hand, has embraced the technology producing tons upon tons of corn beef. With no strong health benefits there is no clear winner. I just hope China has grass fed beef, so I don’t have to worry about ulcered cow stomach meat.