Modern Meat Production & ‘Manufactured Risk’
Since 1950, world meat production has increased fivefold. No society past or present raises and kills so many animals just for their meat. No other society has ever adopted such intensive systems of animal production and nonrenewable resource dependent farming practices. These have evolved to make meat a dietary staple and to meet the demand for ‘cheap’ and plentiful supply of meat.
Billions of animals are slaughtered every year and some environmentalists argue that it s not economical or ecologically sound to feed them in a hungry world. In their view, excessive meat eating is a form of ‘conspicuous consumption.’ They say the hidden costs of factory farming are not clearly evident – it is not economically efficient, ecologically sustainable or socially and ethically acceptable. The harms of over production are numerous and far reaching. Cycles in countries like Brazil where cattle are over produced have the effect of depressing world market prices and deforestation (for cattle ranches) results in environmental degradation. Price supports and subsidies are given to farmers in the developed world, which encourages them to over produce, causing further inequality in world market prices. This form of protectionism (and things like import tariffs) means that they are able to flood world markets and sell below production costs (which is unfair to local farmers). Or they respond by simply ‘dumping’ excess meat and dairy products. Importing food keeps developing countries dependent. Poor countries are being encouraged to follow this model and are being required to adopt intensive farming methods to increase agricultural production. To do this they will have to feed more animals than the land can sustain from local resources alone. Food will be fed to farm animals instead of hungry people.
Another issue worth considering is the amount of wastage or animal tankage that the meat industry generates. As a by-product of slaughtering so many animals huge amounts of waste and excrement is created, which has to be dealt with. Residues of nitrates, phosphates, bacteria, antibiotics, steroids and hormones overload and pollute the environment. This practice of using this waste for pet food (even ‘rendering’ it with dogs and cats put to sleep at shelters) or for animal feed or fertilizer has been linked to food poisoning in humans and Mad Cow Disease in cattle. Excess meat eating has also been linked to the so-called diseases of over consumption like heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, hypertension, obesity and cancer.
Conditions at abattoirs are rarely seen on TV or in other media and most people have no clue what actually happens there and how animals are killed. Animal welfare inspectors have reported calves being born on transport trucks and still kicking in their mother’s stomach as she is having her throat slit.
In South Africa legislative and other changes have taken place and The Meat Board which regulated slaughtering facilities and the selling of carcasses, ceased to exist in 1997. Because of deregulation, some of the state-run abattoirs have closed down and others have been privatized and there has been a proliferation of abattoirs. Deregulation combined with the growing number of small abattoirs means that little or no monitoring (including health and animal welfare checks) is taking place. The body replacing the Meat Board – the South African Meat Industry Company (SAMIC) actively markets and encourages meat eating and the government promotes factory farming in this country (Pickover, 2005).
Far from their natural habitat, the cattle in feedlots become prone to all sorts of illnesses. What they are being fed plays a role in this. The rise in grain prices has encouraged the feeding of less expensive materials to cattle and this includes the rendered remains of dead sheep and cattle (even cats and dogs). This practice is being banned now that...