Thinking About Meat
Eating meat was only available to wealthy people a few decades ago, but today the average American consumes almost 200 pounds of meat each year (Bittman 1). With the population expanding and the demand for meat increasing, Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) were constructed for the mass production of meat. CAFOs are “corporate-owned, highly-mechanized, fuel-intensive factory farms where large numbers of animals are confined in a small amount of space” (Robinson 11). CAFOs are efficient in the sense that they are the cheapest way to feed the most Americans the meat they desire, but researches have begun to raise questions about the impact of factory farms on the environment, the animals, and even humans. When people buy hamburgers or chicken nuggets from Burger King do we ever think about how that delicious, juicy meat got into our hands? That is a question worth asking. Researchers like Jo Robinson, author of Pasture Perfect, are concerned about the treatment of animals in CAFOs; They argue that such treatment is inhumane. Robinson was able to visit a chicken factory, and she was exposed to the treatment of chickens. In CAFOs, hens that are raised to lay eggs live with three to five other chickens in a cage with about 55 square inches for each bird to move (Robinson 20). Cattle are also placed in confinement because it restricts movement of the animals causing them to burn fewer calories (King Corn). Restricted movement also encourages round-the-clock eating which, combined with a lack of exercise, causes swift weight gain (King Corn). Chickens that are kept in close quarters sometimes have their upper beaks are cut off so they don’t get in fights and harm each other (Robinson 20). In addition to being put in confinement, chickens are forced to have an extremely high egg output. Original laying hens from Southeast Asia lay just a “few clutches of eggs each year,” but today hens are laying about 300 eggs each year (Robinson 19-20). Robinson explains that hens are given large quantities of calcium in their feed in order to lay that many eggs, but their bodies are unable to absorb that much calcium (Robinson 20). Their bones eventually begin to seep calcium causing bones to break, or paralysis, sometimes resulting in death. This process is referred to as “caged layer fatigue” (Robinson 20). Broilers, chickens raised for their meat, are usually ready for slaughter after being in confinement for six weeks (Robinson 21). Because they gain weight quickly, their bones are often unable to support their bodies which can lead to bone distortions (Robinson 21). Another disease many broilers acquire from being so heavy is called ascites, which affects about 160 million birds each year (Robinson 22-23). Ascites is a condition that the birds get from growing too fast for their lungs and hearts to keep up with their body size (Robinson 22). Eventually the infected broilers drown in their own fluids from poor lung circulation (Robinson 23). But even if the animals don’t get sick from rapid weight gain, there is still a chance that they could get a bacterial infection from living in CAFOs (Robinson 25). Animals living in confinement and unsanitary conditions may contract diseases so antibiotics are given to the animals through their feed (Robinson 25). “Seventy percent of all antibiotics in the U.S. are fed to pigs, poultry, and cattle,” says Robinson (25). That translates to about 24 million pounds of antibiotics annually (Robinson 25). Bacteria living within the livestock are wiped out by the antibiotics except for the occasional bacteria with a resistance mutation. Since the remaining bacteria do not have any competition in their environment, they quickly multiply and spread, passing on their genetic mutation to their offspring. Strains of bacteria have started to become resistant to certain drugs given to the animals, which means if a human contracted that bacterium, then the antibiotic would not be...
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