By Susan Labadi
Long ago, the thought of eggs coming from chickens fed dead animal parts was abhorrent to people; yet, that is what is passed off as conventional eggs in grocery markets these days. Feeding miscellaneous additives to poultry, lamb, and cattle is in fact commonplace. Mass production of animal protein products requires awareness, vigilance, and steps to curtail potential food safety issues and unethical practices. Agribusiness is powerful, and short cuts to boost profits may bring the downfall that snaps back at future generations in the form of health and pollution catastrophes.
Profit driven politics threatens to risk health and the sanctity of our consumables. We all need to eat in order to live, but do we really know what we are eating?
Are we naïve to believe that companies do not do the unthinkable in the interest of profit? Muckracker Upton Sinclair chronicled horrific practices of the Chicago meatpacking industry in his novel The Jungle that shocked readers with the plight of workers in early 20th century America. Graphic depictions of unhygienic, inhumane practices, and an utter lack of regard for workers and food safety gave impetus to President Theodore Roosevelt to submit the Neill-Reynolds report to Congress. The power of Sinclair’s pen delivered the Meat Inspection Act, Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, and sired the beginning organization that evolved into the Food and Drug Administration.
In spite of government attempts to protect consumers though, today’s lobbyists and special interest groups funded by big business dictate that concern is still warranted, as a growing demand for beef and poultry products is yielding an increase in mass production facilities owned by a few large corporate giants with unprecedented financial and political power. Yet, the best defense is an informed consumer. Among the most vital issues to explore is what is in the feed of the animals we consume?
Plant based feeds may be comprised of cereal grains, silage, hay, and grasses, but they may also be ridden by herbicides and pesticides that ultimately are consumed by humans. 1 In the U.S., corn and soy are popular feed staples, and they are mostly genetically modified and heavily subsidized by the government. This keeps the cost of production down ultimately for the consumer. 2 Yet, one has to wonder about the long term suitability of this model in terms of economics, land sustainability, and wholesomeness for ecological and human health.
Unless certified as organic, whereby the USDA stipulates no use of antibiotics or growth hormones in addition to the exclusion of synthetic chemicals, in the U.S. fewer than 3 percent of cows on factory dairy farms, and 2 percent of chickens are raised this way.3 The remainder of beef, poultry, and dairy producers legally use a variety of other feed supplements to bulk up the fat, weight, and protein in animals mostly on factory farms. What also is allowed, are referred to as by-products. They can legally include animal carcasses and parts from slaughterhouses, animal shelters, zoos, veterinarians, and products of animal origin not intended for human consumption. Rendered material from road kill, dead horses, euthanized cats and dogs, feathers, hair, skin, hooves, blood, and intestines can also be found in feed, often under catch-all categories like “animal protein products.”4 Metals, antibiotics, and other contaminants may be allowed to enter the feed of the animals we consume, and with these issues rises another worrisome prospect.
Mad Cow Disease, bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), seems to be possible when cannibalism occurs whereby animals eat animal parts, particularly the nerves of infected animals. It only takes one gram of an infected cow to infect others, and the result to humans is catastrophic and lethal.5 Creutzfeld-Jakob disease is the human form of Mad Cow, and it is derived from BSE; it eats holes in the brain, and it is degenerative and ultimately fatal. There is no cure. So if one sick cow is ground up and its meat is shared over several products, then the spread of BSE can be exponential. It is not natural for a foraging or grazing animal to feed off another, but an animal coerced by starvation, except for cannibalism, has no choice but to eat whatever is offered.
What can motivate such practices? There are over 8 million tons of rendered animal products incorporated into animal feed .6 With such volume of otherwise unusable protein material, companies find ways to utilize what would otherwise be considered waste. Fecal waste is also another issue. Modern animal farming yields so much manure, that agribusiness partners with energy utilities in some projects to incinerate it along with bedding, feathers, and spilled feed, in spite of documented health and environmental concerns.7 Legislation has been implemented for controlled spreading of liquid waste over fields so that waterways do not become polluted from high levels of phosphorus that would destroy the fertility of the land, sustainability of wildlife, and affect municipal water supplies.8 Carole Morison, former Purdue poultry farmer-turned-rogue, states, “ Industry handling of environmental issues over runoff from manure and overloading of nutrients boggled my mind and still does to this day.” 9
Our deen refers to the scales of balance, the meezan. Current mass food production threatens the fine-tuned harmony designed by our Creator. If we look at traditional farming, we note a symbiotic cycle of renewal and sustainability that is drastically countered by factory farming practices. Small farmers regularly move animals to fresh pastures every few days, and the animals are able to eat whatever is normally found on the ground. This naturally fertilizes the land and recycles the subsequent waste products. Sensible and traditional practices can be operational on larger scales when small clusters of animal farming that optimizes animals’ natural needs are respected and provided.
Phil’s Fresh Eggs (www.philsfresheggs.com), of Forreston, Illinois has for over fifty years been egg farming that has earned it humane certification, monitored by Humane Farm Animal Care (www.certifiedhumane.com). Currently, Phil Wubbena’s son, Rod, still maintains that cage free and better fed chickens also taste better. Phil’s grows and roasts its own corn and soybeans for chicken feed, and they combine the grains with alfalfa and kelp. 10Their hens are given a daily allowance of time to experience natural habits of scratching, socializing, roosting on wooden perches, nesting in seclusion, and feeding and drinking from sterile dispensers. They are also monitored by Silliker Laboratories for Food Quality and Safety Methods. However, keeping higher quality and staying competitive is challenging. “Because of depression in the industry as a whole, there are operations that are much more focused on marketing than on production and quality that are now trying to get into specialty eggs,” states Rod. 11
The connection between what we eat, the type of food production we support with our purchasing dollars, and concern for the treatment of what Allah has given to us as provision, testify to the quality of our character and internalization of our deen. In spite of economics, we can take steps to transition to better practices. We have choice. We can change our purchases toward Halal, organic or at least vegetarian-fed, humanely treated, no antibiotic, no hormone supplemented protein food sources. In doing so, we sustain better survivability.
See 2 additional tables below for possible graphics.