Category Archives: Industrialized Farming

S.O.S. Save Our Seas!

When we think about animal abuse and environmental destruction on factory farms, we think about cows, pigs, chickens, and turkeys, but we often don’t think about fish. However, fish are abused just as awfully as land animals and fishing is destroying our planet just as quickly as factory farms are.

Aquacultures (Fish Farms)

Aquacultures are essentially underwater factory farms. The fish are over-crowded into tanks fully of filthy water (pools full of of fish feces, hormone and antibiotic-laden fish feed, and diseased fish carcasses) and fed a diet that consists of corn, soy, antibiotics, and hormones. Because of the extremely cramped conditions, cannibalism is common.

From the book Eating Animals:

The Handbook of Salmon Farming, details six “key stressors in the aquaculture environment”: water quality, crowding, handling, disturbance, nutrition, and hierarchy. To translate into plain language, those six sources of suffering for salmon are: (1) water so fouled that it makes it hard to breathe; (2) crowding so intense that animals begin to cannibalize one another; (3) handling so invasive that physiological measures of stress are evident a day later; (4) disturbance by farmworkers and wild animals; (5) nutritional deficiencies that weaken the immune system; and (6) the inability to form a stable social hierarchy, resulting in more cannibalization. These problems are typical. The handbook calls them “integral components of fish farming.”

In the filthy tank water, sea lice thrive. These lice attack and feed on the fish, creating painful open wounds and sometimes even eating down to the bone on a fish’s face. This is so common that it has a name: “the death crown.” Salmon farms generates sea lice in numbers 30,000 times higher than naturally occur.

Lesion due to sea lice

The fish that manage to survive the fish farms (a 10 – 30% death rate is seen as good by the salmon industry), are starved for 7-10 days prior to slaughter, to diminish their bodily waste. They are then killed by having their gills sliced off and being tossed aside to bleed to death. The fish convulse, in no doubt what is pain.

For more about fish farms, read my previous post here.

Wild Fish

So, with fish farming being just as bad as factory farming, are wild-caught fish a better alternative?

The most common ways of fishing are longline fishing, trawling, and purse seines. Longlines are heavy fishing lines, covered in hooks,  that can stretch as far as 75 miles. Hundreds of these lines can be deployed by a single boat and there are thousands of boats in commercial fleets. An estimated 27 million hooks are deployed every day.

But longlines don’t just kill their target species (like tuna or salmon). One study found that roughly 4.5 million sea animals are killed as bycatch in longline fishing every year, including 3.3 million sharks, 1 million marlins, 60,000 sea turtles (including many endangered species), 75,000 gulls and sea birds, and 20,000 dolphins and whales.

Among longline bycatch are birds (left) and sharks (right)

And this doesn’t even come close to comparing to the bycatch deaths caused by trawling. As the trawl is pulled along the ocean bottom, it not only sweeps shrimp, but also everything else in its path into a funnel-shaped net. It doesn’t matter what ends up in the net – fish, sharks, rays, crabs, squid, turtles – all will die.  The average trawling operation throws 80-90% of the animals is catches back into the ocean, dead. The least efficient operations actually throw more than 98% of their catch, dead, overboard.

Typical shrimp bycatch

We are literally destroying the diversity, vibrancy, and entire ecosystem of the ocean. It’s like clear-cutting a forrest with thousands of species in it to create a massive field. One quarter of the world’s fisheries are already classified as over-fished or depleted, and the rest are being fished harder than ever. It is predicted that the remaining commercial fish species will be exhausted by 2050, meaning no more wild fish, at all.

For every 10 tuna, sharks, and other large predatory fish that were in our oceans 50-100 years ago, only one remains today. Second only to climate change, overfishing is our biggest sustainability problem. On a daily basis, we remove tons of life from beneath the waves, in shockingly destructive ways. Bottom trawlers with giant nets rake the ocean floor, decimating coral reefs and scooping up all animals that are in the way. If the ocean ecosystem dies, the O2/CO2 balance in the atmosphere gets all out of whack and then we’re really screwed.

Longlines and trawling aren’t just ecologically devastating, they are also cruel. In trawlers, hundreds of different animals are dragged for hours, crushed together, bashed against corals and rocks, and then pulled from the water, causing painful decompression (the decompression sometimes causes the animals’ eyes to pop out or their internal organs to come out of their mouths). On longlines, the animals face a slow death. Some live on the line until they are pulled up and killed, some die from the injury caused by the hook, and some are held captive as they are attacked by predators. 

Purse seines are net walls dropped around a school of fish, and any other creatures in the vicinity, then the bottom of the net is tightened and pulled onto the deck. Fish tangled in the net are pulled apart, but most of the animals die on the deck, where they slowly suffocate, or have their gills cut off while conscious and are left to bleed to death. Sometimes the fish are tossed onto ice, to keep them “fresh,” which actually prolongs their death. According to a study in Applied Animal Behaviour Science, fish die slowly and painfully over a period as long as 14 minutes when tossed into ice.

Thoughts

Although one can realistically expect that at least some percentage of cows and pigs are slaughtered with speed and care, no fish gets a good death. Not a single one. You never have to wonder if the fish on your plate had to suffer. It did.

– Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals

What would it take to convince you not to eat fish? Would you still choose to eat fish if the label told you how many sea-lice lesions were on the body prior to slaughter? What if it told you that the fish’s eyes were bleeding from the pollution in the factory farm water? Or if it listed that for the 1 pound of shrimp you’re buying, 9 pounds of rays, sharks, or even dolphins were killed? Or that the boat that caught your fish is contributing to the complete and total decimation of the ocean ecosystem? Are sushi, tuna, or salmon really that important to you?

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Breakfast: Smoothie with mixed berries (strawberries, blueberries, blackberries) and banana
Lunch: Vermicelli noodle bowl with tofu and veggies from the Vietnamese restaurant by my office
Dinner: Quick & easy chili (even though it was 107 degrees here today): pinto beans, black beans, crushed tomatoes, green chilies, onion, jalapeno, chili powder

Ground Beef: Cook The Shit Out Of It… Literally

Feb 5, 2011: American Food Service recalls 3,170 pounds of ground beef due to E. coli contamination

Jan 8, 2011: Columbus Meat Market recalls 780 pounds of beef patties due to E. coli contamination

Dec 31, 2010: First Class Foods Inc. recalls 34,373 pounds of organic ground beef due to E. coli contamination

Aug 30, 2010: Cargill Meat recalls 8,500 pounds of ground beef due to E. coli contamination

Aug 6, 2010: Valley Meat Co. recalls 1 million pounds of ground beef due to E. coli contamination

Jul 7, 2010: Rocky Mountain Natural Meats recalls 66,776 pounds of ground bison due to E. coli contamination

Jun 24, 2010: South Gate Meat Company recalls 35,000 pounds of ground beef due to E. coli contamination

May 15, 2010: Montclair Meat Co. recalls approximately 53,000 pounds of ground beef due to E. coli contamination

Apr 21, 2010: Beltex Corporation recalls 135,500 pounds of beef trim products due to E. coli contamination

Feb 3, 2010: West Missouri Beef recalls 14,000 pounds of fresh boneless beef products due to E. coli contamination

January 19, 2010: Huntington Meat Packing Inc.recalls 864,000 pounds of ground beef due to E. coli contamination

Jan 11, 2010: Adams Farm Slaughterhouse recalls 2,574 pounds of ground beef due to E. coli contamination

(And don’t even get me started on the Salmonella and Listeria recalls!)

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More than you ever wanted to know about E. coli

Intestines are filled with bacteria. This is a fact that affects just about every creature with a gut, primitive or complicated. Most of the bacteria there are natural residents, helping to digest the food. Some of the bacteria there come from the water we drank or the food we ate. And much of this bacteria just passes quietly through. But sometimes, a bacteria that doesn’t belong in the digestive tract will end up there and wreak havoc. For humans, Escherichia coli O157:H7 is one of these. (The colon is where the ‘coli’ part of the name comes from and the ‘Escherichia’ part comes from the German scientist who described it in the early 1900’s. The ‘O’ part refers to the type of cell wall it has and the ‘H’ part to the flagella.)

A variety of different strains of E. coli live in the intestines of both humans and animals, and are a natural part of the digestive process, but different species carry different strains of E. coli. The O157:H7 strain is carried by cows, but not by humans. When this strain enters the digestive tract of a human, it can cause abdominal pain and cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, intestinal bleeding, and in severe cases, damage to vital organs such as the kidney, pancreas, and brain, and there is even a possibility of death. (The Centers for Disease Control estimate about 250 deaths per year due to E. coli infections. Here is a NY Times article about a woman who was paralyzed by an E. coli-tainted hamburger.)

The bad news on ground beef

Ground beef is the number one culprit for E. coli infection in people. This begs the question, why is ground beef laden with bacteria that resides in cow colons? One of the first posts I wrote on this blog, What’s Really In Your Hamburger, answers this question bluntly: There is shit in the meat.

E. coli is spread by feces. All animals (including humans) that carry E. coli shed excess E. coli bacteria in their feces. And ingesting cow feces contaminated with O157:H7 delivers the dangerous strain right to your gut.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):

Infections start when you swallow [E. coli]—in other words, when you get tiny (usually invisible) amounts of human or animal feces in your mouth. Unfortunately, this happens more often than we would like to think about. Exposures that result in illness include consumption of contaminated food, consumption of unpasteurized (raw) milk, consumption of water that has not been disinfected, contact with cattle, or contact with the feces of infected people. Sometimes the contact is pretty obvious (working with cows at a dairy or changing diapers, for example), but sometimes it is not (like eating an undercooked hamburger or a contaminated piece of lettuce).

Inside the slaughterhouse, E. coli contamination can happen at any step.  First of all, the cows come in covered in feedlot feces.  The hides must be very carefully removed to ensure that none of that feces touches the meat.  This is especially difficult for trimmings, which are sliced from the outer surface of the carcass, which are used in ground beef.

At the gutting station, when the intestines are cut out, it is common for them to spill open, dumping their contents (that would be feces) onto the conveyor belt, table, floor, or the meat.  (Ever seen the movie Fast Food Nation?) And, if at any point one cutter’s knife comes in contact with the bacteria, they can spread it down the line to numerous pieces of meat.

Even despite reassuring labels like “sirloin” or “top choice,” ground beef is an amalgamation of cheap, leftover cuts of meat from hundreds (yes, hundreds) of different cows. Many meat producers ship scraps to a central grinding location where ground beef is produced from cows all across the country (or sometimes even world). When ground beef is produced in this manner, there’s more of an opportunity for contamination. A single  contamination from one slaughterhouse will be mixed with the meat from all the other slaughterhouses and can contaminate thousands of pounds of ground beef.

Current US Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulations allow fecally contaminated meat to be passed at inspection so long as the “feces are not visible to the naked eye.” Prior to 1978, the USDA required condemnation of any carcass with visible fecal contamination. But now, the USDA allows carcasses contaminated with visible feces to be “reprocessed,” rather than condemned.

What you can do

A 2001 survey by the Physicians Comittee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), found that 84% of Americans do not know that feces are the originating source for food borne pathogens. (Feces are also the source of salmonella, listeria, and campylobacter.) Thus, most consumers do not realize that when they get sick from eating contaminated foods, it is most likely because they ate feces. (Produce contaminated with E. coli, salmonella, listeria, or campylobacter is also a result of the produce coming in contact with manure.) The meat industry has cleverly hidden the link between food borne pathogens and shit. Consumers are led to believe that pathogens are an unavoidable part of meat products, but this is untrue.

So now that you know, should you still choose to eat shit-laced meat, make sure that you cook it thoroughly. The heat kills the bacteria (but you’ll still eat the feces).

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Breakfast: Fresh grapefruit (from the CSA!)

Lunch: Veggie rolls (with tofu) from How Do You Roll?

Dinner: Mixed veggies (frozen), blue potatoes (my favorite potatoes!), and My Favorite Things Salad

Couldn’t Have Said It Better Myself: Birke Baehr (11 years old)

Powered By Produce now has a Facebook page! To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what I’ll be posting there, but be sure to “like” it to find out!

Like the Powered By Produce Facebook page

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The marathon was great! Not only did I set a PR (personal record… a mere 2 minutes faster than my previous fastest, but a PR nonetheless), but I also thoroughly enjoyed the race which, in true Disney fashion, included entertainment throughout the whole course (bands, DJs, singers, dancers, comedians, Disney characters, and signs with jokes or interesting facts). What better way to celebrate a birthday than a PR at the Most Magical Marathon on Earth?!

finish

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Today I have a video of 11 year old Birke Baehr talking about what’s wrong with our food system.

If you can watch the video, I recommend doing that (his southern accent is so cute), but for those who can’t, here is a transcript (with some reference links added by me and my favorite part bolded):

Hello. My name is Birke Baehr and I’m 11 years old. I came here today to talk about what’s wrong with our food system.

First of all, I would like to say that I’m really amazed at how easily kids are led to believe all the marketing & advertising on TV, at public schools, and pretty much everywhere else you look. It seems to me like corporations are always trying to get kids, like me, to get their parents to buy stuff that really isn’t good for us or the planet. Little kids, especially, are attracted by colorful packaging and plastic toys. I must admit, I used to be one of them.

I also used to think that all of our food came from these happy little farms where pigs rolled in mud or cows grazed on grass all day. What I discovered is that this is not true.I began to look into this stuff on the internet, in books, in documentary films, in my travels with my family. I discovered the dark side of the industrialized food system.

First, there’s genetically engineered seeds and organisms. That is when a seed is manipulated in a laboratory to do something not intended by nature. Like taking the DNA of a fish and putting it into the DNA of a tomato. Yuck! Don’t get me wrong, I like fish and tomatoes, but this is just creepy.

The seeds are then planted, then grow. The food they produce have been proven to cause cancer and other problems in lab animals. [More on that here, and here.] And people have been eating food produced this way since the 1990’s. Most folks don’t even know they exist!Did you know that rats fed genetically engineered corn have developed signs of kidney and liver toxicity? These include kidney inflammation, and lesions, and increased kidney weight. Yet almost all the corn we eat has been altered genetically in some way. And let me tell you, corn is in everything!

And don’t even get me started on the Confined Animal Feeding Operations, called CAFOs.

Conventional farmers use chemical fertilizers made from fossil fuels that they mix with the dirt to make plants grow. They do this because they’ve stripped the soil from all nutrients, from growing the same crop over and over again. Next, more harmful chemicals are sprayed on fruits and vegetables, like pesticides and herbicides to kill weeds and bugs. When it rains, these chemicals seep into the ground, are runoff into our waterways, poisoning our water too! Then they irradiate our food, trying to make it last longer, so it can travel thousands of miles from where it’s grown to the supermarkets.

So I asked myself, how can I change? How can I change these things? This is what I found out. I discovered that there’s a movement for a better way. Now, a while back, I wanted to be an NFL football player; I decided that I’d rather be an organic farmer instead. [Loud cheers] That way, I can have a greater impact on the world.

I learned about this guy named Joel Salatin, they call him a “lunatic farmer” because he grows against the system. Since I am home-schooled, I went to go hear him speak one day. This man, this lunatic farmer, doesn’t use any pesticides, herbicides, or genetically modified seeds, and so for that, he is called crazy by the system.

I want you to know that we can all make a difference by making different choices, by buying our food directly from local farmers, or neighbors we know in real life. Some people say organic or local food is more expensive, but is it really? With all these things I’ve been learning about the food system, it seems to me that we can either pay the farmer or we can pay the hospital. [Loud cheers] I know definitely which one I would choose.

I want you to know that there are farms out there, like Bill Keener at Sequatchie Cove Farms in Tennessee, whose cows DO eat grass and whose pigs DO roll in the mud, just like I thought. Sometimes I go to Bill’s farm and volunteer so I can see up-close and personal where the meat I eat comes from.

I want you to know that I believe kids will eat fresh vegetables and good food if they knew more about it and where it really comes from. I want you to know that there are farmers’ markets in every community, popping up. I want you to know that me and my brother and sister actually like eating baked kale chips. I try to share this everywhere I go.

Not too long ago, my uncle said the he offered my 6 year old cousin cereal. He asked if he wanted organic Toasted O’s or the sugar-coated flakes – you know, the one with the big striped cartoon character on the front? My little cousin told his dad that he’d rather have the organic Toasted O’s cereal because Birke said he shouldn’t eat sparkly cereal. And that, my friends, is how we can make a difference, one kid at a time.

So the next time you’re at the grocery store, think local, choose organic, know your farmer and know your food. Thank you.

A Thought Experiment

Imagine yourself in a crowded elevator, an elevator so crowded that you cannot turn around without bumping into (and aggravating) your neighbor. This elevator is so crowded that you are often held aloft, which is kind of a blessing because the floor is made of wire that cuts your bare feet.

You are stuck in this elevator for days, weeks, months. After some time, those in the elevator will lose their ability to work in the interest of the group. Some become violent, others go mad. A few, deprived of food and hope, become cannibalistic.

There is no respite, no relief. No elevator repairman ever is coming. The doors will open once, at the end of your life, for your journey to the only place worse…

This is the life of an egg-laying hen.

Battery_Cage_01

The New York Times published this graphic which illustrates how many eggs produced in the US come from battery cages. (Go to that link. NOW! It shows the actual space allotment per hen for battery cages & “cage free” hens.)

The graphic explains the breakdown as follows:

97% of all eggs produced in the United States are from hens that live in tightly packed battery cages, with no way to roam outside. These eggs are unethical by any standard. They pose a threat to human health by increasing the spread of Salmonella, they endanger the environment, and they are cruel to animals.

2% of US eggs are from cage-free birds, which live exclusively indoors. These, too, are “factory farmed” eggs, as birds are tightly packed in windowless sheds and each has only slightly more space than a battery caged hen.

1% of US eggs are from “free-range” birds that have the option to go outdoors. (The key word here is ‘option‘.) These systems vary widely, from the entire flock roaming in the grass, to the entire flock in a windowless shed with a small door, that is opened for only 30 minutes a day, that leads to a concrete slab. (More info on the myth of “free range” eggs.)

This means that fewer than 1% of eggs produced in the US would meet the standard of a non-vegan who cares about animal welfare, or environmental destruction, or public health.

In other words, if someone cares about these issues, and decides to live their values, then they would avoid eating eggs the majority of the time.

From a speech by Norm Phelps:

“You can’t walk a mile in the shoes of a battery chicken, because battery chickens can’t walk a foot, much less a mile. But stand for an hour in the cage of a battery chicken, Stand jammed so tightly in a cage with other birds that you cannot turn around or stretch your wings. Stand up to your knees in your own excrement and the excrement of your fellow prisoners while being constantly splattered with the feces and urine of prisoners in cages stacked above you. Breathe air so poisonous with ammonia from the urine that your jailers and torturers have to wear protective masks when they enter the building. Never see sunshine. Never breathe fresh air. If you are injured or fall ill, just suffer; nobody cares, nobody is going to send for a doctor. If you die, so what? It’s cheaper that way.”

“This is the existence of a battery hen from shortly after she is born until the moment she is slaughtered. She never sees sunlight, she never breathes clean air, she never takes dust baths or pecks in the dirt, she never sleeps on a perch or sits on a nest, all activities that are vital to the mental as well as the physical health of chickens. This is her life, joyless, hopeless, saturated with suffering 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for the two years that she is allowed to live, a bleak, abysmal, agonizing existence without friendship, comfort, or consolation.”

The egg industry is often regarded as the cruelest of all the factory farming industries. At the end of these animals’ miserable lives, they are slaughtered, for processed products like chicken nuggets and chicken soup. (Yes, you are eating those sickly-looking hens from the picture above.)

Do not support this cruelty; do not support the egg industry.

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Breakfast: A bagel with peanut butter
Lunch: A salad from the salad bar at Whole Foods (side note: after frequenting the downtown Austin Whole Foods, aka the “flagship,” I realized today that the Whole Foods in north Austin by my job is absolutely pathetic in comparison!)
Dinner: Pasta (gotta carbo-load for the marathon this weekend!) and a side of asparagus

You Are What THEY Eat

We all know the old saying, “You are what you eat.” And it’s true. What we eat literally becomes a part of us. What we eat doesn’t just go in our gut, but it ends up in our blood, our veins, our muscle tissue, our fat deposits, our brain, our hair and fingernails, our organs, our skin, and our bones. [For example, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has detected pesticides in blood and urine samples from 95.6% of Americans tested. This is why it’s so important to be conscious of what we eat!]

It’s easy to see that what we eat effects our bodies, and much of it ends up staying in our system for quite some time (like pesticides, drugs, even corn). And it shouldn’t take a genius to figure out that the same is true for animals – what they eat becomes a part of their body and much of it stays in their system for quite some time (like pesticides, drugs, even corn). So when you eat meat, you’re also eating what that animal ingested. You are what THEY eat.

The recall of over 500 million eggs due to potential salmonella contamination brought to light the crowded, filthy, and utterly unappetizing living conditions of most egg laying hens in the US. What was not as widely reported was the likely cause of the outbreak: contaminated chicken feed.

Meat, fish, egg, and dairy companies do not have to tell us anything about the feeds they use. Feed ingredients are closely guarded “proprietary trade secrets.” Even the farmers often do not know what is in the feed – they simply serve up whatever is provided to them by the meat company with which they are contracted.

[This is another subject entirely, but I’m not sure that I’ve ever really explained how the farmer-to-meat corporation relationship works. Basically, big companies like Tyson will contract farmers to raise chickens exclusively for them. Tyson will provide things like feed and will actually even provide the baby chicks! But the general consensus is that the farmers are getting royally screwed in these contracts.]

A closer look at what’s actually being fed to animals reveals a lot of bizarre stuff that most of us would not want in our food chain. (This is most likely the real reason feed ingredients are such carefully protected secrets.)

What They Eat

1. Corn and Soy
Because of a series of political events (including government farm subsidies and the Farm Bill), corn and soy have become incredibly cheap and therefore are the base of livestock feed. Livestock consumes 60% of the corn and 47% of the soy produced in the US.

The problem with feeding corn and soy to livestock is that their digestive systems are not designed to handle corn and soy. This feed especially causes problems in ruminants (like cows, sheep, and goats) but it also impacts pigs, chickens, and even fish! (Yes, they are now feeding corn to fish. Please agree with me that this is incredibly UNNATURAL.)

These animals can not properly digest corn and soy, so the chewed up food sits in their stomachs for too long without passing through quickly, as grass would. This results in fermentation acids accumulating in the stomach, which causes painful ulcers, and can lead to infections and abscesses in the liver, not to mention excessive indigestion and drooling/frothing.

Plus, the accumulation of undigested corn and soy in the intestines causes the growth of E. coli in the digestive tract (you know, that stuff that can kill you if you don’t cook your hamburger well enough? Oh, and PS – the E. coli gets from the cow’s intestine to your hamburger because there is shit in the meat.)

But these issues are outweighed because not only is corn & soy cheap, it is also fattening due to the way it is (improperly) digested. Prior to industrialized farming, steers were 4-5 years old at slaughter. Today, they are 14-16 months. You can’t take a beef calf from a birth weight of 80 pounds to slaughter weight of 1,200 pounds in a little more than a year on grass. It takes enormous quantities of corn, protein (see #3), and growth hormones (see #2).

You are what they eat: A corn based diet is not just unhealthy for the animals, but it is also unhealthy for the humans eating them. Besides the significant increase in E. coli, corn fed animals develop a “marbled” flesh: saturated fat woven into their muscles. And because the USDA is out to protect the farmers (not the consumers), their beef grading system is set up to reward this intra-muscular fat marbling with a “Grade A” stamp.

And just as pesticide residue is detected in over 95% of tested humans, animals subsisting on corn and soy ingest massive amounts of pesticides. When you eat meat, you also eat the pesticides that have accumulated in their bodies.

2. Drugs
Antibiotics and hormones are used to combat the negative health issues caused by a corn and soy based diet (the indigestion, ulcers, and E. coli in the intestine) and to repel the effects of very cramped, unsanitary conditions, where diseases thrive and spread quickly. And, of course, antibiotics and hormones speed up growth.

You are what they eat: Antibiotic and hormone residues are found in the meat, eggs, and dairy humans consume. And not only that, but traces of these drugs can also be found in vegetables that are fertilized with manure from drugged animals. And on top of that, human water sources have been contaminated with these drugs due to feedlot water runoff. And by the way, consuming these hormones is linked to cancer (especially breast, prostate, and colon).

Another very serious issue is that these antibiotics are always added to the feed and water (no matter what). This practice of “nontherapeutic use of antibiotics” causes the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which can effect humans (ahem, Swine Flu). Antibiotic resistance is a very serious public health problem that already costs the US economy billions of dollars each year, but even scarier than that, it could suddenly wipe out lots and lots of people. The World Health Organization calls antibiotic resistance one of the three greatest threats to human health.

3. Meat from the same and other species, diseased animals, euthanized cats and dogs, feathers, hair, skin, hooves, blood, brains, and organs
Another way to fatten the animals as quickly as possible is to add “animal protein products” to the feed. This is another ingenious way for factory farms to cut their costs: feed the carcasses of slaughtered animals back to the live animals, including brains, organs, skin, feathers, hair, and blood. In addition to inducing cannibalism, animal feed can also legally contain dead horses, road kill, and euthanized cats and dogs. I am not making this up people!

You are what they eat: The spread of Mad Cow Disease was a direct result of feeding cattle parts to cattle. The US government has since put restrictions on the parts of cattle that can be fed back to cattle. Cows can no longer be fed cow brains, spinal cords and other central nervous system tissues, but they can still be fed cow blood and other cow parts. And cows can be fed rendered pigs, chickens, and turkeys that have been fed cow brains, spinal cords, and nervous systems. There are no restrictions on feeding rendered pigs to pigs or rendered chickens to chickens.

4. Manure and Other Animal Waste
It is common practice to add cattle manure, swine waste, and poultry litter to the feed as additional “animal protein products.” And the manure/waste/litter served up as food is allowed to contain contain dirt, rocks, sand, wood, and other such contaminants.

You are what they eat: Not only does this waste contain antibiotics and hormones that were fed to the animals, but it can also come from animals that ate rendered cow parts, and then be fed to cows, possibly enabling the spread of Mad Cow Disease. Plus, it’s just plain gross.

5. Plastic
Many animals need roughage to move food through their digestive systems, but since they are not receiving the necessary fiber from their corn-soy-“protein” based diet, plastic pellets are used to simulate plant-based roughage.

You are what they eat: Ya, so I’m not really sure that the plastic they eat directly effects you, but it’s pretty screwed up that we’ve messed with their diet so much that we have to add plastic for them just to be able to digest their food.

What you can do

If you’re eating meat, eggs, or dairy look for these labels:

Organic – No antibiotics nor hormones were used. An absolute ban on using rendered animal carcasses in the feed. No pesticides were used on the food they were fed. However, many organic-raised animals are still fed corn & soy.

Grass Fed – Not fed corn & soy. However, these animals can still be given hormones, antibiotics, and pesticides.

Vegetarian Fed – Not fed rendered animal parts. However, these animals still eat corn & soy, antibiotics & hormones,  and pesticides.

*Grass fed used in conjunction with Organic makes for the best option.*

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Breakfast: A bean and Veggie Shreds cheese taco

Lunch: We had a potluck at work today! I work with a bunch of dudes, so our potluck consisted of: a bucket of KFC, brisket and sausage from Bill Miller’s, frozen eggrolls, and sausage calzones.  Luckily, there were actually a few veg items there too: I made these mini-burritos, there was also a potato-cheese casserole, a salad, and a 7 layer dip (no ground beef, thank goodness!), oh and a pumpkin pie.

Dinner: Artichoke, olive, and tomato pizza. I made mine cheeseless.
pizza

Why I Am Vegan: Walter Bond’s Story

mataderos_cerdos

I found this story via Once Upon A Vegan.

“Why I am vegan”

By Walter Bond

In the winter of 1995, when I was 19 years old, I got a job with a company by the name of Dakota Mechanical. We built slaughter-houses in the Midwest, mainly in Iowa. The state of Iowa is the largest producer of pork in the nation. At the time I was employed in that evil industry there were 27 slaughter-houses for pigs alone. I helped build the IBP plant in Logansport, Indiana as well. It was a brand new plant.

I never saw an animal murdered in the 9 or so months I worked in Logansport, but it wasn’t difficult for me to get the gist of what many of those machines would do when in operation. I was primarily a forklift operator to begin with, but then worked my way to industrial plumber’s apprentice. After that factory was built there was a three month layoff.

But soon I got the call for the next job. The one that would forever change my life. It was a smaller job; we were to build an extension to the kill floor at the IBP plant in Perry, Iowa. In this fully functioning slaughter-house I saw the most grizzly mechanized murders that there are to witness. Since it was an old facility we were constantly called away from our construction work to do maintenance throughout the plant. From the pen runs, to the kill floor, to rendering, over the course of 5 months I was a confederate and accomplice to it all.

When I first started the smells, sights, and sounds were overbearing. I kept telling myself, “This is what you eat; don’t get squeamish.” Within 6 to 8 weeks I felt soul dead. For 12 hours, sometimes 15, I often worked ankle deep in gore.

Like the 3 days I worked plumbing rinse stations with 40 gallon drums of de-skinned hogs’ heads staring at me.

Or the times I would have to take the forklift behind the facility to gather raw materials, right next to which was a 25 foot pile of ‘defective’ hogs which were ‘unfit for human consumption.’ For one reason or another they were left in heaping piles, exposed to the elements and freezing to death in the Iowa cold. With all the horrors to which I was privy, it’s that pile of freezing dead that still haunts my soul.

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Then came the day that changed me. We were wrapping up all our tools and cleaning up when a hog who had been knocked out with an electric jolt, had his throat stuck, and had been hung upside down to bleed to death woke up, convulsed, and freed himself of the foot-hold. He came running off of the kill floor straight toward me and the rest of the crew. Three IBP workers gave chase. One with a pipe wrench and two with baseball bats. They began to beat the hog to death. I turned away as I thought anyone would……I was wrong. As I turned, I was face to face with the rest of my crew. While listening to the thuds and squeals of a blunt force death a mere 30 feet behind me, I watched as my co-workers whooped and cheered, high-fiving each other each time there was a thud, laughing and celebrating the violent death of a sentient being.

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That night in my hotel room my mind raced. I was disgusted with myself. I was disgusted with humanity. I quit eating meat. A few days later my foreman approached me and asked if I need to borrow any money. I said, “No, why do you ask?” He said that he’d noticed that all I’d been eating was peanut butter and jelly and that he thought I was broke. I told him that I wasn’t broke and that I was simply done eating meat. He began heckling me and calling me a “born-again tree hugger.” I quit on the spot.

I went home and began to study Animal Rights. I went vegan and became active in a legal capacity. I spent years tabling and talking with people. I worked at animal sanctuaries and rescued animals whenever I could.

I have never felt that anything I have done or will do on behalf of our Mother Earth and her animal nations has been enough. Those machines I built back in 1996 are still murdering, even as I write this. That is my guilt and my shame; I earned them. But it is also my strength and resolve. Nothing will ever make me forget the plight of factory farmed animals and so-called free range, which is just as sick, wrong, unnecessary, and indefensible.

Like all industries of animal exploitation, the circle of abuse will end with the antagonist (humans) falling prey to its own perfidiousness. For instance, my grandfather was a hog farmer whom I never met. He died in the year of my birth, after the ammonia from hog waste destroyed his lungs. That same waste run-off from his and adjoining hog farms in the 70’s poisoned the ground water, allowing illegal levels of radium to pollute the tap water. To this day in certain areas of the Midwest you have to sign a waiver stating that the water from public works is hazardous to your health and that you are “OK” with that before they will turn your water on.

I’ve said it before, but it’s worth restating. It is these industries of death that are the animal and Earth terrorists. Not those who fight against them.

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As of August 10, 2010, Walter Bond is facing a single federal arson charge for his alleged role as an Animal Liberation Front (ALF) operative known as “Lone Wolf”. “Lone Wolf” took credit for three different arsons throughout the Spring and Summer of 2010 in Denver and Salt Lake City: The Skeepskin Factory, a store selling furs and pelts; Tandy Leather Store; and Tiburon, a restaurant serving foie gras.

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Breakfast: Smoothie with mango, papaya, and pineapple
Lunch: Freebirds burrito bowl (no cheese, no sour cream, and their refried beans are vegetarian!)
Dinner: A steamed artichoke (my favorite!) and some garlic bread (made with Earth Balance buttery spread)

Why Our Agricultural Empire Will Fall

In the midst of an obesity epidemic, surrounded by super-sized meals, and backed by half a century of agricultural overabundance, it’s hard to imagine the possibility of a food shortage. But while the US continues to overindulge, the rest of the world is facing a global food crisis.  The United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is organizing a special meeting this month to tackle the current instability of the global food market and the rising wheat prices that recently caused riots in some countries (and even led to protesters’ deaths in Mozambique).

Reading about this reminded me of an interesting interview I saw with one of the authors of the book Empires of Food, Evan Fraser.  The book shows how our food system is repeating the history of doomed civilizations by tracing the rise and fall of past empires. The Romans, Mesopotamians, and medieval Europeans, for example, all had agricultural systems that, much like ours, were linked to complex technology and intricate trade networks. And each of these societies eventually failed because they didn’t account for  growing population, soil erosion, and weather changes.

In the interview, Fraser stated that his biggest concern is climate change. Most empires expand in times of good weather, then fail when the weather goes bad. The Romans specialized in wheat until around 300 AD when the weather dropped and the empire collapsed. The same thing happened in medieval Europe. In the late 14th century, the warm period ended and there were huge famines.

In our case, we’re not facing cooling, but warming is just as problematic for agriculture. The current food crisis was triggered by a persistent drought in Russia, a major producer of wheat. Because of the low yield, Russia has put a ban on exporting wheat, causing wheat prices to skyrocket.  According the the UN, “Wheat prices experienced their biggest monthly rise in almost a year in August, according to the FAO’s Food Price Index, climbing by 5 per cent following persistent drought in Russia and that country’s subsequent restriction on sales.”

Interestingly, one of the first signs that things were about to go wrong in both the medieval period and the Roman period was that food prices started to rise. Demand was going up, but yields stagnated. We have a strong parallel with that today. Between 2006 and 2008, we had a threefold rise in the price of food. The price of wheat has risen faster in the last six months than at any time in the last 32 years. From 1950 to 2000, the price of food decreased every year, but since 2000, it’s been increasing. Fraser says, “Our system looks a lot like Rome in the year 250.”

And, unfortunately, all of the safeguards we’ve come up with to combat crop failure are fossil-fuel intensive.  Chemical fertilizers, irrigation systems, dams, and transportation all take energy to produce. With a rise in oil prices (which is inevitable since oil is a finite resource), these solutions will become increasingly more expensive.

Furthermore, instead of rotating our crops, we’ve started growing the same crop over and over again on the same piece of land. This very quickly strips the soil of its nutrients. (This is why crop rotation is important.) This means that our system is already very brittle and fragile, and climate change will only weaken an already weak system.

The Mesopotamians, just like other empires, grew into an extremely developed culture because their farmers produced excess food, stored it, transported it and exchanged it in the urban marketplace. They developed cities by creating irrigation canals, which allowed them to have high yields. And they made the same mistakes that we are making today: They relied heavily on food produced during good weather and they overspecialized their farms, growing only one type of crop on each field, instead of rotating them.

The soil became infertile from the monocultures and salinized as the irrigation canals left behind a deposit of salt when the water evaporated.  During a sudden hot, dry spell, the Mesopotamians irrigated the soil even more heavily. This created a short-term yield boost, but in the long term, it was unsustainable. (The drop in crop yields led to a drop in the economy, which led to a drop in tax revenues, which led to a weakened military, which led to an overthrow.)

The modern parallel with this is our usage of chemical fertilizers. It has allowed us to boost our yield temporarily, but the underlying problem of soil erosion hasn’t been fixed.

Some argue that technology, like chemical fertilizers and genetically modified crops, have helped increase our crop yield and protect us against famine.  But, Fraser explains that “highly productive varieties” actually require more water, so now even a small drought can create an extreme food shortage.

In the US, with an overabundance of food at very cheap prices, food has become a luxurious sensory experience instead of a necessity. “In order for us to produce food locally, or use fewer fertilizers, or pay better wages, we need people to be more interested in what they’re eating and where it’s coming from. We need them to be invested in food without trivializing it,” says Fraser.

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Breakfast: Smoothie with a peach, a banana, and almond milk.
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Lunch: Black bean tacos from Taco Cabana
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Dinner: Brussels sprouts and homemade mashed potatoes (with soy milk, olive oil, garlic, and fresh chives from my balcony)
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Official FDA Inspection Reports Released

Just a quick update on the salmonella outbreak in eggs.  Here’s some excerpts from a New York Times article:

Inspection reports released by the Food and Drug Administration described — often in nose-pinching detail — possible ways that salmonella could have been spread undetected through the vast complexes of two companies. Barns infested with flies, maggots and scurrying rodents, and overflowing manure pits were among the widespread food safety problems that federal inspectors found at a group of Iowa egg farms at the heart of a nationwide recall and salmonella outbreak.

The recall, which began Aug. 13, involves more than half a billion eggs from the Iowa operations of two leading egg producers, Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms. About 1,500 reported cases of Salmonella enteritidis have been linked to tainted eggs since the spring — the largest known outbreak associated with that strain of salmonella.

It was difficult to gauge from the report how extensive the problems were. Both companies operate vast facilities housing seven million hens.

The report on Wright County Egg also described pits beneath laying houses where chicken manure was piled four to eight feet high. It also described hens that had escaped from laying cages tracking through the manure.

Officials last week said that they were taking a close look at a feed mill operated by Wright County Egg, after tests found salmonella in bone meal, a feed ingredient, and in feed given to young birds, known as pullets. On Monday, officials said for the first time that they had also found salmonella at a Hillandale facility. The bacteria was found in water that had been used to wash eggs.

Wright County Egg is owned by Jack DeCoster, who has a long history of environmental, labor and immigration violations at egg operations in Maine, Iowa and elsewhere.

Both companies have stopped selling shell eggs to consumers from their Iowa facilities and instead are sending all their eggs to breaking plants where they are pasteurized, which kills the bacteria. The eggs would then most likely be sold in liquid form, possibly to food manufacturers.

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The website Animal Visuals has created a graphic regarding the salmonella outbreak. Here is a small section of it:

salmonella-risk

You can see the full image here.

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Breakfast: Toast with cashew butter. I didn’t especially like the cashew butter – it’s too sticky and doesn’t have as much flavor as peanut butter.
Lunch: Vegetarian chili and a salad from The Garden Spot
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Dinner: Taco salad

8 Reasons to Beware of Eggs

Half a Billion Eggs Recalled, And Counting…

eggs

Over 500 million eggs have been recalled due to an outbreak of Salmonella that sickened thousands of people across the country (and many cases go unreported because Salmonella infections, which cause diarrhea and stomach cramps, often go undiagnosed). This is one of the country’s worst food safety recalls, stemming from only two farms in Iowa. These two gigantic producers distribute their eggs under brand names such as Lucerne, Albertson’s, Mountain Dairy, Ralph’s, Boomsma, Sunshine, Hillandale, Trafficanda, Farm Fresh, Shoreland, Lund, Dutch Farms and Kemp (this list might not be comprehensive as the recall seems to expand daily).

The American egg industry was already battling a movement to outlaw its methods as cruel and unsafe, and was adapting to the Obama administration’s drive to bolster health rules and inspections. According to the FDA, the cause of the infections has not been pinpointed, but it is likely that lax safety procedures and animal overcrowding are to blame. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) wrote in a letter to the Iowa Egg Council, “Confining birds in cages means increased salmonella infection in the birds, their eggs and the consumers of caged eggs.”  A single barn may house more than 150,000 birds in tight proximity, allowing infections to spread quickly and widely.

This month, the HSUS released a new white paper addressing the threat that cage confinement of laying hens can pose to food safety, as well as assessing the probabilities of Salmonella contamination among different housing systems:

salmonella_egg

Egg producers have watched in dismay as the political winds seemed to turn, largely because of growing concern about animal rights. The European Union will bar small cages for egg hens as of 2012. By public referendum, California will ban small cages in 2015, and the state will not allow the sale of eggs produced in other states in small cages. Michigan, Ohio and other states have also placed limits on future caging of hens.

But even with new legislation, there are still plenty of reasons to be concerned about eggs. Here are eight:

1. Petri Dishes for Disease

Joel Salatin, a farmer whose farm Polyface is featured in The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Food, Inc., tells why conditions in factory farms are ideal for the spread of infection: “The propensity for a problem is magnified under the fecal particulate air in these industrial egg farms. What it does is it breaks down the immune system and creates openings for pathogens. If you were trying to design a pathogen-friendly system, you would go to a single species, crowd that species together, deny it fresh air, exercise, and sunshine, never give it a rest time—have it there 365 days a year, and feed it a diet that maximizes a minimal standard of performance, rather than maximizes nutrition or feed that is nutritionally superior. What I’ve just described is Egg Factory Farming 101. This is just symptomatic of the pathogen-friendly nature of industrial agriculture.”

2. Massive Farms Magnify Any Disease

Further compounding the risk is the tremendous centralization of the factory farm system. As Marion Nestle, author of What to Eat, points out, “these large industrial producers where if there’s a problem, it’s going to get magnified over many states and many people.” Salatin agrees, saying that “Whereas a problem in the local food system only affects a few people, a problem in a factory farm can infect, for instance, hundreds of millions of eggs and tens of thousands of people.”

3. Infection Is More Common Than We Think

When you have such massive farms, each distributing its eggs to dozens of grocery chains, any problem gets compounded. In the case of the current outbreak, William Marler, a prominent foodborne-illness litigator, points out that the CDC’s rule of thumb is that 38 people are sickened by salmonella for every case that’s reported, so the number of people infected by the current outbreak could potentially number in the tens of thousands.

4. Free-Range Eggs Are No Healthier

Many people think that free-range eggs are healthier, and they provide more peace of mind, than factory-farmed eggs. But, the U.S. Department of Agriculture doesn’t even have a definition of “free-range” for laying hens. Factory-farmed chickens are often labeled as free-range. In the end, no one knows exactly what they’re eating. As Jonathan Safran Foer writes in Eating Animals, “I could keep a flock of hens under my sink and call them free-range.”

5. Companies Avoid What Little Regulation Exists

According to Marion Nestle, legislation would help, but companies are determined to skirt regulation and the FDA lacks the clout to enforce what rules it has: “We’re dealing here with a company that’s not very interested in following rules, and they cut corners in lots and lots of ways. One of the ways they cut corners is safety. The other part is the FDA still doesn’t have the tools it needs to enforce the rules it has.” William Marler points out that legislation that might have prevented this outbreak languished for eight years during the Bush administration before being implemented on July 8, just as the outbreak began. Even then, Marler says, most of the “Egg Rule,” known officially as “Federal Register Final Rule: Prevention of Salmonella Enteritidis in Shell Eggs During Production, Storage, and Transportation,” is common-sense testing and should have been followed voluntarily.

6. Healthy Eggs Are Expensive & Cheap Eggs Sell Better

Marion Nestle, Joel Salatin, Michael Pollan, and other food activists agree that the consumers must start demanding healthier eggs, even if it means paying more. Says Nestle, “The rules that are in the FDA’s egg legislation will require producers to do things differently, with some hope that they’ll move into more sustainable, reasonable practices. But as long as this country insists on cheap food, as long as that pressure is there, it’s understood that we value food for how little it costs, as opposed to how it’s produced or how it tastes, and there isn’t going to be a lot of pressure on producers to change things.”

But for those of you hoping that voting with your dollar will encourage producers to be cleaner and more humane, the polls bode ill: According to recent data from Information Resources Inc, which tracks checkout scanner transactions from 34,000 grocery stores in the U.S., we’re still buying eggs from cage housing systems 92% of the time.

7. Farms Lack Transparency

According to Michael Pollan, industrial egg farms are the worst sort of factory farms. So bad, in fact, that journalists are rarely allowed inside them. When Carole Morison let a camera crew in for Food Inc., she lost her contract and went on to co-found the Delmarva Poultry Justice Alliance.

8. Cruel Farm Conditions

Jonathan Safran Foer, in his book Eating Animals, writes of an often-overlooked trend in factory farming: food and light deprivation. One farmer described it to Foer this way: “As soon as females mature—in the turkey industry at 23 to 26 weeks and with chickens 16 to 20—they’re put into barns and they lower the light; sometimes it’s total darkness 24/7. And then they put them on a very low-protein diet, almost a starvation diet.” The result: Birds lay up to three or four times as many eggs as in nature. “After that first year, they are killed because they won’t lay as many the second year,” the farmer said. “The industry figured out it’s cheaper to slaughter them and start over than it is feed and house birds that lay fewer eggs.” Foer’s conclusion: “After learning about it, I didn’t want to eat a conventional egg ever again.”

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Breakfast: Bagel with Tofutti vegan cream cheese
Lunch: Salad with cucumber, red and yellow cherry tomatoes, hearts of palm, avocado, and vinegar and oil
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Dinner: Black bean tacos from Taco Cabana (there’s no cheese on these)

Be Careful What You Fish For

Anyone who made it through Biology 101 knows that fish have nerves and brains that sense pain, just like all other animals. Scientists tell us that fish nervous systems closely resemble our own, even including neurotransmitters like endorphins that relieve suffering – of course, the only reason for a nervous system to produce pain killers is to relieve pain.

Studies show that fish can learn to avoid pain as well. From one researcher, “Pain avoidance in fish doesn’t seem to be a reflex response, rather one that is learned, remembered and is changed according to different circumstances.” Scientists have even shown that fish feel emotional stress and “engage in a rocking motion strikingly similar to the kind of motion seen in stressed mammals.”

Whether they are farmed or fished from the ocean, what happens to fish before they end up on your plate is nothing short of animal cruelty.

Wild Fish

Overfishing

There is no doubt about it, we are overfishing our oceans and are dangerously close to eliminating many fish species.

Remember the cod, seemingly infinite in number and fished for centuries in North America? Well, the fishery collapsed in 1992 due to rapacious factory fishing and short-sightedness. The number of cod today is around one percent of what it was in the 1960s and in 2000, cod were placed on the endangered species list. Even with the North American cod fishing ban, the cod numbers are still struggling and it is unknown if the population will ever recover.

Similarly, the west-coast salmon fishery failed in 2008. The Atlantic bluefin tuna has been reduced to about 15% of pre-industrial numbers. In 2006, it was reported that 30% of the world’s fisheries had collapsed, with catches falling below 10% of the original yield. It is predicted that the remaining commercial fish species will be exhausted by mid-century, meaning no more wild fish, at all.

Mis-labeling (intentionally)

Given the dwindling supplies, consumers are now being fed a ‘bait & switch.’ Many packaged, frozen, and fast food fish are mis-labeled, substituting fish that were once considered garbage fish (like hoki), which are more abundant in numbers (for now),  for the species you think you’re getting. The FDA recently determined that 37% of fish and 13% of other seafood was mislabeled! As much as 77% of so-called red snapper is anything but.

The FDA has established guidelines for fish labeling, but thanks to industry lobbying, there are plenty of exemptions. This has led to some surreal mislabeling: Importers started selling Vietnamese catfish under the brand name Cajun Delight. The rock crab, once a garbage catch, was reborn as the peekytoe crab. The channel catfish has become the southern trout, dolphinfish is now mahi mahi, the Patagonian toothfish is now the Chilean sea bass, the Malabar blood snapper is now the scarlet snapper, and the fish known now as orange roughy used to be called the slimehead.

These less desirable fish now even finding their way into fancy restaurants because increasingly, that’s all that’s left.  So, why not switch to farmed fish, where the population is bred and sustained?  Unfortunately, farmed fish is even worse!

Farmed Fish

Health Effects

Just as with land animals, disease and parasites run rampant in densely packed fish feedlots. To combat these ailments, fish are vaccinated when young, then are continuously given antibiotics or pesticides to ward off infections. Sea lice, in particular, are a major problem. At the first sign of a sea-lice outbreak, pesticide is added to the feed.

Studies have found that farm-raised salmon contain more cancer-causing PCBs and dioxins than wild ones, typically originating in their feed. In some cases, the levels of contaminants are so high that by EPA guidelines, you shouldn’t even have one serving a month! (It’s more like one serving every 5 months in the case of some farmed salmon.) Researchers estimate that the risk of cancer from contaminants is about 3 times higher for farmed salmon compared to wild.

The Salmofan

The Salmofan

In the wild, salmon absorb carotenoids from eating pink krill. On an aquafarm, their rich pink hue is supplied by canthaxanthin, a synthetic, manufactured pigment. Fish farmers can even choose what shade of pink their fish will display from the manufacturer’s trademarked SalmoFan, a color swatch similar to those you’d find at a paint store. Without this synthetic coloring, the flesh of farmed salmon would be a pale halibut gray. Canthaxanthin is linked to retinal damage in people who use it as a sunless tanning pill, leading Britain to ban its use, but of course it’s still available in the US.

Even the good stuff in farmed salmon comes with problems. Yes, farmed salmon contain more oil, including heart-friendly omega-3, but that also includes a much higher percentage of the not-so-healthy omega-6 (up to twice as much in some farmed fish).  Farm raised fish are also fattier, not surprisingly since they circle lazily in crowded pens and fatten up on fish chow. Cultivated catfish contain nearly 5 times the amount of fat as their wild counterparts.

Environmental Effects

Fish farming is extremely rough on the environment, too. Fish farmed in open pen nets are now about 50% of the world’s source of fish (hatchery fish are about 30% and wild fish are the remaining 20%).

Open-net fish farm

Open-net fish farm

Fish hatchery

Fish hatchery

Aquafarms (often called “floating pig farms”) put a terrific strain on their surrounding environments. Uneaten feed and and waste blankets the sea floor beneath these farms, creating a breeding ground for bacteria that consume oxygen vital to shellfish and other bottom-dwelling creatures. A good sized fish farm produces the same amount of excrement as a city of 10,000 people.

The additives to the food pellets (pesticides, antibiotics, artificial coloring) drift into the ocean and pollute the natural food chain. Toxic copper sulfate, used to keep the nets algae free also drifts into the surrounding water. This pesticide and antibiotic buildup in the water has resulted in the development of resistant strains of bacteria and infections that can effect not only the farm-raised fish, but now the wild fish as well. Research shows that sea lice from fish farms kills up to 95% of juvenile wild salmon that migrate past an aquafarm.

And perhaps the most serious concern is the problem fish farms were meant to alleviate: the depletion of marine life from over-fishing. Salmon farming actually increases the depletion of marine life because, unlike vegetarian catfish which thrive on grains, captive salmon are carnivores and must be fed fish during the 2-3 year period when they are raised. To produce 1 lb of farmed salmon, 2.4 – 5 lbs of wild sardines, anchovies, mackerel, herring, and other fish must be ground up and rendered into pellets of salmon chow.  Farming fish creates a problematic redistribution of protein in the food system. Removing such immense amounts of small prey fish from an ecosystem can significantly upset its balance. This simply can not be sustained.

Other reported environmental impacts include seabirds ensnared in netting, sea lions shot for preying on penned fish, and escaped farmed fish (about 1 million salmon have escaped through holes in nets from storm-wrecked farms) competing with wild ones for food, mating, and spawning grounds. The interbreeding of wild and farm stocks poses the threat of diluting the wild gene pool. Biologists fear that Atlantic salmon invaders will out-compete Pacific salmon and trout for food and territory. An Atlantic salmon takeover could knock nature’s balance out of whack and turn a healthy, diverse marine habitat into one dominated by a single invasive species. (Not to mention the repercussions of the genetically modified “frankenfish” escaping into the wild!)

What To Do

Obviously, the best option for everyone involved is to refrain from consuming fish. This will not only help to preserve our precious aquatic ecosystem, but will also keep you free from the carcinogens found in farmed fish.

However, if you simply must eat fish (and I do not in any way advocate this, but I feel it is better to provide the information than to allow you to continue blindly consuming unhealthy and environmentally detrimental fish), then choose line-caught Alaskan fish. The healthiest populations and habitats exist in Alaska. In fact, due to the successful efforts of conserving and protecting wild salmon habitats, the Alaskan Salmon Fishery recently received the Marine Stewardship Council’s label for sustainability. The Marine Stewardship Council’s labels are intended to guide customers to species that are not being over-harvested. (But remember, those fish did, without a doubt, feel pain.)

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Breakfast: Smoothie with banana and pear
Lunch: Indonesian peanut noodles from Noodles & Co.
Dinner: Taco salad