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.
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.
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.*
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.