It took decades, countless studies, frightening real-life sagas and legislation to convince consumers that cigarette smoking could kill them. Even then, it hasn't stopped enough people from smoking to put any of the giant cigarette companies out of business.
It's no surprise that it will take several decades to drive home the fact that most of the meat - beef, pork and chicken - sold in supermarkets and butcher shops is unhealthy and that the methods used to feed, house and slaughter the animals are doing untold damage to the environment, not to mention treating the animals cruelly.
These disturbing facts are brought home in the recently published Animal Factory , a meticulously researched expose of the industrial animal farming industry by journalist David Kirby.
If consumers only read - and believed -- the statistics compiled by Kirby, they'd be horrified, and would think twice about buying the packaged meat products neatly displayed in supermarkets' refrigerated cases. It only looks good enough to eat.
The culprits, says Kirby, are the sprawling, high-tech megafarms housing hundreds of thousands of cows, pigs, chickens, and turkeys. These massive compounds are called concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, by government and industry. Packed tightly together, the animals are fattened and readied for slaughter.
Unlike traditional factories, there are no smokestacks or refineries. But there is pollution and contamination.
The result is that they're a threat to human health and the environment. The numbers prove it.
Consider the adverse effects that factory farming has had on human health:
- Release of nitrates into well water in levels that may cause diarrhea, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, spontaneous abortion and blue-baby syndrome
- Excess nitrate exposure in pregnant women may cause central nervous system problems in children and neural tube defects, which has been linked to autism
- Breed hazardous levels of organisms such as dangerous E-coli, salmonella, listeria, viruses, protozoa, and worms
- One study found salmonella in 20 per cent of hamburger tested, of which 84 per cent was resistant to at least one drug, and 53 per cent was resistant to three or more drugs. Another study found airborne enterococci, staph, and strep bacteria with resistant genes; 98% was resistant to two or more antibiotics.
And the effects on the environment are just as scary:
- Animal feeding operations yield 100 times more waste than all US human sewage treatment plants
- Agricultural waste is the No. 1 form of well-water contamination in the US. At least 4.5 million people are exposed to dangerously high nitrate levels in their drinking water
- Feedlot odors contain some 170 separate chemicals; many of them cause respiratory ailments, diarrhea, depression, violent behavior, and other health problems
- Rearing cattle in factory farms yields more greenhouse gases than cars
One of the most disturbing statistics of Animal Factory is that 2 per cent of the population produces 100 per cent of the food.