The Real Price of Cheap Meat

The Real Price of Cheap Meat

Rolling Stone recently came out with a disparaging tale of how we here in the U.S. raise and consume meat. Relying on investigative tactics courtesy of the Humane Society (because government agencies wouldn’t participate or are too short-staffed), the article reveals to the reader what we are really consuming, and that easily accessible cheap meat comes at a great price.

Some of the costs include the transfer of diseases from farm animal waste to humans, the argument that such processing has led to new human diseases such as type 2 diabetes in children who feast on fast food, the decline of the earth’s total land mass used for animal grazing (an astonishing 26%), the creation of 500 million tons of animal waste annually, 35,000 miles of polluted rivers, toxic gasses released by decomposing animal waste that feeds into the ecosystem, and last but not least the extreme animal cruelty. The latter causes the animals to release stress hormones that the ordinary consumer is ignorantly chowing down on.

According to Rolling Stone: “Each year, an estimated 9 billion broiler chickens, 113 million pigs, 33 million cows and 250 million turkeys are raised for our consumption in dark, filthy, pestilent barns.”


In describing how some of the livestock are kept, Rolling Stone quotes Mary Beth Sweetland, who is the investigative director for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), on how your yummy breakfast accoutrement, bacon, is actually made:

“A pig may end up spending four or five years in a tiny crate and kept perpetually pregnant and made sick from breathing in her own waste while fed food packed with growth-promoting drugs, and sometimes even garbage. (The word ‘garbage’ isn’t proverbial: Mixed in with the grain can be an assortment of trash, including ground glass from light bulbs, used syringes and the crushed testicles of their young.”

Does that bacon still taste good?

The group isn’t against the consumption of meat but rather hell bent on addressing the issue of how the multibillion-dollar meat industry has morphed in recent years, as family-style farms have been gobbled up by food conglomerates keen to extract as much profit as possible out of the meat it processes every day.


In the case of raised chicken, Rolling Stone notes the following:

“This is your life: You’re trapped in a cage with six to eight hens, each given less than a square foot of space to roost and sleep in. The cages rise five high and run thousands long in a warehouse without windows or skylights. You see and smell nothing from the moment of your birth but the shit coming down through the open slats of the battery cages above you. It coats your feathers and becomes a second skin; by the time you’re plucked from your cage for slaughter, your bones and wings breaking in the grasp of harried workers, you look less like a hen than an oil-spill duck, blackened by years of droppings. Your eyes tear constantly from the fumes of your own urine, you wheeze and gasp like a retired miner, and you’re beset every second of the waking day by mice and plaguelike clouds of flies. If you’re a broiler chicken (raised specifically for meat), thanks to ‘meat science’ and its chemical levers — growth hormones, antibiotics and genetically engineered feed — you weigh at least double what you would in the wild, but lack the muscle even to waddle, let alone fly. Like egg-laying hens — your comrades in suffering — you get sick young with late-life woes: heart disease, osteoporosis.”

This is the chicken you are currently licking your fingers for right now.

Some of the bigger names in the food industry associated with questionable practices include Tyson Foods and Perdue, who have in recent years acquired local farms and who treat animals not as living, feeling creatures but as mere production units.

While laws may exist to protect pet animals from abuse, such laws are scant in the meat-processing industry, watered down to misdemeanor charges when operators are caught breaking state mandates (for poor ventilation, overcrowding, illicit docking of animals’ tails). Even these are being fought by food corporations, who lobby to get their measures passed, and many other companies, who try to get the laws nixed altogether.


And while the meat industry continues to grow and tend to Americans’ unrelenting appetites, there are signs that the resources needed to meet the demands are being stretched to the point where meat production may soon come to a halt.

Fred Kirschenmann, director emeritus and Distinguished Fellow of the Leopold Center For Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, says, “Water is running short, especially in cattle states. Fuel prices are soaring past what farmers can pay, and the two key minerals they use to fertilize are mined now in only four countries. A paradigm shift is coming in the next two decades, to a more natural, and regional, food system.”

This has led to some recent pilot programs that raise animals without pesticides, fertilizer or drugs, by the hands of local merchants who work as hub centers. However, this doesn’t translate to cheap food (a dozen eggs can be $6 in some instances), and this too might lead the harried and increasingly economically strained consumer to cut corners when getting their nutrition and sustenance — another exercise in futility.


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