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Enough of eating factory food

By on October 25, 2020 in Columnist with 2 Comments
Jim Brown

So much of what is on packaging has no real meaning

By Jim Brown, M.D.

Dr. Not long ago Lynn and I were returning from southern California from our son’s home. 

For several miles, we smelled a sickening stench and wondered what it might be. 

As we got closer it became obvious. There were two huge cattle feed lots, each filled with over a thousand cattle fenced in and crammed together standing in filthy mud and feces. 

They were there to be fattened up for slaughter with a highly unnatural diet of grain and corn. They are also routinely given antibiotics and hormones to help them gain weight faster and keep them alive under otherwise miserable conditions. 

As it turns out over 86 percent of the meat produced in the United States is produced by four companies that use massive feed lots like this to fatten their beef. 

Texas Tech University suspects drug resistant bacteria found in feedlots can become airborne and lead to hard-to-treat infections. 

The Center for Communicable Disease and Prevention says that two million people annually get antibiotic resistant infections, and of those, 23,000 die annually. 

I am not blaming feedlots for these illnesses, but I do question the common indiscriminate use of antibiotics given prophylactically to feed lot animals without any medical justification. 

I realize this is a “business” and the goal of business is to make a profit. 

Lynn and I both felt disgusted to see animals treated in such an inhumane way. This has made us question our own personal consumption of the meat in our diet. 

No, we didn’t become vegan, but we wanted to find a way for the food we eat from animals at least be from animals who had been treated humanely in their lifetime. 

The question was how can we do that. 

We humans currently eat on average 200 pounds of meat per person per year.

For 2.6 million years, humans have been meat eaters. Prior to that time, our distant human ancestors who originated in Africa subsisted on a diet of fruits, seeds, leaves, flowers, bark and other plants. 

Eventually this changed. The African savannas supported grazing animals. During times of drought these animals frequently died, and then our distant ancestors started eating the meat of the dead animals. 

Eventually they became hunters, and around 2,000,000 years ago meat became the staple of their diet. 

Our brains consume about 20 percent of our body’s total energy. 

Scientists say that switching the diet to meat is what made our ancestors more human. Meat provides a high quality energy that caused their brains to grow rapidly. 

Once humans started cooking with fire, it made the meat easier to digest quickly and efficiently. Now, most of us crave meat in our diet. 

That said, my wife and I have decided to try to buy meat that is raised in a more humane way if possible. 

It seemed buying meat that was advertised to be “grass fed” or “pasture raised” was a way to do this. It sounds good. Right? These terms suggest that these animals were free to roam in open spaces eating grasses in the sunshine and in fresh air. 

Unfortunately that is not the case. There currently are no legal or government regulations to ensure that this claim is true and no legal definition for “free range’ or “pasture raised” meat in the U.S. 

These animals still spent most of their time in restricted environments and crowded pens in “factory farms.” 

“Free range” is really a marketing term, and its use is almost entirely decided by the producers. It does not reflect how these animals were actually raised or treated. 

The USDA has no definition for “free range” beef or pork. In the U.S., the USDA “free range” regulations only apply to poultry. For poultry to use the label free range, the chickens have to have some ability to be outdoors although there is no oversight to the quality of that environment or the time that the chickens might have access to it. 

I have seen videos of so-called “poultry factories” where hundreds of chickens were crammed into tiny cages where they couldn’t even flap their wings. It was depressing. 

As to the eggs, we love to eat the term “organic eggs,” according to the USDA, are from laying hens fed organic food, have access to the outdoors and cannot be raised in cages. 

Our dilemma now is how to find beef and other meat products, including poultry, that has been produced in a humane way rather than in a cattle or poultry “factory” type environment. 

I have looked at the meat counters in the two East Wenatchee local grocery stores plus Costco. It is nearly impossible to find meat with a “Humanely raised” label. 

Some meats have a “natural” label and say no hormones or antibiotics were used. Again “grass fed” and “pasture raised” labels to me are meaningless. 

Rarely some of the ground beef labels have a USDA organic label. It is very hard to find meat that doesn’t come from the big four meat U.S. producers.

I was previously not aware of the nonprofit organization Humane Farm Animal Care or HFAC that certifies meat, chicken, pork, eggs and pet food or other dairy products that meet their guidelines for these products to be humanely raised. 

They are dedicated to improving the lives of farm animals in food production from birth through slaughter as well as expanding consumer awareness for more responsible farm animal practices. 

The only place I could find that offered the kind of meat we were looking for is the company called Crowd Cow, started in Seattle. They sell beef only raised on smaller Northwest farms that are raised humanely and not fattened up in giant feed lots. They ship their meat products to individual members. 

I joined and am hopeful that the five-star reviews are accurate. Time will tell. 

Jim Brown, M.D., is a retired gastroenterologist who has practiced for 38 years in the Wenatchee area. He is a former CEO of the Wenatchee Valley Medical Center.

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  1. Tracy Faulkner says:

    Thanks Jim, G @ I have been discussing this exact dilemma…. it’s simply not easy. I thought Mikes Meat carried healthy raised beef/chicken. I will def give crowd cow a try. We get our fish flash frozen from Alaska once a month..

  2. Jim Russell says:

    Thanks for your suggestion on Crowd Cow Jim, and your comment Tracy. I wasn’t aware of the vague terms of meaning for “grass fed” beef. I met a farmer at Pybus market that I believe raises grass fed beef in a humane manner, but I wasn’t able to confirm it. Feed lots also consume tremendous of water that can affect water tables and the neighbors’ water levels.

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