We live in an era where the safety of the food that we eat, the water that we drink, and the air that we breathe are of major concern for our health and well-being. As individuals who are concerned with health issues, we need to become educated and proactive with the very basic elements that directly influence our health, which include foodborne illnesses, food irradiation, genetically modified foods, and the toxins that are found not only in our food but also in the water that we drink and the air that we breathe. This article is the first in a series of articles that will examine modern food production and how our food choices affect our health, the human food chain, and ultimately the world in which we live.
FARMER RAISED VERSUS FACTORY FARMED
Since ancient times, farmers passed down priceless ancestral wisdom from parent to child, from generation to generation. A time-honored ancient contract sealed the agreement among those people who raised animals for meat, milk, and eggs to ensure that the basic needs of the animals under their care were satisfied. Traditional wisdom guided the farmer in how to provide the animals with environments that were harmonious, nutritive, and protective from predators and natural elements. If animals fell ill or suffered from lack of food, water, or protection, the farmer and his family suffered, as well as their animals. Both farmers and livestock ranchers prided themselves on being stewards of the animals they raised.
In the latter part of the 20th century, a dramatic change took place with the advent of intensive factory farming. The ancient contract of responsible stewardship, once honored by farmers for thousands of years, was replaced by intensive factory farming methods that exchanged ethical farming practice for increased economic profitability, at the expense of animal welfare and the increase in potential adverse health consequences to the general public.
FOODBORNE ILLNESS AND FACTORY FARMING
Current scientific literature provides overwhelming evidence that the manner in which we treat our animals can result in deleterious public health implications.1 In fact, history has unequivocally shown that many of humanity's disease epidemics, including measles, influenza, and smallpox, have their origins from the domestication of farm animals.2–4 In addition, the emergence of more recent diseases such as SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), an acute respiratory illness caused by a coronavirus that infected more than 8000 people worldwide, has been directly linked to live animal markets.5 Mad cow disease or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) is a viral disease that causes fatal dementia in cows and a form of human dementia called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which infect humans after eating the meat from BSE contaminated cows. Mad cow disease and the ensuing BSE epidemic were the creation of the factory farming biz and their unethical practice of feeding cows slaughterhouse waste (dead cow meat), cow's blood, and chicken manure.6 The origins of BSE and the subsequent BSE global epidemic have become the most widely acknowledged illustration of the indisputable link between the unconscionable cruelty and mistreatment of animals and the potential increased risk for adverse health effects worldwide.6,7
Yet, the most commonly diagnosed foodborne illness in the United States, and of central focus to this article, is the bacterial pathogen Salmonella, which is the leading cause of food-related death.8,9 The primary source of Salmonella infections in humans are eggs.10 Scientific research clearly indicates that intensively confining egg-laying hens into “battery cages,” which is analogous to stuffing several hens into a nonlegal sized filing drawer, rather than allowing them to live cage-free, results in a significant increase in the risk of Salmonella foodborne disease.11,12
FACTORY FARMING PRACTICES, AIN'T NO MOTHER HEN
The National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine, in its landmark report, “Emerging Infections: Microbial Threats to Health in the United States,” clearly states that “the introduction of feedlots and large-scale poultry rearing and processing facilities has been implicated in the increasing incidence of human pathogens, such as Salmonella, in domestic animals....”13 Because Salmonella can infect the ovaries of hens, infected eggs can be laid prepackaged with the bacteria inside.14 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the US Department of Agriculture estimate that infected eggs may cause approximately 180 000 cases of Salmonella infection in the United States per year, at an annual cost of billions.15,16 There are several “factory farming practices” that have contributed to the emergence of egg-borne Salmonella infection.
In the United States, battery-caged hens are presently confined to 5 to 10 hens per cage, which affords each hen a living space of less than an 8.5 in by 11 in single sheet of paper for a maximum 2-year occupancy, equivalent to their entire life span.17–19 Because of the stressful overcrowded conditions, the innate pecking order of chickens is obliterated, and as a result they become violent and at times peck each other to death. The factory farm industry's solution is a procedure called “debeaking,” which involves cutting off one-third of the beak of each chicken to prevent them from killing one another. Debeaking often leaves the chickens so mutilated that it interferes with their ability to eat, resulting in starvation.
Spent hen meal
According to the World Health Organization, “factors facilitating the spread of Salmonella are associated with the intensification of animal and poultry production. ...”20 These factors include the industry's selective breeding practices, forced starvation molting, and the “feeding of slaughterhouse waste to hens.”21,22 More explicitly, when the hens' egg production declines, they become candidates for “spent hen meal” or slaughterhouse feed, better translated, they are ground up and then fed to other hens.23 On a yearly basis, the United States produces the majority of the estimated 10 million tons of “animal protein concentrates” that is incorporated worldwide into animal farm feed, such as meat, blood, and bone meal, or more specifically, “trimmings that originate on the killing floor, inedible parts and organs, cleaned entrails, fetuses.”24–26
Interesting to note is that more than 50% of feed samples containing slaughterhouse waste tested by the FDA was contaminated with Salmonella, and innumerable accounts of human Salmonella infections have been specifically linked to the feeding of farm animals contaminated meat and bone meal.27–29 In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that more than 1 000 000 000 incidents of Salmonella poisoning in the United States can be directly connected to feed containing animal by-products.30
Forced starvation molting
Forced starvation molting is a process that has been employed by the factory farming industry to stimulate waning egg production in hens. The practice involves withdraw of feed for 10 to 15 days or until the hens lose up to 35% of their body weight; this shocks the hen into losing its feathers and, for those that survive, a new egg-laying cycle begins.31 As a result of the extreme stress, the immune system of the hen is often compromised, increasing the likelihood for Salmonella infection. It is well known that forced starvation molting increases the risk of hens laying Salmonella-infected eggs.32
According to the International Journal of Medical Microbiology, research clearly demonstrates that stress hormones can increase Salmonella colonization and systemic spread of infection in chickens.33 It has been shown that the stress hormone noradrenaline has the ability to stimulate the growth rate of Salmonella exponentially, while at the same time corticosteroid hormones can reduce immune function.34,35
The factory farm industry's effortless attempt to counteract the stressful, intensely overcrowded, and unhygienic conditions, is to feed millions of pounds of antibiotics to farm animals every year.36 The practice of lacing animal feed with antibiotics has been condemned by the American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, the Infectious Disease Society of America, and the American Academy of Pediatrics; yet, the factory farming industry arrogantly continues in their irresponsible and dangerous practice.37
COMPARISON OF SALMONELLA RISK IN EGG PRODUCTION SYSTEMS
Battery cages, cage-free, organic, free range
The European Union initiated an extensive study, to determine the public health implications of phasing out the use of conventional battery cages.38 This study compared the Salmonella infection risk between different laying hen housing systems, namely battery cages, cage-free (barn-raised), organic production, and free range (pasturing). The study revealed that the incidence of Salmonella Enteritidis contamination was 43% less in cage-free egg production, 95% less in organic egg production, and 98% less in free-range systems than in battery-caged egg production. The study results of Salmonella Typhimurium, the most common type of Salmonella poisoning in the United States, indicate that there was 77% less Salmonella infection among cage-free hens and 93% less Salmonella contamination in organic and free-range hens than in battery-caged production. The European Food Safety Authority concluded, “without exception battery-caged hens are more likely to be contaminated with Salmonella.”
The European Union, including all 27 countries, has banned the use of battery cages, and as a result has witnessed a significant decline in Salmonella infections. Unfortunately, the efforts to control Salmonella in the United States is shamefully inadequate in comparison with the European Union and other countries that have eliminated the health hazard.39 According to a former US Department of Health and Human Services Senior Nutrition Policy Advisor, “major food industries oppose pathogen-control measures by every means at their disposal.”40
Apparently, the factory farming industry is devoid of conscience, for profitability seems to be their motto, and supersedes ethical farming practice and public health safety.
Since ancient times, traditional wisdom guided the farmer in how to provide his animals with environments that were harmonious, nutritive, and protective from predators and natural elements. Today, intensive factory farming methods have exchanged ethical farming practice for increased economic profitability, at the expense of animal welfare and the increased potential adverse health consequences to the general public. Current scientific research validates ancestral farming wisdom and provides overwhelming evidence that the manner in which we treat our animals can result in deleterious public health implications.
The most commonly diagnosed foodborne illness in the United States is the bacterial pathogen Salmonella, which is the leading cause of food-related death. The primary source of Salmonella infection in humans is eggs. Scientific research clearly indicates that intensively confining egg-laying hens into “battery cages” rather than allowing them to live “cage-free” results in a significant increase in the risk of Salmonella foodborne disease. To reduce the incidence of Salmonella foodborne illness, acquired through the consumption of eggs, studies suggest purchasing eggs from cage-free, organic egg, or free-range sources.
Harvest for Hope: A Guide to Mindful Eating by Jane Goodall
The Food Revolution: How Your Diet Can Save Your Life and Our World by John Robbins
Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser
Diet for a Small Planet by Anna and Francis Moore Lappè
Proposition 2, “Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act,” www.YesonProp2.com
Mother Earth News, http://www.motherearthnews.com/eggs.aspx
Meet the Free Range Eggs, a comparison chart that shows the average nutrient content of cage-free and free-range raised hens, compared to the nutrient content of battery-caged hens.
Cage-free egg source
Nature's Yoke, www.naturesyoke.com (store locator)
Look to purchase “Organic and All-Natural Eggs from Cage Free Hens,” raised on small, sustainable farms like Nature's Yoke.
(A special thank you to George Weaver III at Nature's Yoke for his commitment to produce quality eggs by utilizing careful farming management and hen care.)
Nonprofit groups (not inclusive)
Dedicated to educating the public about factory farming.
- People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), www.peta.org
- Humane Farming Association, www.hfa.org
- The Humane Society of the United States, www.humanesociety.org
- United Poultry Concerns, www.upc-online.org
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