University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Sustainable Agriculture (Cattle)
Cattle dominate our food market today and our agriculture is becoming less sustainable. Agriculture is “the science, art, or practice of cultivating the soil, producing crops, and raising livestock and in varying degrees the preparation and marketing of the resulting products” (Merriam Webster). With technological advancements, farming techniques have changed and mass production is dominating our agriculture.
According to the Center for Agroecology Sustainable Food Systems, The US Congress defines a sustainable agriculture in commitment to include, “satisfy human food and fiber needs” and “enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole” (CASFS). These techniques are not only harmful to cattle, but can also be harmful to people consuming them. Some techniques include feeding animals corn instead of natural food, hormones to make them grow faster, and antibiotics are being used to fight off bacteria due to these techniques.
Although these techniques have a very negative affect, food prices are an even bigger problem. Money is the determining factor for everything when it comes to agriculture. Every farming company’s goal is to make a profit, which drives farmers to use cheap techniques to mass-produce, creating a cheaper product for consumers. Due to supply and demand, cattle populations have increased but their life quality has not. There are not enough restrictions to protect these animals and something needs to be done.
A sustainable agriculture will result in a quality life for our animals and produce a healthier product; to do this we must educate people about food, create restrictions, and enforce these restrictions. The first step in creating a sustainable agriculture is educating people about the food they are consuming. The majority people are unaware of how our food is made and what it is made of. They are uneducated of the process foods go through and believe that, if a product is sold on the market, that it is safe to eat. Our government does a horrible job at educating about health risks in our food.
News media is the quickest way to inform people, but they are not informed until it is to late. An example of this is foodborne illness caused by beef. In 2011 the Center for Disease Control estimated that each year 48 million (or 1 in 6 people) get sick from foodborne illness in the United States. This resulted in 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths due to foodborne illness (CDC). One of the most popular foodborne illnesses is salmonella. The United States Department of Agriculture states that, “Salmonella is a gram-negative, rod-shaped bacilli that can cause diarrheal illness in humans.
They are microscopic living creatures A recent incident took place on July 22, 2012 when Cargill Meat Solutions recalled 29,339 pounds of fresh ground beef. The Center for Disease Control reported that 46 people in nine states were infected with salmonella linked to ground beef (CDC). People infected received antibiotics and no deaths were reported. These illnesses could have been prevented if people were more educated about the health risks of beef. Ground beef is a very popular food, and there is a high demand for it.
With high demand, more supply is needed, which leads to mass production. With mass production comes more bacteria and disease. Cattle and feedlots are a key example of this. Over the last 50 years cattle farming has changed dramatically. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stated, ‘the size of the beef industry in the U. S. has declined gradually over the last 15 years. There were 1. 0 million beef cow operations in 1986, which had declined to 0. 83 million operations in 2000. The numbers of beef cows, however, have remained stable at about 33 million head” (EPA).
So with the demand of beef staying the same but the number of operations declining, only means that mass production is becoming more popular. Mass production, hormones, antibiotics, and overall living conditions are horrible for cattle. Cattle farmers over the years have become very dependent on hormone use. Not only cows now eating corn to plump up, they are also being fed growth hormones. Growth hormones allow cows to gain an extra 40 to 50 pounds of fat, costing farmers roughly $1. 50 per cow. These hormones cause all types of problems to their health.
Michael Pollan, a popular author decided to write an article on the life of cattle. To do this he purchased his own steer and observed the process they go through in their 14th month life span. He stated, ”In my grandfather’s day, steers were 4 or 5 years old at slaughter, in the 50’s, when my father was ranching, it was 2 or 3. Now we get there at 14 to 16 months” (Pollan). With cows growing roughly three years quicker, they are producing less natural lean meat, and antibiotics are being used to kill bacteria and illness. Some researchers have found
that these antibiotics still consist after meat is put on the shelf and humans are consuming it. Some researchers have thought that hormones and antibiotics in our food could be part of the reason why girls are maturing faster or why there are less sperm counts in men, but there is no evidence to prove that. As Pollan talks more about a steer’s lifestyle on the feedlot, more problems are introduced. Cattle have the worst living conditions out of any other animal. On a feedlot thousands of steer are lined up, standing shoulder to should in manure confined by fences.
Pollan described lagoons of animal waste that was so toxic that it couldn’t even be used as fertilizer. If people were educated and knew more about where their beef is coming from, there may be less of a demand for it. Besides education, our government needs to create more restrictions to create not only a healthier product, but let cattle live a natural life. The second step toward a more sustainable agriculture is creating restrictions for raising cattle. Creating restrictions would set guidelines for farmers and would reduce the amount of chemicals given.
Less chemical use would allow cattle to live a healthier normal life and produce lean, healthier meat ,reducing the chance of foodborne illness greatly. In 1980 Europe put a ban on all hormones fed to live stalk. The ban took place on suspicion “over the possible negative health effects of using hormones in livestock production, and contributed to a general climate in Europe that was suspicious of the use of hormones in livestock production and the potentially harmful health effects to consumers” (Congressional Research Service).
Studies have shown that in beef produced by cattle receiving hormones, hormones still exist in the food that sit on our shelves. Creating restrictions against hormone use would result in a healthier product for consumers. In order to create a healthier product, the living conditions of cattle need to improve as well. Mass production in feedlots became very popular when the government started telling farmers to expand. Expanding allowed farmers to hold as many cattle as possible, ignoring the health risks. Feedlots are farms for cattle where they are raised before getting slaughtered.
Cattle are divided into little pins with food surrounding them. There is no place for them to walk around to eat grass or get fresh water or even go to the bathroom. Because of this, cows end up standing shoulder-to-shoulder knee deep in waste. This is a big threat to the animals and the environment due to pollution. Cattle are treated unfairly, yet there are no laws in protecting them. Michigan State Animal Center stated, “There are not many laws that oversee the processes that people follow when they breed, raise, and ultimately slaughter cattle.
The laws that do exist typically do more to foster the industry than to protect the welfare of the cattle” (MSU). This allows farmers to get away with pretty much anything when raising their cattle. When trying to put laws on protecting cattle however, farmers speak out and get upset. In 2007 a bill was presented to “Gas Tax” cattle farmers for air and water pollution, costing each farmer roughly $30,00 a year. The bill was turned down because it would bankrupt farmers and ruin the livestock industry.
Farmers getting upset are part of the reason why little restrictions are set, but restrictions are useless when there is nobody enforcing them. Enforcing restrictions is the third step toward creating a sustainable environment. One of the biggest problems with enforcing restrictions is that our government supports cattle feedlots. Just like with corn, cattle farmers receive imbursements from the government. They allow this because the government receives income from taxes off beef. Just like cattle farmers, the government would rather create a cheap product to make profit.
As long as they are making money, no enforcements will take place, and farmers are able to slide past restrictions, overall creating an unhealthy product. However, when consumers get sick from a product, the blame game takes place. Beef goes through many different processes before it hits the shelves in stores. It is nearly impossible to track meat from when the cattle is born and raised to warehouses where the meat is processed. Once a problem is found in beef, a recall takes place, and it can take months to track where the problem came from, but by then it is to late.
The Natural Resource Defense Counsel states that feedlots escape regulations and “loopholes in the law and weak enforcement share the blame” (NRDC). Cattle farmers and processing plants point their fingers at each other and nothing is really done about the problem. It is very possible that foodborne illnesses can be picked up in the processing stage, but the life style and how cattle are being treated play a big factor as well. Some improvements have taken place, including the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. This law states that animals taken to slaughter must be unloaded for food and water every 28 hours.
The law protects animals from inhumane slaughter, yet loopholes have been found. Undercover inspectors are placed in slaughterhouses to enforce these rules. They found out that animals were still being treated inhumanely by being slaughtered while conscious. Animal Law Coalition noted, “there was no effort made to stop the ineffective stunning and the records kept by inspectors were so poor” (ALC). This is another example of how farming companies get around restrictions and our government needs to do a better job in enforcing them creating an overall more sustainable agriculture.
A sustainable agriculture will result in a quality life for our animals and produce a healthier product; to do this we must educate people about food, create restrictions, and enforce these restrictions. Educating people will allow them to know the health risks of the foods they are putting in their bodies. Creating restrictions will force farmers to use fewer chemicals, creating less chance for foodborne illness and disease. Enforcing restrictions will allow cattle to have a more natural life over all, resulting in a healthier product for our consumers.