We make a lot of choices in our lives. A choice of haircut, a choice of lover, friends, enemies. Choices: if we have so many of them, why waste them on bad decisions?
Livestock farming has been integral to civilization since people figured out how to fasten a sharpened rock to a wooden rod and spear prey. Cows, on four legs and spotted black, populate the plush pastures of earth, sacrificing life to give our bodies what they crave ever so gluttonously.
And that’s fine. We have to eat. But at what cost? Earth’s exponentially multiplying population is hungrier than ever, and farming conglomerates are taunted by the impending scraping of fork on bare china. The only time-allowing solution is to pump animals full of antibiotics, slaughter the fattened calf, permeate its cellophane coffin with gas to make the meat look fresh, and hope that the customers don’t get E.coli.
Sarah Maki Smith is a regional extension specialist of animal sciences and the ‘farm to harvest’ movement at Washington State University. She said that in humane cattle production, cows spend from 400 to 500 days grazing and then only a minimal period of time in concentrated feed situations. That is the ideal scenario.
However, even the tiniest amount of stress has an effect on the psyche of an animal. Internally, glycogen levels plummet and normal acidification of the meat (whatever that means) cannot occur as per usual. This results in “dark cutting beef” in the packing plant: a dense, dry, deep colored cut of steak. Not the yummiest Friday night dinner, if you ask me.
Small, family-run farms are determined to keep fresh, fresh. At Holy Cow Grass Fed Farm in Wapato, Washington, a couple dedicates the entirety of their days to producing healthy, happy cows.
“It’s an around-the-clock market,” owner Janelle Moses said. “If you are a [workaholic], this is the job for you.”
Moses works tirelessly to make sure that her soil is well tended to and that she knows what it’s missing. She knows how to “grow grass like a crop,” which will ensure that its richness and nutritional value remain intact for the cattle. Her farm is truly sustainable. But like any good thing going for the world, the world wants to squash it. Larger meat producers know how to spin their straw into fake gold, and will almost always outcompete small landowners.
USDA approved slaughterhouses can kill 300 to 400 animals per hour. Poor livestock get a stun gun between the eyes to render them brain dead, and then their throats are slit. They are then dismembered and prepared for packaging. Franchise livestock producers may know how to make a pretty penny, but they sure don’t know the right way to treat an animal. Injections that they give to baby calves can make them gain 60 pounds in six weeks. That’s ten pounds per week.
Now, if you’ve never heard of a little something called bioaccumulation, I’ll shed some light on it for you. Whatever an animal ingests will inevitably be passed into the bloodstream of whatever organism ingests it. So let’s just say you are the organism that eats the 60-pounds-in-six-weeks calf. You now have the same exact hormone in your bloodstream that caused the poor guy to plump up so quickly.
But people don’t want to hear it. They want what’s cheap and accessible, not what’s more expensive but sustainable and better for their health. So companies have implemented the convenient “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, a loophole to keep consumers in the dark about what they’re consuming and the meat packagers out of the woods for potential health lawsuits. If the milk carton doesn’t say “antibiotic free,” then chances are you’re probably not drinking just milk.
For example, this year, Tyson Foods announced that they would be eliminating the use of antibiotics in their poultry. This year. That means that ever since animal antibiotics were first produced for use in livestock agriculture, Tyson has been selling meat pumped full of growth hormones. We didn’t ask, so they didn’t tell.
It’s an unfortunate situation. Cheapen the quality and price of the meat and food will be more accessible to the less wealthy masses, or raise and slaughter cattle humanely, rendering them safer to eat (therefore increasing the price), and contribute to America’s insatiable hunger crisis.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Corporations have the resources and the chance to be sustainable while keeping prices low enough for consumer satisfaction. If only they would let go of some of that money-mongering greed.
“I truly believe,” Moses said, “that if people don’t change, the local farmer that treats their animal right will probably not be in operation.”
It’s up to you, the consumer, to decide what direction you want to take the livestock agriculture industry. So decide.
The choice is yours.
Reach columnist Shayne Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @ShayneJones