Posted by Eric on June 10, 2009
A couple of days ago we discussed the environmental consequences of cattle farming, specifically how corn (rather than grass or grain) diets fed to cows leads to increased levels of methane released into the air. One of the repercussions of corn-based feed for cattle that I didn’t mention before was that cows are pumped with antibiotics to help ease their unnatural digestion of corn. Antibiotics are also fed to swine and poultry to promote growth and to mitigate infections contracted from the inhumane and often filthy conditions in which farm animals are raised. This comes from the Union of Concerned Scientists who my fellow Washingtonians will recognize as being responsible for the recent ad campaign on the DC Metro (see the pictures above). The UCS writes that 70% of antibiotic drugs are used on animals and notes:
Antibiotic-resistant illness causes tens of thousands of premature deaths in the United States annually and drives up medical costs. Restricting the inappropriate use of antibiotics in both the medical and the agricultural sector can save lives and money.
Since everyone is talking about how to bring health care costs down, this might be a good place to start. But really what should be most troubling isn’t even current antibiotic-resistant illnesses, it’s the future of antibiotic-resistant illnesses. Overuse could potentially lead to a catastrophic disease outbreak and — though I have know idea how likely that is — it is a possibility that many scientists take seriously and policymakers should take it seriously as well. You should head on over to the UCS’ SaveAntibiotics website to find out what you can do.
Anyway, I am pretty sure I wrote a paper in middle school about antibiotic overuse so my warnings are clearly informed.
Pictures snapped by my versatile and multifunctional Verizon smart phone.
Posted in Food Policy | Tagged: Food Policy, Health Care, News, Politics | 2 Comments »
Posted by Eric on June 7, 2009
Jamelle has an interesting post up about the environmental threat of cattle. Methane gasses emitted by cow burps and farts severely damage the environment, and curbing the amount of methane released will undoubtedly have to be a part of any adequate plan to address the threat posed by global warming. Studies have shown that converting a cow’s diet from (heavily-subsidized) corn and soybeans to easily digested feed like flaxseed and alfalfa would be an important step.
Jamelle mentions the political problems posed by shifts away from corn feed, although I think he gets it backwards when he writes, “our high rate of beef consumption is key to maintaining an absurd and outdated subsidy regime. And while reducing our beef consumption certainly won’t put an end on our massive and unsustainable agricultural (read: corn) subsidies, it could play a part in reducing the “need” for said subsidies.” But corn isn’t subsidized because cattle farmers needed cheaper feed, rather corn is fed to cattle because it’s cheap, in part because of heavy federal subsidies.
One last note: even changing cows’ diets, won’t make beef production sustainable. It takes about 15 pounds of feed to make 1 pound of beef, 6 pounds of feed for 1 pound of pork and 5 pounds of feed for 1 pound of chicken. Red meat just isn’t efficient and if we are serious about addressing the harms of anthropogenic climate change, there are going to be some tough choices to make in the coming years regarding our diets.
Lastly, I apologize for the title of this post and promise that in the future I will refrain from any use of the word moocow.
Posted in Environment, Food Policy | Tagged: Environment, Food, News, Politics | 1 Comment »