In an effort for meat companies to reduce overhead and increase profits, they have developed large-scale animal farm factories that now make most of the meat that is sold in the U.S. today. These concentrated animal feeding operations have resulted in repercussions such as an increase in antibiotic-resistant diseases and a significant negative impact on the local water supply near these establishments due to the waste water runoff from the animals. These significant global issues cause concern with water quality and bacterial diseases that are resistant to antibiotics.
What’s more, aside from the environmental issues that these farms create, the companies are also destroying the businesses of American farmers, driving them into financial debt as the larger corporations continue to see growing profits.
While animals on farms used to be able to roam free, they are now trapped in confinement operations to help boost productivity. Small farmers were once optimistic about new production methods to help improve their sustainable agriculture and protect their animals, however, once this practice has been opened up on a larger scale, it has not produced the results that benefit small family farms.
While family farmers once used their own special additives to feed their animals and improve production, such as all natural cinnamon and honey, once the use of government-approved growth hormones and antibiotics were introduced, this changed the animals and created a host of problems that were not present before.
With animals packed in tight quarters and fed dangerous diets, diseases began to spread quickly and easily. The use of low-dose antibiotics slowed infectious disease and encouraged animals to grow at an increased rate, which did lead to an increase of profits for the farmers, but also an increase of health risks for the consumer.
The antibiotics that are used on these farms kill the majority of the bacteria in the animal, however, they leave enough bacteria in the animal that are resistant to the drugs and are therefore able to multiply. This unsafe meat ends up being sold in stores.
Once large producers began to take over the meat industry, it forced family farmers to become “contract growers,” meaning they provided labor to the farms without actually owning the animals. This allowed some farmers to keep their family farm without having to absorb the fluctuating prices of the meat market.
While this helped to keep farmers insulated from changing prices, it still caused them to face new challenges, such as an increase in production losses and corruption of the larger, sponsoring companies.
While family farmers may find a contract from a large corporation to be a promising business move, it requires these farmers to run a 365-day business without taking a break or having a consistent income per pig, which has driven some of these farmers out of business.
Without actually owning the animals, farmers are making less money but continue to have high overhead costs. Some farmers have had to put themselves into debt using loans to build confinement facilities for their animals while only bringing in between $20,000 and $60,000 every year. While farmers used to raise the corn to feed their pigs and sell them locally, now the animals might be owned by someone in one state, raised in another, slaughtered in yet another, and shipped to another country.
Confinement of animals and their stressed immune systems also increase the opportunity for viruses to spread quickly. This then hurts the supply of meat, which leads to price increases and lowers consumer demand. Throughout the fluctuation of the pork market, contract farmers still get paid the same amount of money for each pig that is delivered to market, yet their overhead costs continue to rise.
This results in pig farmers dealing with declining profits and the potential of farm loss, however, large companies that own the contracts of the family farmers are continuing to make profits.
The export of meat to China has dramatically declined, along with its prices. This is partly because China, like other countries, bans the use of Ractopamine, a growth stimulant that U.S. producers give to their animals to increase their weight before slaughter. This drug helps to increase the development of protein and reduces the amount of fat on the animal. This drug is banned in almost 160 countries due to health concerns but is still legal in the United States. Research has linked Ractopamine to reproductive problems, birth defects, the development of mastitis in dairy animals, and an increased rate of death.
The Growth of Large Meat Companies
Companies such as Smithfield are advancing their global impact on the meat market by using popular branding and collaborating with well-known sports teams to get the attention of consumers.
Smithfield foods is also trying to expand by acquiring more meat processing plants worldwide to grow their meat empire around the world. Smithfield has proposed to purchase 100% of the company shares of three separate meat processing plants, which will increase the ability of Smithfield to create and process their product.
This potential growth forces smaller contract farmers and consumers to be at the mercy of one meat provider. The powerful meat business has connections throughout the government that have even proven to include bribes from politicians and inspectors to approve meat export certificates for products that have never been inspected. This criminal activity puts consumers at risk for contracting diseases.
The importance of fighting antibiotic-resistant diseases in meat continues to grow stronger. You can help protect your health by choosing your foods wisely and responsibly using antibiotics for your own health. Purchase only antibiotic-free meat that has been raised by organic, grass fed, and regenerative farmers. Also, research organizations that can help you locate healthy farm-fresh foods.
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