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It requires an almost superhuman effort of will to
not know where our meat is coming from
Over the last couple of decades, something strange has happened to
farming. It's moved from being mostly nature-driven, to being mostly industry-driven.
Exactly when this transition occurred is impossible to say. But the
reason is fairly simple – market forces. To meet a rapidly growing
demand for food, agribusiness has found innovative ways to increase
crop and meat yields. The trouble is, this tinkering with natural
cycles has had undesirable, often disastrous effects on the health of
the environment, the animals and the humans who eat the animals.
"Traditional farming operates on a closed ecological loop,"
says Rob Fenton, head teacher of Production at the National
Environment Centre, a 400 acre certified TAFE NSW-owned and operated
organic farm near Albury. "The animals are fed the waste products
of the crops and produce manure, which is then used to fertilize the
new crops. The natural nutrient cycle is kept in perfect balance."
However, farming's gradual drift away from biodiversity and towards
monoculture has resulted in a huge increase in the use of pesticides
and other chemicals. This is because monocultures are much more
vulnerable to pests and disease, which can spread very quickly when
all the plants have the same genetic background and are therefore
And as monocultures deplete the soil, rather than enrich it, huge
amounts of chemical fertilizer are also required. These chemicals then
run off the farms into drainage ditches, where they find their way
into our river systems. The drinking water these rivers provide to
towns and cities is often polluted with runoff nitrogen. And the
polluted water that doesn't make it into our drinking supply ends up
running into the ocean, where it creates large "dead zones",
so called because oxygen can't live there.
But industrial farming creates more problems than sickening our
topsoil and damaging the health of our waterways. Farmed animals are
also getting the pointy end of the stick, and, by extrapolation, so
too are the humans who eat the farmed animals.
Ask the average meat-eating consumer in a supermarket where they
think their crisply-packaged piece of sirloin is coming from, and many
will conjure up a vague, hazy image of happy cows and sheep
contentedly grazing on lush, green pastures. But for a majority of the
meat sold in the modern supermarket, it's a very different story.
The chances are this meat doesn't even come from a farm at all, but a
Confined Animal Feedlot Operation (CAFO). These vast corrals are like
concentration camps for livestock, where large numbers of animals are
raised in confined and filthy conditions as nothing more than
commodities for maximum production at minimum cost. In their nasty,
brutish and short lives, these unfortunate animals won't see a single
blade of grass.
These conditions are also perfect breeding grounds for bacteria and
disease. Large amounts of antibiotics are therefore constantly pumped
into the animals, as well as the other steroid-like chemicals that
promote rapid growth. It's estimated that 50% of all the antibiotics
on the planet are used on factory farmed animals.
[quote]"One of the many problems with industrial farming is that
it breaks nature's sustainable cycle and turns it into two new
unsustainable problems. A fertility problem on the farm, which
requires chemical fertilizers, and a pollution problem on the CAFO,
which requires lots of pharmaceuticals. The more you think about it,
the more insane it becomes." - Rob Fenton[/quote]
Many people find this too uncomfortable a truth to really think about
at all. In fact, it requires an almost superhuman effort of will to
not know where our meat is coming from, something that the
meat industry is all too happy to cooperate with.
"As with any violent ideology, the populace must be shielded
from direct exposure to the victims of the system, lest they begin
questioning the system or their participation in it," says
Melanie Joy, American social psychologist, activist and author.
"This truth speaks for itself: why else would the meat industry
go to such lengths to keep its practices invisible?"
Not surprisingly, there are now growing concerns not just about the
ethics and wholesomeness of industrialised food, but the
unsustainability of industrial farming in general, which is extremely
energy-intensive. A more traditional, organic and nature-friendly
model of farming is now starting to be seen by many consumers as the
farm of the future.
Something to ponder on, perhaps, as you tuck into that juicy sirloin.