Friday, January 24, 2014

Food Matters Part 2

So the next film I watched (while on the treadmill, yay!) was Food Inc. I had bits and pieces of information from various nutrition sources on the food industry, because I have realized that food QUALITY matters, but this really opened my eyes to the big picture. And all I can say is yikes! So here is my recap of information that I took away from this documentary (it is mostly US based info, but Canada is not likely much different).

4-5 meat companies own 80% of market. All of them raise and process all their meat according to McDonald's mandates because they are biggest purchaser in the U.S. So grocery meat is same as McDonald's.

The biggest part of meeting those mandates is that they mass produced meat, which means for cows, they are crowded into dirt feed lots (small fenced in areas) of animals standing ankle deep in their own feces, which ends up getting all over the animals. Then they kill 400 cows per hour, not enough time to clean all that off., so they spray with chlorine to disinfect.

Mass produced meat is corn fed meat (beef, pork, chicken, even fish) because corn is subsidized by the government, so it is very cheap to feed.

Those two factors, cleanliness and corn diets, have increased incidents of E. coli in our beef. High corn diet in beef increases E. coli (the most harmful E. coli kinds) that resist the stomach acids which should destroy it. Could feed cattle grass for 1 week and get rid of 70% of E. coli but that is not how companies let farmers treat it. 

Grass fed animals are also kept in grass fields, not wading in feces becayse the grass cleans and absorbs manure, unlike dirt feed lots. But grass is more expensive than corn.

One of biggest employers of illegal immigrants is meat plants, paying below minimum wage. Meat processing industry in early century was problematic, causing injuries to workers, Teddy Roosevelt changed the industry, made it one of the safest, well paid, and since fast food chains have gone mainstream, the industry has reverted back to a process that is hazardous to it's employees. All to keep costs down. 

Better health inspection tools exist now but yet we have an exponentially higher incident rate of meat contamination. The USDA has lack of support and funds to monitor, so it is mostly self-policed. They don't even have the power to shut down repeated contaminated plants.  And regulating quality has become futile since the last few FDA presidents used to run the very corporations they are to be policing.

Farmers have to follow meat companies mandates due to the debt heaped on them to even raise meat for these companies. The companies force certain barns, upgrades, feed, animals. Most chicken farms are in debt minimum $500,000 just to start but make $18,000/year.  If the farmers don't follow mandates, the meat companies will not allow them to raise their meat. Remember, that's 80% of the market they then can't sell to.

Genetically modified chickens to grow twice as big in half the time, to fit processing plant mechanisms so all birds need to all be about same size to be mass produced. Chickens can barely stand, structure can't support muscle - breast size increased for white meat preference. So they too are spending most of their days wading or sitting in dirt and feces floored barns.

Corn has gone from 20 bushels an acre to 200 in an acre, in a 100 yrs. Government interest in corn crops has orchestrated this.  Government policy pays farmer to over-produce corn in order to under-price corn, for all it's uses. Uses include; high fructose corn syrup, maltodextrin, citric acid, absorbic acid, sorbital, xanthum gum, sucrose/fructose, corn starch, baking powder, white vinegar, gluten, cellulose, vanilla extract. (Just half of listed ingredients, rest I didn't recognize.)

NAFTA caused changes in how Mexico handled agriculture starting in 1994, resulting in radical cuts to subsidies and loans for farmers and other supports in seeds, technical assistance, marketing and pricing that the state once provided.  Protection NAFTA once offered for corn and bean crops, they dropped in 2008. 1.5 million Mexican corn farmers lost their farms because they couldn't compete with pricing from subsidized US and Canadian corn.

Coincidentally (?) the meat plants started advertising for workers in Mexico, even providing bus transportation to Mexicans.  But when became hot political topic the Government punished the illegal immigrants, not meat plants.

It isn't just Mexican farmers who can't compete, just about anywhere internationally that the US exports to, the local industry cannot compete.

1 soy seed producer, Monsanto, owns 90% of market because they patented a gene (genetically modified -gmo) in the seed that allows it to grow without being affected by Roundup. 

Even farmers who don't use the gmo seed find it in their fields, but since it is patented, if Monsanto discovers it in a field where they didn't pay for the seed, they can sue that farmer. They have hired 75 investigators to bring 'offenders' to prosecution. They find many reasons, like that, to blacklist farmers from buying their seed and so if there is a time the remaining 10% of seed not available, these farmers cannot buy any.

If you tracing the source origin of food, almost all contains corn and soy, as an ingredient, or as a byproduct (animal diet).
How is it that we can buy a cheese burger for .99 cents yet a head of broccoli  is $1.29. Not because it's actually cheaper to produce, it's because most of its ingredients are subsidized. Same with chips, pop, desserts, etc.

The food may cheaper immediately but huge hidden costs, cost of pollution, health, tax money to subsidize those foods, etc.

Even Walmart has made huge changes driven by customer demand, they are now selling all growth-hormone-free dairy. They are expanding their organic brands rapidly, and don't see it as too difficult or expensive, based solely on customer demand.

Every food purchase we make is a vote for the food industry that will thrive.


Lori Klassen said...

Thanks for sharing, Lori. This is really important information.
The problem is that it's so overwhelming and inescapable. It's easy to say go to the local farmer's market and get to know who produces your food, but that takes a lot more time and money. It's easier for people with lots of both to vote with their dollars, but it's not an option for a lot of people.
Here are my tips for navigating this overwhelming issue;
1-start small. Don't think that you have to (or can) opt out of buying food tainted by Monsanto, but think about what you can do. You can cook more and eat less fast food and packaged prepared food.
2-think about the little decisions you make every day. Grapes from Chile or apples from BC? In Manitoba you might get apples from Ontario, but you get what I mean.
3-shop at Farmer's markets when you can. Or maybe just start by buying your eggs from a local chicken farmer.
I really believe that making small decisions can add up to big changes over all.

~L~ said...

Yes, I had summarized almost the exact same thing in my head, but not for my audience....thx.

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