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3 Lies Big Food Wants You to Believe and the Truth Behind Factory-'Farmed' Meat

Most of the meat Americans consume is from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, which are horrific for animals and terrible for our health and our communities.

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Lie #3: Industrial Food Is Healthy

Industrial animal food production heightens the risk of the spread of food-borne illnesses that afflict millions of Americans each year. Rates of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity--often related to excessive meat and dairy consumption--are at an all-time high. Respiratory diseases and outbreaks of illnesses are increasingly common among CAFO and slaughterhouse workers and spill over into neighboring communities and the public at large.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that contaminated meat- and poultry-related infections make up to 3 million people sick each year, killing at least 1,000--figures that are probably underreported.

Crammed into tight confinement areas in massive numbers, factory farm animals often become caked with their own feces. Animal waste is the primary source of infectious bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella, which affect human populations through contaminated food and water. Grain-intensive diets can also increase the bacterial and viral loads in confined animal wastes. As a result, CAFOs can become breeding grounds for diseases and pathogens.

Dietary Impacts

Americans consume more meat and poultry per capita today than ever before, part of a diet that is high in calories and rich in saturated fats. According to the Center for a Livable Future at Johns Hopkins University, meat and dairy foods contribute all of the cholesterol and are the primary source of saturated fat in the typical American diet. Approximately two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, increasing their chances of developing breast, colon, pancreas, kidney, and other cancers. Obesity and high blood cholesterol levels are among the leading risk factors for heart disease. Both of these conditions are associated with heavy meat consumption. More directly, researchers have linked diets that include significant amounts of animal fat to an increased incidence of cardiovascular disease.

On the other hand, studies regularly show that vegetarians exhibit the lowest incidence of heart problems. High intakes of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and Mediterranean dietary patterns (rich in plant-based foods and unsaturated fats) have been shown to reduce the incidence of chronic diseases and associated risk factors, including body mass index and obesity.

Contaminated Feed

Animal feeding practices also raise important health concerns. Corn and soybeans, for example, have been shown to absorb dioxins, PCBs, and other potential human carcinogens through air pollution. Once fed to animals, these persistent compounds can be stored in animal fat reserves. These harmful pollutants can later move up the food chain when animal fats left over from slaughter are rendered and used again for animal feed. As fats are recycled in the animal feeding system, the result is a higher concentration of dioxins and PCBs in the animal fats consumed by people. Animal and plant fats, both of which can store dioxins and PCBs, can compose up to 8 percent of animal feed rations.

Worker Health

CAFO workers suffer from numerous medical conditions, including repetitive motion injuries and respiratory illness associated with poor air quality. Studies indicate that at least 25 percent of CAFO workers experience respiratory diseases such as chronic bronchitis and occupational asthma.

Slaughterhouse workers are also at risk for work-related health conditions. In early 2008, for example, an unknown neurological illness began afflicting employees at a factory run by Quality Pork Processors in Minnesota, which slaughters 1,900 pigs a day. The diseased workers suffered burning sensations and numbness as well as weakness in the arms and legs. All the victims worked at or near the "head table," using compressed air to dislodge pigs' brains from their skulls. Inhalation of microscopic pieces of pig brain is suspected to have caused the illness. After a CDC investigation, this practice was discontinued.

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