Food

48 Million Sickened Every Year by Tainted Meat

We can thank the factory farm industry for the increased incidence of foodborne illness in the U.S.

Photo Credit: Vladimir Gjorgiev/Shutterstock

If you live in the U.S., you're far more likely to get hit with salmonella or some other foodborne illness, than if you live in the U.K. You can thank the factory farm industry for that.

An investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) and the Guardian found "shockingly high" levels of foodborne illness in the U.S. The Guardian reports that "annually, around 14.7 percent (48 million people) of the U.S. population is estimated to suffer from an illness, compared to around 1.5 percent (1 million) in the U.K. In the U.S., 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die each year of foodborne diseases."

Driving these grim statistics is the multibillion-dollar industrial factory farm industry that not only makes us sick, but pollutes our water and airexploits workers, is causing an antibiotic resistance crisis and is unconscionably inhumane—all in the name of "cheap food."

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TBIJ and the Guardian conducted the investigation based on U.S. government documents containing data on 47 meat plants across the U.S. According to the Guardian:

Some of the documents relate to certain companies, including Pilgrim’s Pride, one of the US’s biggest poultry producers, and Swift Pork. Although not a comprehensive portrait of the sector—there are around 6,000 US plants regularly inspected by Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS)—the documents provide a snapshot of issues rarely detailed in public which has rung alarm bells with campaigners in both the US and UK.

Those rarely detailed issues include meat contaminated with fecal matter; meat processing equipment contaminated with grease and blood; and chicken dropped on the floor then rinsed with chlorine and put back in the production line.

It's enough to turn anyone's stomach. It's also enough to make consumers and entire neighborhoods revolt, and motivate citizens to get more politically active.

Last year, the citizens of Tonganoxie, Kansas, (population 5,000) stood up to Tyson and successfully scuttled the meat giant’s planned $320 million chicken factory farm.

In Nebraska, citizens are trying to keep out a $180 million factory farm poultry operation Costco wants to build in the small town of Fremont. (Please sign the petition asking Costco to stop raising and selling factory farm chicken.)

People aren't just getting active; they're getting political. Civil Eats recently reported on candidates running in Iowa, Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania who all have one thing in common: They want better food and farming policies in their states.

One of those candidates is Brandy Brooks, who's running for Montgomery County (Maryland) city council. Brooks told Civil Eats, "Food is this amazing lens for talking about justice. You could be talking about land use justice, racial justice, economic justice, immigration, health justice, housing—you can talk about everything through the lens of food."

Food is at the center of so many of the issues facing communities large and small, across the globe. That's why Organic Consumers Association (OCA) partners closely with Regeneration International as we look to transition from our industrial, degenerative food system to a regenerative alternative.

It's also why we’re inviting consumers to get more politically active through our Citizens Regeneration Lobby

The factory farm industry tells us there's no other way to produce meat. But farmers like Ron Rosmann in Harlan, Iowa, are proof that alternatives exist. The Main Street Project is proof that those alternatives can be scaled up to meet the growing demand for regeneratively produced meat.

We just need to take a stand against Big Meat. Our health depends on it.

Katherine Paul is associate director of the Organic Consumers Association.