Food Choices for Healthy People and a Healthy Planet

All posts in Antibiotics

Raising chickens at your own home is a hot trend. It’s part of the urban farming movement highlighted in a recent New York Times article, and being adopted by people who are avoiding chemicals and people who are appalled at the horrors of factory farming. One Texan who keeps hens in her back yard was profiled. “Her roommates are all vegetarian or vegan, she said, but even the vegans eat the house-raised eggs because they know that the birds are healthy and well cared for. ‘They are like pets who happen to bring us breakfast,’ she said.”

In Lafayette (CA), John Kiefer, who has raised chickens for decades, is now teaching other people how to create a home-based chicken ranch, where you can keep hens in safe, humane housing you built yourself. In the last few years, John has held half a dozen workshops, and they’re always sold out.

It’s only fair to warn you, though, that in addition to organic eggs (of course you’d give them organic food to eat), chickens produce what let us delicately call “waste.” For those who have two or three birds in their back yard, not much of a problem. But those horrible factory farms I mentioned are polluting the nation’s waterways.

A report from the Pew Environment Group sums up the depressing picture:

  • “In less than 60 years, the number of broiler chickens raised yearly has skyrocketed 1,400 percent, from 580 million in the 1950s to nearly nine billion today.
  • Over the same period, the number of producers has plummeted by 98 percent, from 1.6 million to just over 27,000 and concentrated in just 15 states.
  • The size of individual operations has grown dramatically. Today, the typical broiler chicken comes from a facility that raises more than 600,000 birds a year.”

The Pew report recommends restrictions on factory farming – but I wish they would simply be outlawed. It’s cruel to the animals to stuff them by the thousands into huge warehouses – and dangerous, since operators, knowing that thousands of chickens would die of the conditions, dose them with antibiotics. Tom Philpott, a great Mother Jones blogger, recently summarized some studies showing how common salmonella is in factory farms and how resistant to antibiotics (because of the excess precautionary dosing). Yuck!

If you eat eggs and don’t have time to raise your own chickens (humanely and organically, natch), try to find someone near you who is. According to the New York Times article mentioned earlier, he or she has plenty of eggs to give away.

A “dead zone” is an area of ocean that is so depleted of oxygen that no fish, marine mammals, or in some cases life of any kind, can live there. Dead zones exist all around the world, especially where major rivers dump industrial and agricultural runoff that may come from hundreds of miles away. Here in the US, the Mississippi River drains about a third of the country, so the pesticides, antibiotics, fertilizers, and manures produced by thousands of farms and ranches in many states end up in the Gulf of Mexico.

That was true even before last year’s catastrophic BP oil hemorrhage.  So the waters of the gulf are not fit for a self-respecting fish to live in. The photo below shows the extent of this low-oxygen dead zone, with red areas being lowest.

Lindsey Blomberg reports in E Magazine that recovery from dead zone status is possible, stating:”Such a turnaround has been seen in the Black Sea, which contained the largest dead zone in the world during the 1980s. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, fertilizers became too costly to use. Phosphorus applications were cut by 60% and nitrogen use was halved. By 1996, the dead zone was absent for the first time in 23 years.”

What can you do? Choose more organically produced foods of all kinds. This causes less harm to human health air, land, and water – including oceans. Eat less beef (better yet – none), because producing it creates tons of runoff that poisons oceans.

Dead Zone in Gulf of Mexico

Oh by the way, if you do think you’d like to eat seafood, would you really want it to come from an area of ocean that is, frankly, our nation’s sewer system?

In a study on male rats, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) discovered that triclosan, used to kill germs in antibacterial products, “decreased sperm count, damaged the male reproductive system, and disrupted male hormone production.” The NRDC is asking the FDA to ban the use of antibacterial for products due to the risk it is taking on its consumers. To read the full article, “Our Antibacterial Overload” and the downloadable report, “Not Effective and Not Safe,” click on the link.

Click here to read The Environmental Science and Technology Abstract

Did you know that 70% of antibiotics produced in the US are given to animals? The factory farms they are crammed into (concentration camps for animals) are so unhealthy that operators give the cows and chickens doses of antibiotics to prevent or cure plagues caused by overcrowding.

One result: microbes have evolved to survive the antibiotics. That’s evolution for you!

Second result: medicines that once cured human diseases are no longer working, and people are dying.

Even the soil is now impregnated with antibiotic-resistant genes! A recent study found that present-day soil has 15 times as many tetracycline-resistant genes than did soil that had been preserved since 1940 – even though this occurred in the Netherlands, which has stricter (read saner) laws about unnecessary antibiotic use in agriculture than we do. Read the study abstract in the Environmental Science and Technology. So please support efforts by legislators and regulators to rein in the overuse of medicines! In effect, this means opposing confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) which are horribly cruel.