Changes to Meat Industry = Higher Prices

CANADA - If you expect signs that today's high food prices won't last, the latest report on the meat industry isn't very promising.
calendar icon 8 September 2008
clock icon 2 minute read

In May, a distinguished panel of scientists and meat industry officials concluded that the current "factory farm" method for mass-producing meat poses so many threats to public health -- contaminated water supplies and deadly epidemics of E. coli, for example -- that the entire system needs to go. The good news: Even meat companies agree that change is unavoidable. The bad news: Replacing factory farms with something "sustainable" probably means an end to 50 years of falling meat prices.

The report, from a Pew Charitable Trusts commission, takes a hard look at "confined animal feeding operations," or CAFOs, which produce most of the U.S. meat supply. These massive facilities house tens of thousands of cattle, hogs and chickens and generate not just huge amounts of meat but rivers of sewage, clouds of contaminated dust and nearly one-fifth of all greenhouse gases.

The crowded, often unsanitary conditions promote disease, which, according to The Windsor Star, has led to the overuse of antibiotics and to a class of superbugs that are resistant to those same antibiotics. Even the modern corn-based livestock diet causes problems. It makes meat fattier and might have helped some strains of the E. coli bacteria evolve from a benign microbe to one of the deadliest pathogens in the food supply. And, of course, to grow all the grain we now feed our livestock, we've converted much of the Midwest into a huge corn and soybean plantation.

The only solution, the report concludes, is to replace factory farms with models such as free-range"operations that give animals more space and use different methods of feeding, sewage disposal and medical treatment.

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