Meat has been a mainstay of the American diet for over a century. In fact, Americans consume more meat per capita than any other country. Once considered a luxury for the rich, high demand for meat led to production innovations that delivered inexpensive meat to the masses. However, in the rush to offer the lowest priced product, nobody realized the negative impact consuming cheap meat would have on our overall health.
Cruel Confinement and Slaughtering Methods
To keep costs down, most animals raised for food such as beef, poultry and pork are jam-packed into feedlots. Although economical for the corporation that sends the animals down the chain of feeding, slaughtering and processing, the practice is cruel to animals that are confined to filthy, cramped conditions. Some animals, especially poultry, never touch natural soil or see the sun in their short lives. Many animals are lost to disease. When sent to noisy, improperly equipped and staffed slaughterhouses, animals fail to release lactic acid which is crucial to producing meat of the right color, consistency and overall quality. Many bruised and improperly handled animals fail these quality standards and are discarded as trash, effectively wasting precious resources.
Antibiotic and Hormone Use
To keep animals healthy while in feedlots, producers pump them full of growth hormones and broad-spectrum antibiotics to prevent them from dying from a host of diseases. It is estimated that 80 percent of American meat contains antibiotics and hormones. Studies have shown that this overuse of antibiotics is posing an adverse effect on human health as new, powerful superbugs continue to surge and make people ill.
Over 11,000 Americans died of MRSA in 2014, also known as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus. Evidence is mounting that people are at greater risk of contracting antibiotic-resistant diseases such as E. coli due to eating treated meat.
A recent study by Consumer Reports showed that 97 percent of tested chicken breasts contained illness-causing bacteria, and half contained at least one strain of bacteria known to be resistant to antibiotics. Several health organizations including the American Medical Association and the World Health Organization have called for the reduction of antibiotic use in meat.
Eating Too Much Meat
Americans are eating three to five times the amount of protein recommended for a healthy diet. Excess protein can cause health problems ranging from obesity, over-taxed kidneys, reduction of bone minerals and increased risk of cancer. The average person should consume no more than 40 to 70 grams of protein a day and should consider other sources of protein than just meat. Seafood is a healthy option with 18-27 grams of protein per three-ounce serving, along with nuts, seeds, cheese, eggs and beans which are loaded with more than enough protein to meet the standard daily requirements.
What Can We Do?
With the overwhelming evidence that cheaply produced meat is bad for your health, there are ways to still eat meat without putting your health at risk. Farmers and ranchers are listening to the call for safe meat and are now producing it in a natural, antibiotic-and-hormone-free way that is humane to the animals and better for the environment. Animal producers are beginning to raise their animals in free-range environments and feeding their animals a species-appropriate diet like grass, which is better for the overall health of animals and people. The meat from grass-fed animals is shown to be higher in omega 3 fatty acids, B-vitamins, calcium, beta carotene and potassium.
The following video, “The Meat of the Matter” originally aired on PBS, dives into the negative risks and health consequences of producing cheap meat, and how some ranchers are changing the game to raise healthy, quality animals for consumption.