Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Chicken Poop Cows, are they still mad?

I've been reading up on our local food systems in this country. It seems that we are all victims of a bad food bully...the USDA. They are the ones responsible for mad cow disease, they are the ones responsible for deciding what we should eat, and they are the ones responsible for making it almost impossible to get meat that was raised in a local and sustainable way. After reading Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense Of Food by Michael Pollan, Mad Sheep by Linda Faillace, and Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal by Joel Salatin I've gotten a nice little gist of what is ailing this country from the start. It seems that as a whole we, the eater, are not allowed to judge what is safe and healthy to eat. Instead the USDA, with all the beauracracy that goes along with any government agency as well as the funding and pressure that comes from special interest groups, is deciding what meat and dairy is allowed to be on our table. The USDA is putting intense pressure on small local farmers to get out of the business. When it was discovered and officailly recognised that Mad Cow disease is caused by feeding herbivores meat and bone from other herbivores, the USDA, after several years of continuing to feed the meat to the meat (especially since it could now be bought so cheaply from England where they figured out that this was causing the very deadly and expensive mad cow outbreak over there) asked farmer's to stop feeding the cows to the cows and instead suggested that cows be fed chicken poop and chicken bits. Make sense? Not to mention that cows fed chicken and chicken poop tend to smell like chicken poop. But there is also some discussion that maybe Mad Cow is caused by excessive use of heavy metals like aluminum and pesticides like fly killer. How can we know for sure when the majority of cattle today are standing in a pile of their own poop, eating whatever is cheapest, and being shot up with whatever is suggested to keep them on their feet until we can push them into the slaughter house that has the most processing ability (not the cleanest).
Now what about the little guy? The farmer down the road with 10- 15 cows that you would like to get a roast from when he does his slaughtering? We look at his cows happily munching away at some fresh grass, her little calf next to her side chasing after a butterfly, and we think how idyllic. That is how a cow should live it's life. In harmony and bliss. Plus there is no stink, it just smells like grass. The cows have been moved to this pasture after one day on the other pasture, where there are now chicken shelters dotted over the field, pecking at the manure to get to the grubs and worms and distributing the excellent fertilizer over the grassy ground. These chickens are also pretty damn happy as far as chicken joy goes. Bugs, grass, poop, fresh air, space to peck and scratch. It don't get much better! And the blessing for us as eaters? These animals are healthy. They don't get antibiotics, cause they aren't sick, they don't get hormones or steroids, cause the farmer knows these things make the meat tasteless and nutritionless. The farmer is actually out for our best interest. He wants to take care of me, just like he does his own family. If I'm happy as a customer, then I will tell people and increase his business, he'll make more money and can support more cows. It's like a perfect system, the one that most of civilization is based upon. Supply and demand. Fair trade. Taking care of the community that takes care of you.
So why is that not happening? Why is it a search to find a chicken that was raised on grass, not corn? Because the USDA, and behind them, backing them, are big business. The corn industry, the cattle industry, the poultry industry. These groups spend millions of dollars each year just to woo the beauracrats and congresspeople into passing more and more regulations and policies that make it impossible for the local farmer to survive. The easiest example is that in order to slaughter your own beef you must take it to a liscensed slaughter house. To be a liscensed slaughter house you must have among other obvious things, a bathroom for the sole use of the USDA inspector. You must have foot operated hand washing stations, you must have handicap accessability, you must have a two lane road to access the facility, these things all add up to no less then $500,000 to build a structure that can meet all these requirements. And then once you've raised that money, you find you cannot build it on your farm, no, that is zoned agricultural land and a slaughterhouse is a processing facility. Never mind that you have 5 employees and you only kill about 100 beef a year. That you use every last bit of that cow for meat, fertilizer, leather, and tallow. Nope, you are a hazard to your own health and the community's. Though a 100 miles away at the industrial processing facility, they are killing 1000 beef a day, tossing the remains in a trailer truck, and rinsing all that gore down to a pond that leaches out right next to the local river. The stench from this facility is smelled for miles and the bacterias are into the millions. Yet they are liscensed and considered officailly safe. They have mulitple violations daily from the questionably legal workers and the procedure following charts that are filled out months in advance. But they have a private bathroom for the USDA inspector, not to mention a rec room for him to hang out in. Is this a safe system, does it make you think twice about that unbelievably cheap T-bone at Safeway? Wonder just what are you eating? Chicken poop?

No comments: