"Industrial meat production causes more problems than it solves
Friday, January 16, 2004
By Dr. David Suzuki
A massive new scientific study that found high contamination levels in farmed salmon made headlines last week, but the results shouldn't really be surprising. Applying industrial production methods to raising food animals has caused problems at every turn.
Both beef production and salmon farming have been in the news recently â€” and not in a favorable light. According to a study published in the journal Science, farmed salmon contains up to 10 times as many contaminants such as PCBs and dioxin as do wild salmon. Many of these contaminants are believed to be cancer-causing agents. In fact, contamination levels are high enough that the report authors recommend people eat no more than one serving of farmed salmon per month.
The salmon farming industry had criticized a previous study that found similar contamination levels because it used a small sample size. This time, researchers tested some 700 fish â€” totaling more than two tons â€” from markets and wholesalers all over the world, including Vancouver and Toronto. They consistently found high levels of contaminants in farmed fish.
The source of the contamination is likely the food fed to farmed salmon.
Salmon chow is made from other, less profitable fish, harvested from all over the world. This fish is then ground up and made into fish meal. The problem is that organic contaminants like PCBs "bioaccumulate" in the food chain through animal fat. This means that, as one fish eats another, the contaminant concentrations get higher and higher. All wild fish, including salmon, suffer from this problem, but farmed fish fare the worst, likely because concentrating fish into meal accentuates the bioaccumulation process.
Proponents of fish farms will likely regard this as a minor setback for a growing industry. But salmon farming faces a host of other problems, from site pollution to sustainability issues. Right now, three to four kilograms of wild fish are needed to be ground up into food to produce one kilogram of farmed salmon. So we are depleting wild fish stocks to produce contaminated fish.
Beef production has also been in the news again due to the discovery of another case of BSE â€” "mad cow disease" â€” in North America. While the risk to humans is relatively low, the incident again exposes the problems associated with mass-producing meat with a focus on profits rather than human or animal health and welfare. BSE would likely have never been a problem if factory farms did not try to increase the growth rate of cattle (and therefore, profits) by feeding them meat products â€” including other cattle â€” essentially turning herbivores into carnivores.
Factory farming, whether it's for pork, beef, chicken, or salmon, treats animals like raw materials that are processed and turned into an end product â€” meat. Animals in these systems are treated like inert matter. Little thought is given to their welfare. They are crammed into small spaces, sometimes by the thousands, and fed antibiotics to increase growth rates and reduce infections. Salmon farms use pesticides to kill off parasites. Hog farms create so much waste that they pollute surrounding groundwater, rivers, and ocean shorelines.
By trying to force industrial factory-style processes that focus entirely on profit and efficiency onto agriculture, we've created huge problems for ourselves. Is it really worth jeopardizing human health, polluting our water, and depleting our ocean fish stocks just to have 99 cent hamburgers, cheap pork rinds, and fresh salmon year round? It's time to take a good hard look at our priorities and consider more than profits in the way we produce meat.
To discuss this topic with others, visit the discussion forum at the David Suzuki Foundation: http://www.davidsuzuki.org/