What’s Your Food Philosophy?

Have you ever stopped to think about your personal food philosophy? For example, how your eating habits influence the world around you? Sadly, not everyone has. However, the importance of eating sustainably—in a manner that can be continued long-term—is critical for our continued well-being. In order to evaluate and develop our consumptive behaviors, we must understand the policy behind our agricultural system.

The current industrial model of agriculture is largely due to the Farm Bill, passed in 1933. The policy provides subsidies to farmers who produce corn and soybeans, making these grains cheaper than other feed options. Consequently, most grains grown in the U.S. are used in animal feed, with 47% of soy and 60% of corn being consumed by livestock [1]. This results in lower meat prices for consumers and a grain-heavy American diet. To learn more, the feature documentary King Corn cleverly and accurately portrays the U.S. corn phenomenon resulting from the Farm Bill.

CAFOs, or confined animal feeding operations, are designed to fatten-up livestock until they reach market weight and go to slaughter. Although cattle are natural ruminants and designed to eat grass, they are fed 70-90% grain in these facilities [2]. Maintaining this percentage is currently impossible without degradation and deforestation. The diagram below displays the ecological destruction resulting from consumer demand for meat and dairy products.

Due to the close proximity and enormous number of animals within a CAFO, antibiotics are given to livestock in their feed. William Flynn, deputy director for science policy at FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, explains that antibiotics given to animals “have long been FDA-approved for production (e.g. growth enhancement) purposes as well as for the treatment, control or prevention of animal diseases” [3].

However, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that wide use of antibiotics in animal feed “contributes to the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in food-producing animals” [4]. Perhaps more concerning, is that certain antibiotics used in animal feed are over-the-counter drugs which are medically important to humans. If antibiotic-resistant bacteria from food-producing animals is transferred to humans, it will resist any antibiotics used in the animal’s feed—potentially leaving us in a vulnerable health predicament.

In September 2014, President Obama signed an executive order directing federal agencies to begin combating the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria: The Food and Drug Administration “is directed to continue taking steps to eliminate agricultural use of medically important antibiotics” [5].

The Farm Bill—responsible for corn and soybean intensification— has created extensive environmental and ecological health impacts. Policy changes within the Farm Bill are up for reauthorization every five years. I believe any change should be evaluated on the basis of environmental and human health impacts. Therefore, in an effort to create a better system, I will assess my personal food philosophy and contribution to the issues at hand.  

To learn more about the U.S. agricultural system, join the Environmental Action Coalition and the Davidson Animal Welfare Group to watch Cowspiracy on February 25th  at 7 pm in the Lilly Gallery.

[1] http://www.sustainabletable.org/260/animal-feed

[2] http://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/animal-products/cattle-beef/background.aspx

[3] Dennis, Brady. “FDA Finalizes Voluntary Rules on Phasing out Certain Antibiotics in Livestock.” The Washington Post, December 11, 2013. http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/fda-finalizes-voluntary-rules-on-phasing-out-certain-antibiotics-in-livestock/2013/12/11/e64ca05c-61e8-11e3-8beb-3f9a9942850f_story.html.

[4] Antibiotic Use in Food-Producing Animals. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, n.d. http://www.cdc.gov/narms/animals.html.

[5] “FACT SHEET: Obama Administration Takes Actions to Combat Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria.” The White House. Accessed December 16, 2014. http://www.whitehouse.gov/node/298756.