Despite the privations and food shortages during WW2, it is well known that in the U.K. people were healthier then than they are today. There was very little heart disease or cancer and certainly no obesity.
OLD TRADITIONS ABANDONNED
Apart from the unfortunate more recent advent of fast, processed food and polyunsaturated seed oils, the basic food consumed such as meat, vegetables and dairy food was very much the same as today. What HAS changed, though, is HOW the food is produced. In those distant days, most of the food we ate was from pasture fed animals. There was an abundance of meadows and grasslands. Beef came from cattle that spent most of their lives outside eating just grass, hay and silage. Eggs came from hens that were a familiar sight ranging free and scratching in the fields and courtyards of farms. Rabbits were reared in back yards to supplement the meagre meat rations and they, too, were fed on grass and vegetable peelings. Using grain as a feed would never have been considered. Throughout history grain has been produced to make bread and was too expensive to feed to farm animals. Then, in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s cereal crops began to be grown in huge quantities, the price fell and the idea of using grain as a cheap way to rear cattle, especially in intensive units or mega farms, took root. Not enough thought was given to what the effect would be of changing the basic feed for ruminants to a different type of food or the fact that it might make them ill.
INTENSIVE FARMS MAKE CATTLE SICK
Michael Pollan writing in his best-selling book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, said feeding corn to cattle ‘violates the biological or evolutionary logic of bovine digestion’. He described how beef was produced in the factory farms of the USA when he visited one of these intensive units. He was shocked at what he discovered; especially when he interviewed one of the staff veterinarians who told him that most of the health problems that afflict feed-lot cattle can be traced either directly or indirectly to their diet. The vet said ‘they’re made to eat forage and we’re making them eat grain’. Several animal scientists that Pollan talked to revealed that a great many feed-lot cattle, virtually all of them to one degree or another, were simply sick. They can suffer from bloat and acidosis as well as liver infection and this, of course, is why antibiotics are used so extensively, often just to keep the cattle alive. No one would willingly eat meat that came from a sick animal.
RISK TO HUMAN HEALTH
Graham Harvey, in his book The Carbon Fields, describes how feeding large amounts of grain to ruminant animals makes their digestive systems abnormally acidic. ‘This can lead to lameness, infertility and udder infections. All these conditions are rife in today’s dairy industry. There are dangers for consumers, too. Grain feeding of cattle greatly increases the risk from dangerous pathogens such as E Coli strain 0157.’ He explains that in these highly acidic conditions the bacteria develop a degree of acid tolerance. ‘This makes them more hazardous to humans, since they’re able to withstand the acid conditions of our own digestive systems.’ Organic farmer Joel Salatin remarked that most disease outbreaks throughout history have been human created due to the violation of some specific natural rule regarding feed, density, mass, rest, sanitation or diversity.
GRASS FED BEEF IS HEALTHY AND NUTRITIOUS
On the other hand, meat from grass fed animals is healthy and nutritious.
It has been a tradition in England to eat beef for centuries and it must have been good as it is said that the Yeomen Warders, known as Beefeaters, at the Tower of London were paid part of their salary with chunks of beef. This continued right up until the 1800s. In those days, beef cattle grazed almost exclusively on grasslands and common land, so different to today where beef cattle are often fed a grain-based diet based on imported grain, undoubtedly genetically modified, for much of their lives. Grass feeding improves the quality of beef, and makes the meat richer in omega-3 fats, vitamin E, beta-carotene, and CLA (a beneficial fatty acid named conjugated linoleic acid). In addition, grass-fed beef contains just a quarter of the fat of grain-fed beef.
EFFECT ON HUMAN HEALTH
Armed with the evidence of his research, Harvey observes that it is clear that moving farm animals from their traditional grazing into sheds has had a deleterious effect on human health. The unintended consequence has been to rob diets of health protecting nutrients and instead fuel the near epidemic of obesity and degenerative diseases in western industrial nations.
Once there is a demand for pasture-reared beef, even though it might cost more, there is no doubt that farmers would be only too happy to supply. In addition, the saving on oil based products such as fertilizers, pesticides and other chemical treatments, not to mention the fossil fuel for the enormous farm machinery, would do much to reduce the present threat to the planet.
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GROWTH BY STEALTH OF MEGA FARMS
People may be unaware of the number of giant mega farms or what the US calls CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) already in existence in the UK. An investigation in July 2017 by the Guardian and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism revealed that there are now nearly 800 of them throughout the country. The biggest house more than a million chickens, 20,000 pigs or 2,000 dairy cows, in sprawling factory units where most animals are confined indoors.
To meet the definition of a CAFO, a facility must have at least 125,000 broilers (chickens raised for meat), or 82,000 layers (hens which produce eggs) or pullets (chickens used for breeding), or 2,500 pigs, 700 dairy cattle or 1,000 beef cattle.
The report reveals that the growth in intensive farms is concentrated in certain parts of the country where major food companies operate. Many are in the process of expanding and have often gone unnoticed, despite their size and the controversy surrounding them, partly because a fair number of farmers have expanded existing facilities rather than seeking new sites, to the further detriment of the countryside.