The opinions I have expressed in this essay originate from the knowledge I gained from reading “Food, Inc.” by Karl Weber. I have also watched the companion film by Robert Kenner. The knowledge I gained from these was both shocking and empowering. I am not comfortable with the lack of knowledge about our food industry which is why I have researched and concluded that changes need to occur in both my lifestyle and the food production methods of our industry. Many of us are completely unaware of how our food is raised, processed, and what ingredients are included in the final product. Sadly, I believe that many people are content with not knowing.
Factory farms are industrial-scale facilities where tens of thousands of animals are crowded together in tight conditions, making it difficult for them to carry out normal behaviors like grazing, rooting, and pecking (Weber, 2009). It is common knowledge that a large majority of our country’s meat is raised on factory farms. An argument was brought to my attention that we should not condemn farmers when it is indirectly our fault that animals are being raised in this manner. In the farmer’s defense, factory farms are the only way to keep up with our country’s demand for meat products. We have the power to change the conditions by which animals are raised simply by altering our demands. If we demand animals that have been fed naturally and raised to live a normal lifestyle that is what we will receive. Animals raised on factory farms have low doses of antibiotics mixed in with their food and water to promote growth and to preempt out disease outbreaks (Weber, 2009). When I first read the terms low doses I figured that the antibiotics weren’t a large issue. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, seventy percent of all antimicrobials used throughout the United States are fed to livestock. Furthermore, these antibiotics account for twenty-five million pounds per year which is more than eight times the amount used to treat disease in humans (Weber, 2009).
Processing of our food begins in the fields. Workers are also paying the price of the tunnel vision that the large corporations have for their profit. The rate of death due to heat stress for farm workers is twenty times greater than for the general population (Weber, 2009). The large corporations in charge of the fields should ultimately pay the price for the farm worker deaths yet this is not the case. Our society has created an agricultural system that shields major corporations for their actions and inactions (Weber, 2009). I think the saddest part about our agricultural system is that the smallest firms involved are the ones to take the blame when in reality; they are not entirely at fault. Farm workers are receiving minimum wage due to the growers that employ them experiencing “a historic squeeze” in prices from the retailers who purchase their produce (Weber, 2009). A common argument that I have been faced with is the question of why anyone would fight our government over issues that are occurring with illegal immigrants. I agree with points that arise with this argument, however, our country demands cheap food and the leading reason for our low food prices is low labor costs. An estimated fifty percent of farm workers are not authorized to work in the United States (Weber, 2009). Friends of mine wonder how such a large number of people can slip through the cracks of our government immigration policies. In reality, these workers are not slipping through the cracks. The United States approved guest programs specifically to address the farm labor needs. These policies are the roots of Mexican migration patterns (Weber, 2009). With the way our American economy has decreased, I think it would be ideal if large corporations would employ American farm workers but this is unrealistic. It is common knowledge that large corporations employ immigrants because the employment laws of our country do not apply to them. In turn, the large food production corporations are getting away with immoral employment practices.
Why do we need food? Every living thing on Earth needs food for the nutrient intake. What if nutrients are not all that we are ingesting? A question that we need to ask is whether or not all ingredients present in our foods are beneficial to our health. Our country should not need an outbreak of E. coli or Salmonella to be conscious about what is really in our food. I was told by a friend that I will never be satisfied with our food industry because I warn of microbes and of antibiotics. My answer is simply that we should not have to choose between disease and antimicrobial resistance. There are other options. The Food and Drug Administration as well as the United States Department of Agriculture have approved factory farms to use hormones to promote growth and milk production in beef and dairy cattle, respectively (Weber, 2009). Again this is a result of high demand for beef and dairy products. Products are available where hormones and antibiotics are not used. I drink Horizon brand milk. It states right on the carton that their “farms produced this milk without antibiotics, added hormones, pesticides, or cloning.”
A common argument against eating healthy is the monetary cost, period. I have not heard anyone disagree with the fact that eating fast food is unhealthy for our bodies. At what point is the cost of our health too high? I choose to spend the money on healthy food now rather than on doctor’s bills in the future. I am not suggesting that everyone only eats on hundred percent organic but I do believe that people need to be more conscious about what they are ingesting. An estimate by the Centers for Disease Control says that one-third of American children born in the year 2000 will develop diabetes. They will develop this as a result of poor diet and lack of exercise (Weber, 2009). I believe this estimate shows that we need more knowledge of our food not only for our health but for our children’s health.