Not that long ago, almost all farm families kept a few hogs. They supplied food for the family, and the sale of those unneeded at home generated income for the family.
In 1965, over 1 million American farms had pigs, and the total U.S. pig population was about 53 million.
Today, there are fewer than 66,000 farms with pigs, and many of the nation’s 65 million pigs are kept on massive factory “farms” housing more than 5,000 pigs at a time.
Of course the same story is true with respect to chickens. Not long ago nearly all rural families (and plenty of urban ones) kept chickens. The eggs and meat fed the family, and supplemented family income.
Today nearly all the chicken consumed in this country is from the Cornish Cross, which has been bred to have rapid growth and an oversized breast. The number of these so-called “broilers” in the U.S. has grown from 366 million in 1945 to over 8.4 billion today. The vast majority of these birds are raised in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) housing tens of thousands of them at a time.
The fact that these factory farm operations produce disease and unhealthy food is well-documented. What is not so often discussed is the role they play in creation of antibiotic resistant microbes.
During the 1940s poultry producers discovered by accident that feeding tetracyline fermentation by-products to chickens dramatically accelerated their growth. Non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in animal feed has now become the norm in American factory agriculture. Amazingly, 70% of the total antibiotic consumption in the U.S. today is in non-therapeutic animal feed.
As is well-known, microbes over time will mutate and develop resistance to antibiotics. The prolonged use of low dosage antibiotics in animal feed has the effect of assisting in the creation of antibiotic resistant microbes, some of which are deadly to humans. And of course this practice can potentially result in the creation of an antibiotic-immune virus or bacteria that can be transmitted cross-species, say from poultry to humans.
There is an interesting article on this subject in this month’s edition of Mother Earth News: The Hidden Link Between Factory Farms and Human Illness, by Laura Sayre. It is well worth the read.
There are plenty of good reasons to buy your meat and eggs from sustainable family farms, rather than corporate factory farms. This is just another one.