Last week, the news came out that nearly half of all meat in the US is contaminated with superbugs. Unsurprisingly, this information was met with a huge reaction, and much of the chatter was around whether the abundance of grossness in our country's meat supply was a reason to give up eating meat altogether.
"April 17, 2013: the day I became vegetarian," tweeted Brett in response to our story about the contamination. "Gross. Another great reason to be vegan." tweeted @DrivingFrank. We got a lot of other responses that were similar.
Of course there's another solution, which is to know where your meat comes from and to buy pasture-raised, locally farmed meats. The story clearly points to the culprits in the contamination debacle: the overuse of antibiotics in livestock raised for meats and overcrowding on farms:
Experts blame antibiotic overuse in livestock farming for the development of the superbugs. The Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming says that as much as 80 percent of pharmaceuticals sold in the U.S. are used in meat production. That's because livestock are packed together in unhealthy conditions so the animals are constantly sick or in danger of getting sick, experts say. Such "intensive farming" creates a high demand for medication. Staph, for example, "thrives in crowded and unsanitary conditions," Lance Price, director of the Center for Food Microbiology and Environmental Health at the Translational Genomics Research Institute, told Medical News Today.
According to the Environmental Working Group, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Environmental Quality Incentives Program should encourage and support ranchers who raise livestock on pasture, which would reduce the likelihood of disease. The group suggests that the program also focus on limiting overcrowding of animals.
"Unlike operations that confine a large number of animals to a small area, rotational grazing allows animals access to open space. This practice improves herd health and reduces the risk of infection or sickness that would otherwise spread easily," the EWG said.
Eating only quality meat is certainly one solution. But consuming pasture-raised, organic, local meat exclusively is easier said than done. One of the benefits of vegetarianism is that you just don't have to worry about where your meat comes from, nor do you have to pay the premium price for the privilege. Who among us is willing to inquire at every restaurant where the meat comes from and how it's raised, or to ask friends at a dinner party where they did their shopping for the meal they're about to serve you? Traveling, socializing and eating out are all occasions where it's much easier to simply say you're vegetarian. Eliminating meat altogether just eliminates the worry of meat-bourne illness.
I'm not advocating for vegetarianism here -- I'm a meat eater and happily so -- but the moralism of refusing meat for ethical reasons seems to be giving way more and more to people who eschew meat for health reasons, and not just reasons to do with cholesterol. Concerns over economics and environmentalism also have produced a new wave of vegetarians.
There's no doubt that the problem here is factory farming. But for many, the solution will be to give up meat altogether.