10 Things I Wish All Americans Knew About The Meat and Dairy Industries

Posted: September 28, 2013 in Posts
Tags: , , , ,

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Are you being manipulated into buying things you don’t want or need? In my book Meatonomics, I show that animal food producers control our everyday food-buying choices with misleading messaging, artificially low prices, and heavy control over legislation and regulation. This producer behavior is simply shocking. The result is that in many respects, we have lost the ability to decide for ourselves what – and how much – to eat. 

By learning just 10 quick facts about this industry and its highly coordinated messaging and manipulation, you can empower yourself to make better-informed choices immediately. You’ll see benefits to your health, your waistline, your ecological footprint, and more.

1. In a creepy, Big-Brotherish tactic straight out of a sci-fi movie, the federal government uses catchy slogans to get people to buy more meat and dairy.

beef_1Beef. It’s what’s for dinner. 
Milk. It does a body good. 

Each year, USDA-managed programs spend $550 million to bombard Americans with slogans like these urging us to buy more animal foods. Although people in every age group already eat more animal protein than recommended, and far more than our forebears did, these promotional programs are shockingly effective at making us buy even more. Each marketing buck spent boosts sales by an average of $8, for an annual total of an extra $4.6 billion in government-backed sales of meat, dairy, and eggs.

2. Americans eat more meat per person than any other people on earth, and we’re paying the price in doctor bills.

At 200 pounds of meat per person per year, our high meat consumption is hurting our national health. Hundreds of clinical studies in the past several decades show that consumption of meat and dairy, especially at the high levels seen in this country, can cause cancerdiabetesheart disease, and a host of other diseases. Thus, Americans have twice the obesity rate, twice the diabetes rate, and nearly three times the cancer rate as the rest of the world. Eating loads of meat isn’t the only reason people develop these diseases, but it’s a major factor.

3. Animal food production is the world’s leading cause of climate change.

That’s right. Forget carbon-belching buses or power plants. Animal food production now surpasses both the transportation industry and electricity generation as the greatest source of greenhouse gases. Yet amazingly, if Americans could just cut back on animal foods by half, the effect on greenhouse gas emissions would be like garaging all U.S. motor vehicles and vessels for as long as we keep our consumption down.

4. There’s no sustainable way to raise animal foods to meet the world’s growing demand.

Two acres of rain forest are cleared each minute to raise cattle or crops to feed them. 35,000 miles of American rivers are polluted with animal waste. We’re watching a real-time, head-on collision between the world’s huge demand for animal foods and the reality of scarce resources. It takes dozens of times more water and five times more land to produce animal protein than equal amounts of plant protein. Unfortunately, even “green” alternatives like raising animals locally, organically, or on pastures can’t overcome the basic math: the resources just don’t exist to keep feeding the world animal foods at the level it wants.

5. A $5 Big Mac would cost $13 if the retail price included hidden expenses that meat producers offload onto society.

mcdonalds-Big-MacAnimal food producers impose $414 billion in hidden costs on American society yearly. These are the bills for healthcare, subsidies, environmental damage, and other items related to producing and consuming meat and dairy. That means that each time McDonald’s sells a Big Mac, the rest of us pay $8 in hidden costs.

6. American governments spend $38 billion each year to subsidize meat and dairy, but only 0.04% of that ($17 million) to subsidize fruits and vegetables.

The federal government’s Dietary Guidelines urge us to eat more fruits and vegetables and less cholesterol-rich food (that is, meat and dairy). Yet like a misguided parent giving a kid cotton candy for dinner, state and federal governments get it backwards by giving buckets of cash to animal agriculture while providing almost no help to those raising fruits and vegetables.

7. Big businesses love farm subsidies. Small farmers and rural Americans hate them.

In the last 15 years, two-thirds of American farmers didn’t receive a single penny from direct subsidies worth over $100 billion – the funds mainly went to big corporations. The subsidy money spurs the growth of factory farms, which are surprisingly bad for local economies (they employ fewer workers per animal than regular farms, and they buy most of their supplies outside the local area). That’s why when pollsters asked Iowans how they feel about farm subsidies, a large majority preferred ending the handouts.

8. Factory fishing ships are exploiting the world’s oceans so aggressively that scientists fear the extinction of all commercially fished species within several decades.

Like an armada bent on victory at any cost, the 23,000 factory ships that patrol the world’s oceans have decimated one-third of the planet’s commercially fished species. They also indiscriminately kill and discard 200 million pounds of non-target species, or bycatch, every day. Because of such colossal destruction and waste, the United Nations says fishing operations are “a net economic loss to society.”

9. Fish farming isn’t the answer.

fishfarm1Sometimes hailed as the future of sustainable food production, fish farming is actually just another form of factory farming. Farmed fish live in the same stressful, tight conditions as land animals, and concentrated waste and chemicals from aquaculture damage local ecosystems. Escapes lead to further problems, as in the North Atlantic region where 20% of supposedly wild salmon are actually of farmed origin. When genes from wild and farmed fish mix, it degrades the wild population.

10. If they treated a dog or cat like that, they’d go to jail.

Industry-backed laws passed in the last 30 years make it legal to do almost anything to a farmed animal. Connecticut, for example, in 1996 legalized “maliciously and intentionally maiming, mutilating, torturing, wounding, or killing an animal” – provided it’s done “while following generally accepted agricultural practices.” Since most states have similar exemptions, farmed animals have almost no protection from inhumane treatment.

What’s a person to do?

Hann_lambVote with your pocketbook. If you’re concerned about the creepy marketing, environmental damage, health risks, economic problems, or ethical issues that plague the meat industry, you can take action immediately. Make a choice to buy less meat, fish, eggs, and dairy – or better yet, give them up completely. It’s one of the most powerful things you can do.

For more information and additional solutions, get the book Meatonomics.

Comments
  1. John T. Maher says:

    Very key to summarize into a checklist! I am currently interested in the epistemic indeterminacy and quantitative uncertainty in calculating the animal and human cost of zoonoses such as SARS, Swine flu, MERS and other viruses facilitated by farmed animals who are forced to live in high density agricultural conditions. I suspect the cost calculations might increase but with any econometric model the parameters one controls for determine the range of the outcome. I am interested in what can not be determined such as a new virus which is off the charts and can not be predicted or measured in terms of the cost or social change which results.

    Your work is a brilliant insight into this area which I am glad you are continuing to build upon.

  2. Will Hill says:

    you said it– they are creepy– the people that run big ag in amerika

  3. steven mendelson says:

    Just switching from beef to chicken would save a tremendous amount of grain. I seem to remember reading about 1970 that it takes over three times as much grain to produce a pound of beef protein as a pound of chicken protein.

    • Judy says:

      Switching from beef to chicken might save in grain, but poultry agriculture has its own significant environmental costs, particularly with regard to manure disposal and waste water from slaughterhouses.

    • Adrienne says:

      There’s almost no safe chicken left in the US. If you’ve seen films of how they’re raised, and slaughtered, you’d see chicken is no better than beef.

    • adriennebaksa says:

      It may use less grain, but there’s no “safe” chicken left in the US, and that’s been true for quite a number of years. If you’ve seen films of how they’re raised, and slaughtered, you would see. Commercial chicken is brutally toxic to the system. You’re wise to avoid it completely. And of course, I completely agree with you about beef. Sorry to write, chicken’s no better.

    • There are already 300 chicken slaughtered at 42 days old every second in the U.S. alone. How much more of an atrocity can we create for animals? More chicken? How about recommending the wonderful plant based chicken products, like Gardein and Beyond Meat, instead? The taste and texture and price is all there. So there is absolutely no reason to force animals to suffer for our palate any longer. We’ve run out of excuses.

  4. Janet Spence says:

    This sums it up… do not support these a-holes.

  5. Great and accurate list…also add “Ag-Gag” Laws which are attempting to ban videotaping of factory farms. These are in effect… anti whistle blower laws. Do you really want food that you are not allowed to see…. “processed”?

    • David Simon says:

      Thanks George – yes I discuss ag-gag laws at length in the book – as well as food defamation laws, cheeseburger laws, eco-terrorism laws, and worst of all, so-called “customary farming exemptions.” These laws all work together to create a framework of insidious legal protection that lets meat and dairy producers offload the majority of their production costs onto society.

  6. CHERYL says:

    I wish more people would take notice and change their habits. I have tried to change people’s habits by informing them of the negatives of eating meat, but unfortunately they still want to continue eating their meat because it is legal and they enjoy it! :(

  7. Charlotte says:

    Unfortunately I don’t believe your facts to be entirely true. As a proud producer I can honestly say that we do not produce the products you eat with anything but humane practices. I support peoples food choices but I cannot support false information. All animal products are safe, nutritious and wholesome for the general public, this is done by best management practices. No producer would do anything to hurt their animals. In addition, your facts on meat consumption increasing medical conditions is inaccurate. There is no evidence to support these claims, and I find it offensive that you would spread such false information. The American (and world) populations live longer lives and have fewer medical burdens than our ancestors. There is no link between meat consumption as part of balanced diet and a medical condition.

    If I was to make a list of the things I wish Americans knew about the meat and dairy industries it would look like this:
    1. Producers work endlessly to provide the public with a safe, nutritious, and wholesome product.
    2. Animal welfare is our number 1 concern in the agriculture industry.
    3. If you want to know more about the industries go and speak to an expert, a local producer. They would be happy to show and explain to you how your food is produced.
    4. American farmers and ranchers are among the highest regulated industries in the country, and we work every day to meet those guidelines so they can produce food for you.
    5. Reading blogs on the internet (such as this) is not an accurate source of information, do your own research into your food!

    • David Simon says:

      Thanks for your comments. I’ve replied to each of your numbered points below.

      1. Producers work endlessly to provide the public with a safe, nutritious, and wholesome product.

      DRS: I’m interested in the evidence for this assertion. From my perspective, animal foods are not “nutritious and wholesome.” On the contrary, hundreds of studies published in peer-reviewed journals in the last several decades establish that – particularly at the excessive levels at which Americans consume them – animal foods can cause cancer, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, gout, cataracts, acid reflux, and other diseases of indulgence, to say nothing of contagious diseases of zoonotic origin like swine flu, avian flu, AIDS, MRSA, and others. (See., e.g., Gary E. Fraser, “Associations between Diet and Cancer, Ischemic Heart Disease, and All-Cause Mortality in Non-Hispanic White California Seventh-Day Adventists,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 70, no. 3 (1999): 532s–38s; Rashmi Sinha et al., “Meat and Meat-Related Compounds and Risk of Prostate Cancer in a Large Prospective Cohort Study in the United States,” American Journal of Epidemiology 170, no. 9 (2009): 1165–77; Tanya Agurs-Collins, et al., “Dietary Patterns and Breast Cancer Risk in Women Participating in the Black Women’s Health Study,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 90 (2009): 621–28; Eleni Linos, et al., “Red Meat Consumption During Adolescence among Premenopausal Women and Risk of Breast Cancer,” Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention 17 (2008) 2146–51; Ann Chao et al., “Meat Consumption and Risk of Colorectal Cancer,” Journal of the American Medical Association 293, no. 2 (2005): 172–82.)

      The idea that there is anything healthy about animal foods generally comes from industry-sponsored studies that are not objective. For example, I discuss two such studies in my book Meatonomics: the Qureshi Egg Study and the Siri-Tarino Fat study, both of which rely on comparing carefully chosen cohorts (all of which eat high quantities of animal foods) to “prove” that adding slightly more or different types of animal foods to one’s diet is not unhealthy. This is the same kind of pseudo-science that has 25% of Americans believing that cigarettes do not cause cancer. But when vegan cohorts are compared to animal-food eating cohorts, the results are dramatically different and the vegan cohorts are typically much healthier.

      2. Animal welfare is our number 1 concern in the agriculture industry.

      DRS: Again, I’m interested in the evidence for this assertion. From my perspective, there is nothing to suggest that animal producers care about animal welfare other than to protect their investment at a bare minimum of expense. When it doesn’t make economic sense to treat an animal well, producers have no reason to do so. For example, it might cost $0.25 to anesthetize an animal before castrating him, but we’ll never see that done in a factory farming setting because it’s not required by law and therefore, anyone who does it will incur an unnecessary expense and become less competitive in the marketplace.

      3. If you want to know more about the industries go and speak to an expert, a local producer. They would be happy to show and explain to you how your food is produced.

      DRS: Good idea but not practical for most people who don’t live anywhere near a farm. And with 99% of animal foods coming from industrial environments, the statistical significance of “local producers” is debatable.

      4. American farmers and ranchers are among the highest regulated industries in the country, and we work every day to meet those guidelines so they can produce food for you.

      DRS: Here you’re simply wrong. I know the American Meat Institute is fond of saying this whenever an investigation finds meat producers abusing animals, but it’s simply not true from the perspective of humane treatment of animals. Farm animals have essentially no legal rights whatsoever – every U.S. state exempts them from standard anti-cruelty protections. So it is either naïve or disingenuous for producers to imply that “heavy regulation” requires them to treat animals well – it simply isn’t true.

      5. Reading blogs on the internet (such as this) is not an accurate source of information, do your own research into your food!

      DRS: I agree that the format of a blog post doesn’t always lend itself well to accuracy and the citation of sources. I try to cite to sources in my posts where feasible. Ultimately, however, this blog and the accompanying web site are built to highlight my book Meatonomics, and that book contains over 700 endnotes. Most of those citations are to government reports or peer-reviewed studies. Accordingly, I recommend you check out the book for the full experience – I think you’ll find that every assertion I make (both in the book and, by extension, in this blog) is supported by published evidence.

      • NJ White says:

        He’s a farmer, who took the time out to explain the way he does business. He’s spent thousands of hours around animals, spent years working in the cold, the dark, the wet. Had to be responsible for the deaths of the creatures he cares for.

        But apparently because you’ve poked about online, you obviously know WAY more about it than him, and so you sit there preaching and oozing advice.

        THANK GOD we have you and your amazing magic search engine to right all of societies wrongs.

    • SydniDB says:

      There is no such thing as humane animal agriculture. You are still using and killing animals against their will. Humanemyth.org

    • Is animal agriculture made “humane” simply by doing it on a smaller scale, in your own backyard or under the pretext of “strengthening your local food system”? How can slashing the throats of 6-week-old baby birds for profit and pleasure — but not out of necessity — be consistent with acting humanely, especially when there is an abundance of cruelty-free alternatives? Why define what is “humane” against the worst case scenario of factory farming instead of the best case scenario: a world that can thrive on a plant-based diet and no longer needs to breed animals into existence for the purpose of enslaving, exploiting and slaughtering them, at all? How can we claim to value the animal’s welfare during the short period of their lives we allow them to remain alive and yet so easily and violently dispose of their lives, as if their very lives held no value at all? What does this say about our culture when people from the world’s most affluent countries still feel entitled enough to harm animals for their own pleasure, even after claiming to believe that animals count morally and should therefore be given moral consideration? Isn’t this yet another example of Orwellian doublespeak? In Voltaire words, “If we believe in absurdities, we shall commit atrocities.”

  8. Kathryn Terhune Cotton says:

    Although I am still guilty of eating some meat, I have switched to buying it from local folks who treat their farm animals better than ‘factory farms’. I only buy eggs from locals who have free range hens; same with chicken. My biggest concern is with the dairy products I buy. I can’t find any cheeses that are from “Humane Certified” producers. I’ve cut back, but it still only does so much god.

    • Is slaughter made “humane” simply by doing it on a smaller scale, in your own backyard or under the pretext of “strengthening your local food system”? How can slashing the throats of 6-week-old baby birds for profit and pleasure — but not out of necessity — be consistent with acting humanely, especially when there is an abundance of cruelty-free alternatives? Why define what is “humane” against the worst case scenario of factory farming instead of the best case scenario: a world that can thrive on a plant-based diet and no longer needs to breed animals into existence for the purpose of enslaving, exploiting and slaughtering them, at all? How can we claim to value the animal’s welfare during the short period of their lives we allow them to remain alive and yet so easily and violently dispose of their lives, as if their very lives held no value at all? What does this say about our culture when people from the world’s most affluent countries still feel entitled enough to harm animals for their own pleasure, even after claiming to believe that animals count morally and should therefore be given moral consideration? Isn’t this yet another example of Orwellian doublespeak? In Voltaire words, “If we believe in absurdities, we shall commit atrocities.”

    • You’re making great steps Kathryn, keep it up! A while ago my wife was having a hard time making the transition too – when you grow up with a life of meat, eggs and dairy – it is hard to find out how you could possibly live otherwise, and eliminate those foods completely. So huge props for you for commencing that journey and I hope you continue with it.

      For the others reading this, it is important to note that animal cruelty doesn’t stop with being a vegetarian. For instance, what happens to the non-egg-laying male chicks that are inevitably born to produce more egg-laying hens? Unfortunately, they get killed, usually via the industry standard of grinder or gas. What happens to the cows to keep producing milk? They get artificially impregnated, then have their children taken away from them at birth to end up in the meat industry or continue the cycle in the milk industry. Gary Yourofsky’s “The Greatest Talk You’ll Ever Hear” is a great resource for learning more about these common gotcha’s and helped our family make the transition from vegetarian to veganism completely. In short, while cutting out meat directly certainly does help to diminish animal cruelty, the only way to stop animal cruelty as much as possible, isn’t just to stop at murder and meat, but to stop at enslavement too.

      I hope your journey on this path continues Kathryn, by all means, you’re doing great so far, so do keep up the great work! It certainly can be hard and overwhelming at times, but continuing our steps along the way is all we can do, as well as all we can ever do, so keep it up. For some resources on vegan recipes – the videos by Raw Food Christina on Youtube – have been a fantastic help for our family. Keep up the great work, you’re doing great, keep strong!

  9. If producers treat their animals so well, where do these innumerable videos showing horrific abuse come from?

  10. Lori says:

    I too agree that there is no such thing as humane animal agriculture. In these settings, the animals are not living, sentient beings – they are product.
    There is no such thing as humane slaughter – animals do not happily give up their lives, thinking “it’s ok, I’ve had a wonderful life grazing on lush pasture”. And as for diary – the only way any mammal can produce milk is to get pregnant and have a baby. How many fields of diary cows have you seen calves in? Right. Because they are ripped away from their mothers so we can get the milk meant for them. When you see a field of dairy cows you are seeing a herd of grieving mothers. The egg industry is no less cruel.
    Vegan is the only compassionate way to go.

  11. Kassy Ortega says:

    You should submit this to Buzzfeed!

  12. […] would do well to consider the hidden costs of animal farming, outlined below in David Simon’s “10 Things I Wish All Americans Knew About The Meat And Dairy Industries.” — Free from Harm Staff […]

  13. WordsFallFromMyEyes says:

    Great post. Interesting indeed. I feed my son meat daily as he’s 17 1/2 and does martial arts 5 days a week & just don’t know how else to feed him, but I don’t need meat daily, no. As for lamb, I am not inclined to buy a slaughtered baby, no. I know it’s strange – to buy a slaughtered adult, but I just don’t think lamb is fair, not that any of it is particularly fair.

    • My family knows that experience! We actually just feed our son mock meats, and he likes them. It took us a few goes to find ones he liked, and some epic failures as well, but eventually we found the mock chicken nuggets and schnitzels are his favourite. We’re in Australia so Frys Family Vegetarian are the ones we use, but if you’re in North America there should be a huge range of options. Gary Yourofsky’s has a list of great commonly available alternatives for North Americans listed on his ADAPTT website under “Veggie Shopping Guide” as well as in his talk “The Greatest Talk You’ll Ever Hear” on YouTube. Our girl already liked juices and veges, and has always had problems digesting animal products, so the transition was easy for us there. The mock meats are pretty easy to do, so the typical meal takes 20 minutes doing each thing simultaneously. 12 minutes for mock meat in the oven, 12 minutes for rice to cook, 4 minutes for veges to be steamed. Once the rice is cooked, we also mix it with flaxseed oil and a bit of salt to ensure he can get his omega’s – as otherwise he wouldn’t eat the seeds etc naturally.

      Keep up the great work :)

      • Just remembered, considering your son’s age as well as his intense fitness regime. There may be some stuff coming up about “eating meat isn’t manly, I want to be fit! I should eat meat” – at least we had that with our family too. After watching documentaries like “Forks over Knives” with the kids, or short talks like “Find your athletic edge: Brendan Brazier at TEDxFremont”, “Plant-strong & healthy living: Rip Esselstyn at TEDxFremont”, “Modern Warrior: Damien Mander at TEDxSydney”, “Jim Morris – LT Interview” (70 year old vegan body builder), “Carl Lewis: Olympic Medals through the Vegan Diet”, as well as meeting up with vegan atheletes on sport teams he admires (this was difficult as a lot of people keep this secret, in the same way that atheism was frowned upon 15 years ago, vegamism is hush hush in the sports industry too – but there are many athletes doing it). These resources, especially the talks, helped remove any doubt that vegan food is the best for food for athletes, as animal products increase recovery time, and the less time in recovery and the more time improving, the better. There’s also the common misconceptions about vegamism not being manly, which the talks here also help with. Hope that helps mate!

      • WordsFallFromMyEyes says:

        Thank you so much for all that guidance. I truly appreciate it. I’m going to seek out The Greatest Talk You’ll Ever Hear.

        I’m in Australia :) Melbourne.

        Many thanks.

  14. Emmanuel lee Buckley says:

    I’m blown away with this new information. I have read. I need to do research and find out more . So I can improve my health.

  15. Venkatesh Narayan says:

    This is by far the best article on meat consumption.

  16. […] 10 Things I Wish All Americans Knew About The Meat and Dairy Industries. […]

  17. […] 10 Things I Wish All Americans Knew About The Meat and Dairy Industries […]

  18. katethekempf says:

    Reblogged this on And After the Storm and commented:
    Yikes.

  19. Thankyou for summarising this… lets hope people take charge of themself a little better and put a stop to this… Barbara

  20. rob sheppard says:

    Reblogged this on Rob Sheppard and commented:
    1. In a creepy, Big-Brotherish tactic straight out of a sci-fi movie, the federal government uses catchy slogans to get people to buy more meat and dairy.
    2. Americans eat more meat per person than any other people on earth, and we’re paying the price in doctor bills.
    3. Animal food production is the world’s leading cause of climate change.
    4. There’s no sustainable way to raise animal foods to meet the world’s growing demand.
    5. A $5 Big Mac would cost $13 if the retail price included hidden expenses that meat producers offload onto society.
    6. American governments spend $38 billion each year to subsidize meat and dairy, but only 0.04% of that ($17 million) to subsidize fruits and vegetables.
    7. Big businesses love farm subsidies. Small farmers and rural Americans hate them.
    8. Factory fishing ships are exploiting the world’s oceans so aggressively that scientists fear the extinction of all commercially fished species within several decades.
    9. Fish farming isn’t the answer.
    10. If they treated a dog or cat like that, they’d go to jail.

  21. Naomi says:

    Oh my goodness! Impressive article dude! Thank you, However I
    am going through problems with your RSS. I don’t know why I
    am unable to join it. Is there anyone else getting the same RSS issues?
    Anybody who knows the answer will you kindly respond?
    Thanx!!

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