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Chickens and Cows and Pigs — Oh My! How Big Ag Contributes to Massive Food Recalls

Big Ag just keeps getting bigger, and along with it, massive recalls on all kinds of foods, from packaged goods to fresh produce to beef, pork and chicken products that come from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). As reported by Time, one major concern in particular is that meat production operations have grown so huge that’s it impossible to properly inspect the meats to keep contaminated foods from reaching the market.

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Another problem is that antiquated government policies actually allow salmonella-tainted meats to go to market, as long as they’re “meant to be cooked,” Time said. Meanwhile, the constant stream of food recalls may indicate that some companies are making higher numbers of precautionary recalls.

There’s no question that factory farming and CAFOs have created a worldwide distribution of disease. A look at what’s happening with chicken alone gives you just a tiny window into the rest of the Big Ag world.

Although auspiciously developed to streamline the production of more meat (raising the return on investment for large farming operations), CAFOs remove diversity from small farms and replace it with a focus on a single end product, thus increasing the risk for disease.

These practices then lead to recalls, sickness and death — in an analysis of outbreaks from 1998 through 2008, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that “more deaths were attributed to poultry than to any other commodity.”

Plus, in a study involving nearly 2,500 chicken, pork and turkey samples purchased from large retail stores in Flagstaff, Arizona, nearly 80 percent were found to contain E. coli. Additionally, a Consumer Reports investigation found that hundreds of meat samples tested positive for drugs that are supposed to be banned or restricted in U.S. meat. And that’s just the poultry.

From the plant end, the ecological cost of planting genetically engineered corn and soy beans includes the loss of an ecosystem that supported more than 100 plant species and habitat for many grassland birds.

The bottom line is the production of plants resistant to herbicides and coated with insecticides, coupled with antibiotic-resistant, bacteria-contaminated fertilizer, leads to a dangerously unhealthy food supply. But don't expect our government to protect you, or the chemical technology industry to change its ways.

Changing the system will require individual action. By changing your shopping habits, you effectively vote for the food system you want. It's also important to demand clean food, raised in an organic and sustainable fashion and to let food producers who don't meet these criteria know why you won't buy their food.

Ultimately, the long-term solution is regenerative agriculture and organic farming, which uses neither antibiotics for growth promotion in animals, nor pesticides on crops. Regenerative agricultural practices are among the best kept secrets to naturally sequester CO2 in the soil and return the land to a natural state, improving fertility and biodiversity.

The key to regenerative farming is to not only do no harm to the land, but also improve the soil with use. This is a key to producing foods rich in nutrients and vitamins. Ultimately this leads to increased productivity on the farm, healthier communities and improved local economics.

The process is dynamic, including organic farming practices such as cover crops, no-till crop production, perennial crops, crop rotation and pasture cropping. These are just a few strategies used in regenerative farming to increase food production per square mile of land and the farmer's income, and improve the quality of the topsoil.

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